So Freedom Sunday has come and gone. I didn’t hear anything on the news this morning about whether or not major changes are in the works, but I’d like to hear from the MoF crowd about this. Should churches be tax exempt or free to use their spiritual influence to exert political influence (and pay taxes)?
Some background: the Alliance Defense Fund, fed up with their lack of power and voice as members of the Christian minority in this increasingly secular society, came up with the Pulpit Initiative, a civil disobedience/protest against the separation of church and state in the body of the tax code, which disallows advocation of particular candidates by organizations with tax exempt status.
My understanding about how this tax exemption works is that churches do not pay property taxes for church property (which may extend to rectories and hospitals, I’m not certain). Additionally, they do not pay income tax because it is assumed that they do not turn a profit. Again, this is my understanding and I would be happy to have someone who understand the tax code better than I correct me.
Apparently, the major argument on this subject goes something like this: if we are exempting churches from taxation because of a benefit to society (as a charitable organization), maybe we want to reconsider and examine the assumption that religion is a benefit to society; if we are, however, exempting churches from taxation because they are nonprofits and it would be unfair to tax an organization that does not make money, it may be that tax exemption for churches makes sense.
To the first part, the benefit to society that is being focused on is a church’s secular charitable actions (blood drives, money to the poor, marriage counseling services) not a church’s religious “benefits” (provision of marriage, weekly moral instruction, baptism of your dead relatives). In which case, I would like to take a look at what kinds of secular charitable actions a particular church participates in. Does the tithe money really go to (a) fund the church and then to (b) provide charitable services to the local community regardless of their religious proclivities and without prosthelyzation? If they do not, I would agree with a serious reconsideration of the tax code. Of course, if this is our reasoning, we would need to take a look at what we consider to be charitable “benefits”. Selling used clothing? Substance abuse management? And how far may a religious organization go toward promoting their own moral code in exchange for these services? Is the government okay with someone providing these services (because then they don’t need to), no matter what? Can the government (reasonably, legally, or morally) restrict provision of these services to ensure that the government (by not taxing religious institutions that provide charitable services) is not advocating prosthelyzation of religion?
To the second part, it is generally considered that non-profits ought not be taxed. PBS & NPR are untaxable because they run at a loss or simply break even. Can the same be said of churches? All churches? There are certain churches which clearly have plenty of money lying around, but there are many that are simply struggling to survive. Is “non-profit” a valid distinction for a religion? Certainly we would hope that religions are not concerned with turning a profit, but does turning a profit mean that they are no longer a valid church? If that profit was put back into the “business”, as most would do—building a larger church, increasing staff, buying bibles for hotels—does it count as “profit”? If it does not, there are many businesses which might be able to claim “non-profit” status.
I recently heard an argument about why the government “would never” deny tax exemption to (Catholic) churches—because thousands hospitals across the country would suddenly close. I’m not certain that churches still maintain that kind of contact with their daughter hospitals (even the obviously ‘religious’ ones: St. Jude, Providence, &c.), but at least there is one argument for allowing churches to keep their tax exempt status.
It is widely acknowledged that religions “do” charity better than do atheists. I would submit that this is a function of the built-in community, hierarchy, and organization that a religion affords. There are many (and more every day) charity organizations that have no affiliation with religion and others that are so old that one forgets their affiliation with religion. That said, currently most atheist grounds do have tax exemption on the grounds of being non-profit. Many proponents of keeping the tax-exempt status for churches tend to compare their church with atheism. I think, however, that the best comparison would be to compare their church with their least favorite church (be it an Islamic church or a Pagan church—those are generally the two “hated” churches).
My hope is that, in a post-Pulpit Freedom Sunday, whoever chose to participate gets fined and thoroughly audited with serious consideration to lose their tax exempt status. I also hope that it starts a national conversation about tax exemption for (which can equal protection and therefor promotion of) religion.
