Monday, August 2, 2010

that "render unto caesar" passage

My post entitled "Christianity and the state" lays out a strong case against the compatibility of government and Christianity. often, as should be expected, the passage in the bible in which the pharisees question Christ about taxation is brought up. it's often used as proof that, indeed, Christians are required to pay taxes to the state, thereby supporting paul's alleged statement in romans 13 commanding submission to government. here, i will point out why this is not only a poorly reasoned argument, but one that, if reasoned properly, reinforces the idea of Christian resistance to the state.

let's have a look at the entire passage, first (from the ESV):

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21So they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" 23But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24"Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar’s." 25He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." 26And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

here we have the pharisees, who were constantly trying to trap Jesus, attempting to have him either deny his deity by sharing Godly authority with man, by allowing that caesar has the authority to tax God (Christ) and Christians, splitting their allegiance between two authorities, or have Jesus deny that caesar has such authority so that they can have him arrested for promoting tax revolt or evasion. regardless of whether Christ says yes or no, he loses.

Christ, though, is smarter than what the pharisees give him credit for. his answer is neither the yes nor the no that they seek. Christ answers in a way that will get him out of the trap, yet will make his point perfectly clear. typically, Christians interpret his answer as a simple "yes, we must pay taxes (and that caesar has authority over Christians just as another God would)". it's a puzzling interpretation as it assumes that the pharisees were successful in their trap and Jesus was thwarted in that instance, denying his his deity by sharing authority with a man.

in fact, the question that should automatically arise from Christ's answer is, what is it that belongs to caesar, but not to God? or, does God's authority end where caesar's begins? the obvious answer is that nothing belongs to caesar that doesn't belong to God. Christ's followers would have readily understood that, as would the pharisees, but they'd have nothing to use against Jesus because of his very clever response to their devious inquiry. this is why they were "marveling at his answer".

pay tribute to caesar? no. in fact, that denarius with his face on it? don't even use it. let him keep it. this dovetails nicely into agorism, or the voluntary exchange of goods and services in the underground markets, which naturally tends toward non-state issued currency. easier said than done, of course, but it's always a great goal to strive for.

not paying taxes has a greater moral implication also. if you don't pay, then the state can't use the funds to finance its wars, police and corporate protection racket. all of the state's funding is cut off if we refuse to pay taxes and trade in currencies like gold and silver rather than state currencies. if we can successfully go underground with our economic activities, then the state is isolated from wealth. it will have no option but to wither and die.

render unto caesar - nothing.

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