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Billionaires, Banks, Bureaucrats and the Bible

By Brian Morris

Why is it that with each new financial scandal that breaks there’s invariably a grubby link between corporate greed, weak politicians and acquiescent religions?

The Panama Papers exposé has yet to play out, with 800 wealthy Australians being investigated by the Australian Taxation Office for their alleged activities with offshore tax havens.

Internationally, this is just one snowflake on the tip of a very large iceberg. Avarice by the mega-wealthy breaks new global records as the wealth gap becomes a chasm.

Secular charity Oxfam says in 2016 the world’s richest 1% will own more than the combined wealth of the other 8 billion people on this planet. And they slam the World Bank for complicity in using tax havens.

Here in Australia a defiant Turnbull government backs the banks and rules out a Royal Commission to investigate how they short-change their customers and tamper with interbank lending.

Meanwhile, the nation’s churches stay silence — skulking quietly in the shadows, petrified that this latest financial furor might draw attention to themselves.

We should not forget that religion, too, has vast fortunes squirrelled away; in addition to immeasurable land and property holdings — with only a small fraction in plain sight (including their countless churches). Recall, also, the Vatican Bank scandals, now with the upstanding Cardinal George Pell at the financial helm.

And why have we missed the billions that religions ravenously reap from the public purse by way of grants, gifts and the full gamut of tax-breaks. But an April poll shows 64% oppose churches being tax-exempt.

It’s not only basic charities that benefit from the historical rort of “advancing religion“. Religious companies pay no tax on hundreds of their private hospitals, aged care facilities, private schools and other ventures.

But for religious schools they now claim they are “advancing education” — while still proselytising on a daily basis. In 2011 (latest figures) tax-payers gifted church schools $7.7 billion for “Christian education.”

And religion has a far deeper link with the current financial imbroglio; an historical twist raised shortly.

Public disgust and anger mounts as each new banking and financial scandal erupts — all of which contrive to deprive public coffers of essential revenue to fight inequality, unemployment and disadvantage.

Hospitals, public schools, and low-cost housing are all under-resourced; and national infrastructure would boost the economy and business development — better roads, fast-rail, the full NBN, and green energy!

Money has always been the great ‘lubricant’ — oiling the wheels of big business or greasing palms of the corrupt. But the sheer magnitude of global wealth being hidden and laundered, and the insatiable greed of the mega-rich — including banks — just beggars belief.

Historically, greed has been a vice — covetousness being one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And today’s brazen wealth now faces a groundswell of community wrath.

It has nothing to do with the ridiculous and pejorative Liberal jibe –“this is all about the politics of envy“. The brutal truth is simply that these off-shore havens allow the super-wealthy to pay no tax.

Mossack Fonseca is just one of many firms worldwide who are complicit in hiding vast global fortunes. The massive shortfall in federal revenues is then borne by honest tax-paying workers.

As for the pusillanimous politicians — they have become a weak and self-serving coterie who perpetuate an illusion that “capital” must be free to generate wealth that “trickles down” to the lower levels of society.

In Australia it is both Labor and Liberal who are a bulwark that protects a privileged corporate elite from contributing their fair share of tax to sustain an equitable society.

If parliamentarians — state and federal — don’t have off-shore tax havens themselves they certainly have the tax-limiting advantages of family trusts, negative gearing and a vast array of minimisation schemes.

And the alleged voice of the oppressed — the churches — continue to remain mute, save for the occasional pious pronouncement on poverty in a period of prosperity. They fear their hypocrisy will expose the magnitude of their own wealth; and annual tax-exemptions reliably estimated at over $20 billion per year.

What is even more remarkable is that it was Protestantism — and Calvinism in particular — that lifted the long-standing Christian embargo on “avarice and usury”.

Through the 18th century this fundamentalist brand of Christianity allowed the mythical story of Jesus and the temple money-lenders to be usurped by global banking and the captains of industry. And capitalism has now mushroomed into a level of corporate and personal greed unprecedented in world history.

In 1905 Max Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which allowed the public to more broadly question this transition in Christianity, at a time when such commentary was still dangerous.

But it was Richard H. Tawney, in 1926, and his deeply probing Religion and the Rise of Capitalism that tied the harsh and rapacious manifestations of the industrial revolution to Calvinism. He exposed a brand of strident Christianity that bore little resemblance to the ethics of their supposed founder from Nazareth.