Microfinance is the lending and borrowing of (relatively) small amounts of money. Generally, the lender is a (relatively) rich Westerner and the borrower a poor citizen of a developing country. And I don’t mean relatively poor; I mean abject poverty, where $25 to buy a goat means the difference between being able to feed your children and death. 95% of the world lives on less than $1.25 per day. 95% of the world lives on less than most Americans spend daily on a cup of coffee. I say relatively rich because most people consider themselves to be middle class and because “rich” is a very relative term (Can I make impulse buys? Absolutely. But when was the last time I gave a grant to fund education? Umm, how ’bout, not even thinking I might reach that in my lifetime.). I feel it’s necessary to define these terms & to use them, because generally speaking, they’re terms people are not comfortable with.
I have often heard that giving money and providing education to the world’s poorest women is the surest way to lift whole communities out of poverty. Some say that this is because they reinvest in their families (and certainly, an educated mother would be sure to continued to educate her daughters), but it may also be because women do the bulk of the unpaid work—making them necessarily more industrious, or because the means of wealth are often controlled by the communities’ men. Very often, minimal (Western) amounts can accomplish this: $10, $20, $50. Sometimes, however, more is needed: $1000 to start a small business, for example. And this is where microfinance comes in.
An entrepreneur goes to a local bank (sometimes with 3 additional borrowers as security for one another) and the local bank gets money from Western givers. This is a fantastic deal for the “microentrepreneur” and not a bad one for the knowledgeable Westerner. For the most part, these are “loans” to the borrower but “gifts” to the “lender”. The local bank gets the money and charges interest on it to cover overhead. The Westerner never sees their money again, but gets warm fuzzies.
I recently attended a conference where the founder of Kiva, a microfinance/social networking site, gave a talk about Kiva’s business model. The local bank charges between 20% and 30% interest (which someone put into perspective as being close to the 18% we pay for unsecured loans/credit cards), essentially pocketing the difference. Now, I’m as charity-minded as the next person, but I’m not currently in a position to give away money $1000 at a time.
I am, however, what most Western financial institutions consider a “micro” investor: I have less than $100 000 to invest (a lot less, but that seems to be the general cut-off). I see a huge market for putting my money (that I want to invest) to work in the hands of poor microborrowers across the world (or even here at home). I’m certainly not expecting 30% interest (although, wouldn’t that be great?) but would expect some kind of (at least anticipated) return. Calvert, the “socially responsible” institution my investments are with is considering diversifying into this field but as near as I can tell has not yet done so.
I’ve always said that a few years abroad should be required for Americans. But recently, I’ve been meeting people who’ve spent those few years abroad but who remain remarkably closed-minded, and provincial. Maybe it’s mitigated by the years abroad, maybe the years abroad did nothing and they would have ended up this way anyway, or maybe simply living in the US is toxic to a global way of thinking.
*desperately trying to avoid typing “theoCRAZY!”*
I missed this discussion at school, but have been seeing flyers for a forum on asylum law that state:
HOW IMPORTANT IS YOUR
FREEDOM OF RELIGION?
Come hear [asylum professionals] discuss asylum law and practice. In particular, they will discuss the plight of Christian converts in Iran and their attempt to get asylum in the United States.
I have heard many times (but cannot currently find the citation) that Islam requires execution of converts-away-from-Islam. All nations should vocally oppose this and actively (and publicly—though not to the point of giving names, if that will cause danger) give asylum to anyone who falls under this religious law. All nations should also recognize the danger that theocracy poses by this example and actively take steps to avoid theocracy-in-fact or theocracy-in-effect in their own governments.
Religion’s obvious place in the current election cycle is depressing to a former religionist but should be demoralizing, even to current religionists. Reference to “Judeo-Christian values” by candidates or elected officials [via] are intended, on their surface, to remind us that we are a proud nation with glorious historical roots; intended to call to mind Battle Hymns and white men in whiter wigs. But I find that they often call to my mind the ongoing suppression [via] of any-religion-that’s-not-Christian-(with-occasional-hat-tips-to-Judaism). We can make excuses for our fore(white)fathers’ extermination of non-Christian religions with a “that was then, this is now” attitude, but we would still ignore the fact that the first pilgrims were seeking asylum, running from violent religious persecution, and should really have known better.
