The parallels between the world into which Christianity was born and this world are obvious; the major difference is the legacy of the Faith, and the witness still borne to it.
The Roman world recognised no sacred nature inhering in being human: abortion; infanticide; slavery and a material view of life were the norm. As we move away from our inheritance, it is not surprising to see some of those things reappear. What we want from our life is the only standard by which we judge; as long as it does not go against the Law of the land, we can have it. “Justice” redefines itself as “what is legal” and “what the State allows.” As we have developed the concept of “human rights” around the same principles, it follows that my right to choose trumps some intangible “right to life.” If necessary we can use the flexibility of language to aid us here. You might congratulate a woman on her forthcoming baby, and the shops have cards to that effect; but medically a foetus is a clump of cells that can be removed if the bearer of the lump of cells so wishes.
So Mammon wins out. We can, as Christians rightly lament the plight of those who do not have food, shelter or safety, and we can work for their good, knowing it coincides with the good of the wider society. Nice though the fantasy of charitable giving providing for all the needs of the needy, in practice if the State does nothing then some people starve. What is wrong with the mega-rich in our Society is not that they earn too much, it is that they pay too little in tax. We have obligations as members of a State, and those do not come free. So, for all its imperfections, the British National Health Service ensures that no one is driven to bankruptcy as a result of being sick, nor are they denied the best help because they cannot afford it.
Properly viewed, taxation can be the State’s way of doing what is needed for those who need it most. Where we used to pay tithes to the Church, we pay taxes to Mammon. It is perhaps the uses to which Mammon puts those taxes that we might direct our objections.
As Christians we recognise we have a obligation to others. We have not gone down the route of those early Christians who held all goods in common, but taxation is the way that has been developed to ensure some money goes into a common coffer.
The Churches can and do work with the State in many of the areas mentioned: health; education; social services; welfare; all are spheres where we work together. As the State in the West has begun the process of withdrawal from areas where it was over extended, the Churches have tried to occupy some of those vacant spaces. Anyone who had worked with a Foodbank or a community group knows that Christian make up a sizeable proportion of those who give their time and efforts freely.
We give freely; but do we give too freely? Do we mistake a common concern for a common motive and common ends? To what extent do we, as organised Christian groups do what any other interest group would do, namely promote our own agenda? If we don’t, then why not? Have we become frightened that we will be accused to doing what everyone else does – that is to work towards our own goals? Or have we convinced ourselves that the goals are then identical?
In the case of tax, it is Mammon who will decide where the money goes, but when it comes to areas where the Churches are putting in money derived from the faithful, the faithful might like to start behaving like shareholders and asking what value has been added to the goals of the Church by the investment made?
Mammon and God can work together well enough for the good of God’s people, but the latter demands that the Churches ensure that good is indeed promoted and beneficial. I doubt we do that often, and am sure we do not do it systematically. Perhaps we should try harder?