These early works (and many others) point unerringly to the fact that Protestantism and Calvinism lead to the “unplanned and uncoordinated emergence of modern capitalism.” Offshore tax havens, the mega-rich and a wealth gap that has disenfranchised 90% of the planet’s population has been the disastrous result.

Whatever their best intentions, the net effect has brought us to the globalisation of leading monopolies in all key industries — where the annual turnover of the biggest corporations now exceed the GDP of every nation on Earth, bar a handful of the world’s richest. They financially out-muscle 95% of all countries.

National governments — and far less the United Nations — effectively lack the power to regulate these corporate megaliths. Nor do our local politicians have the political will to rectify the gross social inequities created by the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism — with a little help from John Calvin.

Brian-Morris-0-Head-Shot-150x150 About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.

39 comments

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  1. regalcrime

    Ironically, their gods give us more choice than their followers do.

  2. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Fundamentalist Christianity and Capitalism do go hand in hand.

    But Christianity and Equitability work hand in hand too!

    So what will the fat hands of social media commenters say about that?

    I am proud of my record for speakng against the pseudo-Christians who pretend to care for Jesus’ way but ignore what Jesus would suffer for and ask others to acknowledge.

    Time for real people to come together to work for real causes that mean real results for ALL of us.

    Unfortunately for the rich parasites, who have failed to share the equitable distribution of resources and results of prior enterprise, they will also be expected to share accordingly.

    Didn’t their parents teach them those basic human values!!!

  3. paul walter

    JMS, thats ok. Ill wager you’ve come across Weber /Tawney on your travels also?

    So much else to say, but it must come later, when the thoughts have coalesced.

  4. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    paul walter,

    No I haven’t.

    I would be interested to know more if there is not outright denegration of these Believers’ world views considering the lack of their scientific support.

  5. joanday45

    Your heading : “Billionaires, Banks, Bureaucrats and The Bible” Is very misleading and incorrect!
    Rather it should read: “Billionaires, Banks, Bureaucrats And The Club of Satanic Worshippers”
    That heading is more fitting and reflective of what, Who And How Powerful and Corrupt.
    Now go follow up on that story of Satanic Worshipers!

  6. paul walter

    Foundational sociology and history, It is conjecture upon on what formed what our generation referred to as WASP culture in Western Capitalism derived of the rfelationship of Puritanism as a mind set that worked in tandem with the rise of Capitalism. Very short crude take, involves sexual repression and forms the basis for individuation and socialisation, also involved is the Reformation, the split between colder and mercantile Northern Europe in the wake of Columbus and the formally dominant Catholic South. The individual conscience becomes important, bolstered by belonging to the right church, you are of the Elect, predestined to heaven whatever you do in life, if you want to make money, God will bless you, regardless of harm done to others, according to your “conscience”.

    Think Sco-Mo!!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._H._Tawney

    As the wiki explains it mid point- “Tawney ‘bemoaned the the gap between commerce and social morality bought about by the Protestant Reformation…th esubordination of Christian teaching to the pursuit of material wealth'”.

    From here much else follows, enclosuring or privatising of community assets, the industrial and sexual divisions of labor, colonialism and imperialism and the entitlement ideology so rife in our own era.

  7. kerri

    So important to estblish and maintain the distinction between church and state. Not the least because church now has many incarnations and corresponding adherents. As a fully committed atheist and if anything an anti-reilgioust, I find it offensive that my taxes fund churches whose beliefs and practices I find no worthier than my local model train club. Thank you Brian Morris for challenging the religious belief that we are all better for believing in the fairy man who lives in the sky and allows children to be molested by his most sacred servants. I note with major cynicism that the pope has taken 6 Syrian refugee children back to the Vatican with him? I wonder who will be the lucky priests to benefit from this gift of innocent nubile childhood?

  8. paul walter

    The short take: it is easier to distract from your business activities if you divert with allegations of sexual misconduct, say. I daresay feminists would say it is to do with misogyny also- all those frivolous women leading you astray from your business vocation, devoted to the Lord.

    It also explains why differences between the Rothschilds and Rockefellas, say, are largely illusory, both are creations of a historical phenomena located within Central and Northern Europe involving a sense of alienated victimhood/ entitlement.