The Muslim world may be more overt in its censure of wrong-religionists [via], but the Christian world is not without blame [via]. The more evidence of theocracy’s ugly head creeping into my country’s government, the more I become afraid. Afraid of being an atheist, afraid of having pagan-leanings, afraid of practicing yoga & meditation, afraid of not going to (the right) church of a Sunday. I’ve been listening to Atheists Talk on podcast and they often bring to my attention issues that I had not known about or hadn’t made the connection about. Growing up Catholic gives me blinders to a lot of pro-Christian (and anti-everythingelse) stuff that goes on. It makes me wish I had a job & money to donate and that California’s Atheists were as with-it as Minnesota’s.
I haven’t yet seen WALL•E, but here is an article I found interesting discussing the genders of the two main robots. It is an interesting discussion of the perceived genders we apply to the characters based on our cultural assumptions. It is also interesting, however, how we can work beyond them.
As a voting member of a “third” party, I am often annoyed by the assumptions of non-third party voters. First, I’d like to take issue with “third”. In general, yes, this is a two-party system. But “Green” is not synonymous with “Third”. Especially since there are some really whacked-out “thirds” that deserve to be called “third” as tho they’re not really a real political party.
That said, I still have faith in this system of ours. I believe that I, and everyone else, should vote for the candidate that they want to see win; that every vote counts; and that every vote is a positive one (I’ll get to that in a moment). So it really grinds my gears when I hear people say ignorant things like this:
I’ve seen quite a bit of email traffic where some are, you know, encouraging us to look at other candidates, third party candidates, or what have you, independent candidates. My concern with the third party issue is simply this: that if you do not vote for McCain, it would appear as though you’re casting a vote for Obama. And if you don’t support Obama’s policies, then it seems like you’re handing the campaign to him, or the election to him.
And I’m sorry, but I have to call “bullshit”. (That was the motto of the day at work today, by the way: “Down with the bullshit!” I love my job.)
A vote for a candidate is simply that: a vote for a candidate. It is a positive vote in that it is not a vote against another candidate. If you want Candidate A to win, you vote for Candidate A! If you want Candidate B to lose, then you’re not looking at the right factors: you need to vote for the candidate that you want to win, even if it’s Candidate T.
The Simpsons has an episode where Kodos and Kang take over the bodies of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, guaranteeing that they will rule the world regardless of who wins. When Homer exposes them, they cry, “It’s a two party system, you have to vote for one of us!!” Which to a large extent is true. No matter how hideous and alien I may find one of the two major-party candidates, I would probably give each candidate 50/50 odds of winning. But I still believe that my vote (for a different candidate) means something. If nothing else, it’s a warning to each party that they’re losing members on the fringes. I know very few major-party members anymore. Many are in what I consider the “third”, the Libertarian Party; some are Greens like me; others are Peace and Freedom, which as I understand it is for conservatives who think that Republicans are too liberal; still others are American Independent, whose platform I’ve never quite discovered. Votes for these minor parties are warning shots across the bow of the USS Two Party; a warning that they can’t just parrot at each other forever; a warning that we’re watching them; a warning that we’re voting.
So I encourage you all, now and forever, to vote your conscience. Vote for the candidate you want to see win. Don’t vote against the ones you want to lose. If you don’t know enough about the candidates (or issues), educate yourself! There are plenty of websites dying to tell you just what to think about each issue or candidate. And if you find that your views are not exactly in line with the candidate or party you thought they were, consider the fact that there are many political parties, even in this country. You’re bound to find one you like. And if you don’t? Start your own! Run for political office, even if it’s just in your township. Who knows where it might lead!
But don’t tell me that a vote for any candidate is a vote against another. Don’t tell me that anyone who votes has “thrown their vote away”. Don’t tell me that third party voters are simply “spoilers”, as though they spitefully grant their votes to the flavor of the third-party month. This is the land of the free: the land where your vote counts. I believe that.
