Acton Institute Powerblog

Did Jesus Support a 100% Tax Rate?

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“She must not have any friends,” my wife says all too frequently. “Because if she did they wouldn’t let her go out dressed like that.”

Although the cattiness of her comment always makes me cringe, my wife does have a point. One of the roles friends play in our lives is to prevent us from embarrassing ourselves in public. Editors play a similar role, though they are not as beloved as friends—at least by writers. One of our most essential functions is to say to a writer, “You probably don’t want to say that.” Or, as happens too frequently, we insist, “No, seriously, you really don’t want to put that in writing and make it available for the entire world to read.”

Of course writers don’t always listen, which is why they can make a blunders similar to the recent gaffe by Erika Christakis. I can only assume Ms. Christakis overrode the advice of both friends and editors. I can’t imagine anyone who cared about the Harvard College administrator would support her making this outrageously silly claim in Time magazine:

Americans often tell pollsters they yearn for a return to the Christian principles on which the U.S. was founded. If so, they should take a closer look at the Mitt Romney–Paul Ryan ticket. Jesus’ teachings regarding wealth are nowhere to be found in Ryan’s budget proposal.

As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of “If you have two coats, give one to the man who has none”) and 100% (if you want to get into heaven, be poor). Mostly, he suggested giving all your money up for the benefit of others. And Jesus made no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor; his love and generosity applied to all.

At the end of her bio line Christakis says, “The views expressed are solely her own.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a disclaimer that is so obviously and literally true. Even Marxists don’t really believe such nonsense.

We can’t overlook the fact, though, that Time allowed such an embarrassing gaffe to be published. Perhaps we should ask a middle-schooler to take a break from Vacation Bible School or catechism classes and go help Time fact-check the religious claims in their articles. Apparantly, the magazine’s editors need all the help they can get.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Christine_from_Wisconsin

    Jesus does tell us to be generous and care for the poor. However, he never said, “give your second coat to the government and let them determine who to give it to”. Additionally, St. Paul makes it very clear in his letters that those spreading the gospel should be prepared to work for their food and shelter. An economic system/political policies that build jobs so that people don’t have to rely on welfare is very Christian. Government re-distribution of wealth, is not.

  • TheThinkker

    Ms Christakis’ comment I cannot find definitive connection to what Jesus uttered to Peter and the Pharisees. He simply said to give to Caesars what is his and to what is for God. It’s how she must have viewed the

    In another occasion citing Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus wanted to pay taxes with Peter so as not to offend the tax collectors as they asked Peter. During that time, the foreigners were being taxed and not the locals. Jesus and Peter were visiting Capernaum then.

    Today, citizens voted for legislators to make laws which instituted taxation of different sorts. Hence, citizens should pay as legislated…whether it be little or not.

  • Roger McKinney

    It would be easy to arrive at the same interpretation of some of Christ’s sayings if you take them out of the context of the whole Bible, which most people do. Aristotle codified the rules of honest interpretation, but few people care about honesty.

    Jesus told the rich young ruler to give all he had to the poor and follow him. That is apparently all Ms. Christakis knows about the Bible. Ms. Christakis take that to mean that all it takes to get to heaven is to be poor. Lucky for most of the people in the world.

    She seems not to have read the passage in which Jesus scolded his disciples for wanting to sell some expensive ointment and give the money to the poor. He said the poor will always be with us.

    What most casual readers of the NT miss is the hyperbole. Hyperbole was very common in the preaching of the synagogue and I’m convinced some of Jesus’ saying were hyperbole to keep the attention of the people.

    Anyway, even the sayings of Jesus have to be interpreted in light of the whole Bible’s teaching on poverty. People like Ms. Christakis take these sayings out of context and as a result some have made the poor their idol.

  • Roger McKinney

    Chabad,org is an orthodox Jewish site and they had an article the other day on giving. They said that traditionally rabbis have forbidden people to give more than 20% of their wealth to the poor lest they become poor and need help, too.

  • All I can think to say is just Wow. And Scary. I will pray for this young lady.