  9. paul walter

    Silly Joan Day..there is no Satanic plot, just an ugly mindset derived of brutal history, still stuffing up our world.

  10. Phil

    To me, the term ‘christianity’ is worthless – it simply cannot be adequately defined today. The term ‘the church’ is similarly worthless – there is no ‘church’. Today’s Christianity is a state of hopelessly conflicted ideologies, opposing beliefs and rank hypocrisies – a tool used to gouge profit from the ignorant, the unsuspecting and the innocent – and to beat opposing forces and ideas into submission.

    The marriage between christianity and wealth has to be the penultimate perversion of the human spirit.

  11. Johnathan123

    Of cause there is no satanic plot. Just as there is no evil in the Vatican nor an owl in a grove.

  12. ImagiNation

    Phil, be kind. It was the greatest extortion racket of all time. have some respect, please.

  13. paul walter

    Jonathon, is the Vatican the only source of evil in our world?

    Closer to home than
    you think..

  14. Johnathan123

    Paul probably not but it is the closest thing to original sin I came up with on short notice.

  15. paul walter

    It is an irrelevant relic and Pope Francis has arrived generations too late.

    It is best regarded as a historical example of the symbiotic relationship of ideology and power, mutually reinforcing. Whatever was useful in Xtianity was subordinated to pragmatism, as it morphed to a role diameterically opposite to the best thinking of the originators.

    The best marker of this would be the relationship between St Ambrose of Milan and Theodosius the Great, circa 400 AD- from this point Xtianity is less an outsiders or battlers religion and more a part of the state apparatus , with the Church supporting the very things Christ and others earlier most detested.

  16. Jaquix

    I am currently reading the author Brian Norris’s book “Sacred to Secular ” and its excellent! Can highly recommend it – clearly written and no punches pulled. Scary to realise how Australia has drifted into the situation of gifting the “religion industry” an annual 31 billion dollars with which to basically infiltrate society and subvert the minds of our young children. This tax-free status has allowed them to create hugely profitable businesses in aged care, health insurance etc. That 31 billion dollars should be reviewed, and fast.

  17. paul walter

    That’s a ripper, Jaquix, actually moves things along toward understanding, building from previous comments.

  18. ImagiNation

    Paul I would love your opinion on Adolfo Nicolas if you have a minute.

  19. ImagiNation

    Or perhaps what Eric Jon Phelps thinks of Adolfo Nicolas…

  20. townsvilleblog

    Barnaby could only get elected in the lower house in a country seat, even then he was very lucky, he is Australian politics worst or one of its worst performers in representation, policy development, thankfully he is too naive to ever be involved in a sex scandal, and that’s about the best that could be said for the man.

  21. paul walter

    I should ask why you’d ask this, but aww shucks, here goes:

    On a brief glance Phelps is a good representation of a species that thrives as nowhere else, in the USA. Some of my FB friends are Statesiders and they loath these sorts, so many posts mocking the TeaParty, Fox, Wall st, the Lobby and Red State politicians.

    Adolfo Nicolas is more my idea of a real person. Liberation Theology has been the one bright spot with the Roman Catholic Church for the last sixty years, the one sincere attempt from within to re engage with the original mission of helping the excluded. The Jesuits were the main unit and publically active in trying to bring a slumbering and senescent wider church back to reality.

    What has been a blow for the conservatives is that the Jesuits and their more rigorous intellectual tradition and praxis are the repository for the brightest boys entering the church..were the first ones to spot the bridge down and warn of a train wreck, but were ignored, most of all by that cretin John Paul 2

    If you are of a certain age and over, you will recall the horrific events of the seventies and eighties of last century, decribed in detail by indie journalists like John Pilger.

    In Latin and South American countries, brutal fascist juntas were installed right, left and centre and the secular Left smashed. By the early-mid eighties, the only friends the proletariat had left were folk like assassinated Archbishop Romero of San Salvadore and the priests and nuns who stood with the workers some times rebelling agains theirown church, who were themselves hauled off to torture chambers or murdered.

    Certainly the poor had no hope of hope of salvation from the USA, which talked and still talks big on Democracy but produces creeps, from Nixon and Kissinger through Reagan and Ollie North, to the Bush family and Dick Cheney and now dishcloths like Mitch Connell and Paul Ryan. But the Liberation Theology Pastoral workers butchered in these places people are as much heroes as any resistor.