We make sense of the world and our relation to it through the stories we tell. Back in my young and wild Mormon days (riding bikes with the gang down the street of Japan, doing drive by conversions), I told the story of Joseph Smith to anyone who would listen. The cool thing was that I was a character in that same story, and an important one (in fact, one of the great ones that Abraham saw!). I knew that there was a plan, and I knew my place in the universe–someday I could be hovering invisibly over my own planet if I played all my cards right. I also knew what all of your parts in the story were–but it’s cool. In Mormonism, there’s a place for everyone (I hear that even the less valiant get their own frozen dwarf planets.)
So what tales do I tell now that I’ve checked out of the Book o’ Mormon? The romantic in me envisions kind of a noiresque scene: it’s black and white, through the haze you can see an old typewriter and shot of weak bourbon on the desk. You assume that there’s a wastepaper basket under that pile of crumpled drafts. And there I am, clackety-clacking away, staring at blank sheets and scribbling out sentences on full ones. Writing and revising, sometimes pleased, but more often not. At least I’m not a ghost writer. This baby’s all my own.
There’s no story without conflict and tension, and if nothing out, I think I’ve worked out what some of my life’s defining conflicts are. I’ll share them with you over the next couple of weeks. Let me know if they mesh with any of your storymaking. The first one I like to call Pragmatism v. Idealism. Here’s how they manifest themselves in my life:
The Idealistic John is motivated primarily by a need to be sincere, true to my own intentions, to be a person of integrity. Damn the consequences, and especially fuck what others may think. This is the part of me that swung from near-libertarian dittohead Mo to Green Party peace activisting Quaker. Not a whole lot of room for compromise there.
Then there’s another part of me that cares about impact, about the effects of my actions in the real world. This is the part of me that deeply regrets supporting Ralph Nader in 2000 (I don’t want to argue whether or not he lost the election for Gore–it’s what he symbolizes to me that’s important here). Supporting Gore’s campaign would have been a concession on my part, but in retrospect Mr. Inconvenient Truth would have been infinitely preferable to the criminal conspiracy currently ruling the U.S. Sometimes doing something out of integrity may have greater negative impact than making a practical compromise. This pragmatic part of me wants results. Which action feeds/frees more people?
Gandhi, a pragmatic idealist if there ever was one (and one of the shrewdest manipulators of public opinion in the 20th century), once said something to the effect of, “Practically anything you do will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it.” The idealist in me takes comfort in this quote. The utilitarian pragmatist in me chafes against it.
Fortunately, I don’t feel like I have to choose between the two (which pleases the indecisive part of me, which we will leave for another post). There’s a creative tension in being as harmless as doves, as wise as serpents. There’s a creative tension that comes from trying to maintain ones ideals while working towards maximum impact. It also helps to have a long view. It’s one reason I’m a Quaker–those crazy radicals were anti-slavery, pro-suffrage, and pacifist decades before those ideas mainstreamed. What’s that you say? Pacifism isn’t mainstreamed yet? In due time, my friend, in due time.
One of my sisters (#4) has been known to wax poetic about the fact that, in this current day and age, people are obsessed with themselves. Hence, “i-” products (iPod, iLife, iBrator, iWannaCookie, &c.). When I heard about Apple’s migration of .Mac to MobileMe, I couldn’t conceive of telling her (email@example.com just sounds so pretentious). As an Apple koolaiddrinker from long ago, I have a .Mac account. Luckily, I can keep the @Mac.
But I just realized that I have been wrong! MobileMe isn’t just another form of “iMobile”, the “Me” in MobileMe isn’t referring to the self, it’s referring to the social building blocks. That’s why it’s always in italics.
The hundred me are lost to time, as only about 60 of them are known to remain, including Kingship, Priestly Office, Wisdom, and Truth. This is where we get the concept of the “meme”. Clearly some of the remaining are Scheduling, Communication, Photography, and Addresses.
At least, that makes me feel better about telling people about MobileMe.
Anyone out there know how it is pronounced? I’ve always said “meh”, to distinguish it from the English pronoun, and because it seems to me that, translated from cuneiform, it probably would’ve been “mi” if it had been said that way.
I did some bad things during my stint as a Mormon missionary in Japan. I’d like to repent of one of them right now.