    Also, significantly, they were amongst the very few to take the very rugged aspects that comprise the most substantial part of Christianity to its logical conclusion…

    Those people have been heroes and comrades fallen, not to be mocked under ANY circumstances, regardless of whether they went to church, or beleived in God or worked for the church, or not.

    Just this moment, the words of the Centurion standing the foot of Christ’s cross resonate… “Surely these were Children of God”.

    More likely fools, but better people just in their little fingers than the whole of me will ever be.

  22. paul walter

    and no, I am not a f—-g cathoilc.

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks paul walter,

    you’ve shone a light on worthy people and taught me something important.

  24. Backyard Bob

    Daniel Andrews is a devout Catholic, by the by …

  25. Michael Taylor

    Paul, I was under the impression that the CIA installed the governments in the South American countries.

  26. paul walter

    Sorry, functioning under the illusion that even folk of mediocre intellect people would know that..I nearly laboured the point but something in ImagiNation’s post triggered a bit of anger. on recollection of that era.

    I think any number of nations south of the Mexican border still suffer covert interference. Even US civil society itself has been undermined, when you think
    about it ..

    Ps, thanks JW for kind remark also BYB’s comment, Andrews is clearly streets ahead of most other Premiers, esp Bambi in Sydney.

    Sore throat, grumpy- ” screw you guys, going home”- Southpark.

  27. paul walter

    Btw, have people here come across the breaking story of the GG’s monumental snub of Tanya Plibersek at this morning reconvening of Parliament. http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/live/2016/apr/18/polls-on-a-knife-edge-as-parliament-resumes-for-a-special-sitting-politics-live#comments ?

    Katherine Murphy is already up to a thousand posts for a morning’s politics and most if its outrage with a bit of trolling from libs.

    The film clip reveals a spectacular example of piggish behaviour and will go viral

  28. jimhaz

    [the churches — continue to remain mute]

    Sometimes small issues show the character of mainstream religion. Scientology is a case in point. Scientology is an example of religious slavery and totally dominates it’s followers, many of whom were children bought up in the clearly recognisable scam.

    “Many countries including Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom), while not prohibiting or limiting the activities of the Church of Scientology, have rejected its applications for tax-exempt, charitable status or recognition as a religious organization;”

    Not in Australia – they get the full range of tax concessions that the established religions get.

    You never hear the mainstream church complaining about this.

    Why? One can only assume it is because religious politicians do not want the tax status of mainstream churches to make the news.

    Xenophon has tried a few times to get a senate enquiry but both the LNP and the ALP have refused it.

    As one would expect Bernadi and Abetz were the LNP ringleaders who spoke against the notion. What I find more sickening is that the ALP senators support the abuse of Australians, when they could do something about it. Says a lot about the modern pollies methinks. So scared of sticking their neck out, that they constantly bury their heads in the sand. If you want to do something about “great moral challenges like global warming, you have to first attend to the minor moral challenges.

  29. ImagiNation

    Paul, no ulterior motive in sinister innuendo. Was just curious after your ‘arrived generations too late’ post is all.

  30. ImagiNation

    or, not in

  31. corvus boreus

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith (11;36),
    Respect and gratitude.
    I had not realized that input was open for the select committee looking into the prospect of a fed integrity commission (‘ICAC’), and,upon following your link to your submission, find that I have a mere 2 days left to lodge one.
    I shall get cracking on mine straight away .
    You truly are a pearl beyond price.

  32. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I can’t find the emoji for blushing! 🙂

  33. Margaret

    Christians need to go back to the Christ of the gospels. He was not against paying taxes and separated religion from the State ”Render unto Caesar….” I think it is Matthew 22 v 21 or vice versa.

  34. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks Margaret,

    I also love Jesus for being good in bad times.

    I agree Christians need to go back to the pure message Jesus gave. Not so sure the gospels are enough since Mary Magdalene was ignored as a disciple too. But then, I don’t pretend to know too much.

    Your point is important because many modern day quasi-Christians fail to see Jesus’ pure message and put earthly pragmatism before their faith, even if they don’t see it themselves.

  35. Pingback: Opinion: Aust. Independent Media 18.4.16 - Capital and Calvinism | Plain Reason

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