Some of my Japanese friends confided deep, personal spiritual experiences with me. In several cases I coopted their experiences for my own ends, and using my words, contorted them so that they fit perfectly into the LDS worldview.
Looking back, it seems almost a violent act.
I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. After all, I was only trying to understand their experiences using my dominant perspective at the time. It’s only after getting beat up when my experiences didn’t fit my LDS leaders’ and teachers’ paradigms do I fully understand my own complicity.
There is power in naming something. And when someone came to me as an expert in spiritual matters after experiencing deep sense of connectedness to the universe/humanity/etc. and asked for some help in understanding this strange and frightening moment, I called that event the Spirit, and then said that that Spirit was God the Father’s communication to them that they needed to read the translation of some old golden plates, believe in Joseph Smith and Ezra Taft Benson as having the Red Phone to The Big White House in the Sky, and put on white clothes and get dunked while I say some mumbo jumbo over them so that they can join an organization and get married in Masonic-inspired cermonies, and now I’m thinking, WTF!?
Was I really that unthinkingly manipulative? Did I bludgeon their sweet experiences with my well-trained, well-intentioned I believes and I testifies and I knows?
Which is why I struggle sometimes with atheist discourse. I don’t want atheists (or believers) to write off my cravings and reverence for the oceanic, the mystical, the “spiritual.” I don’t always want to know what chemical reactions or evolutionary mechanisms or social indoctrination triggered my desire to appeal to something outside of myself. I don’t want to label it projection or insecurity or ritual impulse. Sometimes this is too dismissive. I just want to be. I want the wordless to remain so. I don’t want to F the ineffable.
Which is why I think I’m comfortable in the Quaker mode. There are some words to describe experience, but they are gentle, intended to convey that the experience in minimal terms: the light, that of God, seeking within, etc., but there are no real attempts made to explain or to force those experiences into Christian or Buddhist or Skeptical language. Also, when personal experience is conveyed to others, such as when someone in meeting for worship breaks the silence with words, they talk of their own personal experience.
It’s ironic that I have to convey my frustration with the limits of words through words. I guess you can only say so much via blogging.
So I’ll slip into…silence.
I was listening to this the other day while packing and it made me cry (as it always does). If anything could make me a pacifist, it would be this song: Don McLean’s the Grave
This line, particularly:
When the wars of our nation did beckon,
A man barely twenty did answer the calling.
Proud of the trust that he placed in our nation,
But eternity knows him, and it knows what we’ve done
A while back, NPR had a series on PTSD and one of the people essentially said something along the lines of “When we [the People] ask of our soldiers the kinds of things they are asked to do in a war, we should expect that they come back fucked up.” Indeed, those who might come back from that without any remorse, or change, we would not want to give guns to in the first place. These are the kinds of people we want in a war:
And deep in the trench he waited for hours,
As he held to his rifle and prayed not to die.
And yet it is just these kinds of people it is the greatest crime to send into that fray.
Two of my sisters often have this argument: one (#2) refuses to let her children play with weapons (although one is taking fencing); the other (#4) has so many toy guns in the house it looks like a toy armory for when the toy zombies attack. “You need people like me,” #4 will say, “to protect you and your way of life.” “Without people like you,” comes the response, “weapons would not be necessary.”
Do we need soldiers for when we (even stupidly) go to war? Or should PTSD be something that we reserve for only the most important of goals?
Someone took John Lennon’s advice and imagined “all the people, livin’ life in peace:”
It’s a simple exercise (and don’t follow any of the links, as it will burst the bubble by leading you to the real news), but it brought tears, shivers, smiles. It’s a glimpse of the world as it could be, and it’s alternately hopeful and depressing.
Here are some of my favorites:
President signs single-payer health care into law
Economic Gap Narrowing As Real Wages Rise
Lucas authorizes fan reworkings of episodes 1-3
UPDATE: South India Mahayana Monastic Debates [Under "Sports"]
Can you imagine this?
h/t Cory Doctorow @ boing boing
[Update: just realized this was the 1000th post! hooray us!]
Courtyard: a communal herb garden. Gone.