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Wealth abuse, taxation and religion

By Brian Morris

For three long years the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse heard tragic testimony from thousands of victims of abuse perpetrated by prestigious religious institutions. And there seems no end — whether to the depths of child exploitation, to inaction by churches for preventative solutions, or to delays in compensating their victims.

While child abuse has been the criminal underbelly of Christianity — most recently exposed — there is another epidemic on which all churches have remained silent, and equally miasmic with indifference.

Wealth abuse is a global phenomenon, evident long before globalisation. It’s become a crisis in every nation as the rich become even more obscenely rich, while a burgeoning underclass struggle for survival.

A miniscule 0.1% of America’s most wealthy own almost as much as the bottom 90% — this from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. It’s an exponential wealth gap that’s exploded in all nations since the rich/poor chasm of the Industrial Revolution, and widened further during the Great Depression.

And the churches say and do little other than tut-tut and hand-wring at periodic conventions, in obscure reports on social deprivation, or with 30-second news grabs to show that they “care“. They know exactly that behind the illusion and thin veneer of widespread prosperity the non-rich are simply not coping.

True, the pursuit and hording of wealth is as old as time. But historically, societies that became top heavy with wealth — in the hands of too few — fell prey to rebellion. One of the most spectacular was the Fall of Rome, but France and Russia are two classic examples of popular revolution. It nearly happened in Britain in the depression when unemployment hit 30%, and topping 70% in parts of Wales and Northern England.

But poverty has always been the corner stone for religion. The influence and domination by all churches flourishes primarily is impoverished societies, where education and social opportunity are minimal. 90% of Catholics are poor. It is the theme of a recent book, ‘Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide’.

It’s illustrated, too, by one well-known quote from Christopher Hitchens about Mother Teresa, when he said; “Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God.” And it’s in this mindset that retreat into supernatural belief seems to become the only option.

Christians have laid claim to the economically dispossessed from the very outset. Matthew 19:24 makes it clear: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

So where is the religious muscle-flexing to condemn this shameful wealth gap that exists? Where is the political influence and hard-hitting media campaigns the churches unleashed when calling for Religious Freedom, or their demands for exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to challenge gay marriage, or their frontal assaults on the Safe Schools program?

Instead, Christianity influences the creation of wealth and maintains its symbiotic rapport with governments and the social elite who perpetuate capital inequity. Indeed, it was Calvinism that eased biblical restrictions on avarice and usury, paving the way for the full development and exploitation of laissez-fair capitalism.

Now, while experiencing rapid congregational decline, the numerically small church hierarchies somehow retain a cultural and political dominance. They maintain the presence of being spiritually elitist and eschew all scientific evidence that undermines their biblical foundations. This, itself, breeds ignorance among their diminishing flock. And they continue to champion and personify Christianity’s privileged elite, and reinforce an archaic ‘class structure’ through their penchant for pomp and ceremony.

Religion remains firmly anchored in its social orthodoxy (anti-gay, anti-voluntary euthanasia, et al), it is staunchly conservative on political and economic policy, and it has an overall callous insensitivity. That is typified by an embedded ‘Mother Teresa’ mindset to poverty, and a Cardinal Pell-like view of child abuse.

Christianity’s coddled leadership continue to defy the march of progress. They are a privilege group of men with miniscule congregational support — just 8% of the public go to church. That includes all religions!

All these characteristics are well covered in two meticulous works by Professor Marion Maddox that blow the lid off Christianity, in its current incarnation. One is, ‘God Under Howard; the rise of the religious right in Australia’, and the other, ‘Taking God to School; the end of Australia’s egalitarian education?‘ A bold expose of Christian politics, economics and education by someone who is a practicing Christian.

Historically, this all adds up to Christianity being a major player in the environment of wealth escalation, and by direct association, with social and economic inequality. No doubt some of their charities do good work but the very essence of being a religious charity is to actively engage in the “advancement of religion“.

Government subsidies, initialed by John Howard, led to church domination of the welfare and employment sectors, as well as lucrative businesses in private education, private health and private aged care. In none of these is there any legal protection for their captive clientele to be shielded from predatory Christianity.

And while 37% of charities are religious, the remaining 63% are primarily SECULAR — doing equally good work on a broad swathe of humanitarian fronts — but all without the need to tout supernatural beliefs.

But the churches have departed from the alleged teachings of Jesus — to give “succor and comfort” to the needy, without “counting the cost“. Throughout history they have indeed counted the staggering wealth pouring into their coffers. Despite all their unchristian denials, churches have immeasurable wealth in property, investments, businesses, gold, art work, precious gems and artifacts, and international currencies.

In 2014 “faith groups” collected a handsome $104b income, according to government’s own Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission. And these “religious charities” are not required to submit detailed financial reports so we can assume this is a conservative figure.

Conversely, religions are avoiding an estimated $31b in taxes — across the full gamut of tax exemptions — income tax on businesses, GST, land taxes, council rates, payroll taxes, car registrations, the list is endless. The analysis was completed by the Secular Party of Australia in 2008, and it can be safely assumed that over the past seven years that figure has not diminished in any way.

So, where is all this going . . .?

In 2014 Australia’s GDP was US$1.45 trillion — that’s US dollars — and was ranked 12th on the IMF table of 189 countries. And despite the GFC, and recent falls in commodity prices, Australia remains one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

And, like the churches (over many centuries), Australia’s wealth has expanded exponentially — but primarily in the hands of society’s most privileged and already wealthy.

in 2015, the nation’s top 20% of wealth-holders increased by 28% while, by comparison, the wealth of the bottom 20% increased by just 3%. A person in the top 20% wealth-group has a staggering 70 times as much wealth as a person in the bottom 20%; and the wealthiest 10% own 45% of all wealth. These figures come from ACOSS in their 2015 report, ‘Inequality in Australia.’

So, where is the clamour from Christian churches to actually DO something about the ever increasing wealth-gap problem? Where is the voice from those religious bodies that endorsed the ACOSS report — the Salvation Army, Anglicare Australia and St Vincent de Paul?

When will the Church hierarchies ever do more that offer muted and patronising double-speak? When will they openly challenge the federal government to act — through their frequent national media campaigns? Will they ever use all their media connections to influence real change — the very same networks they use to shout down gay marriage, and a raft of contemporary social policy that offends their Christian beliefs?

Where is the church voice calling loudly — not for cuts to education, health and welfare — but for increases in revenue through equitable taxation of the wealthy in negative gearing, on superannuation rorts for the rich, family trusts, and a swathe of tax loopholes for corporations and their mega-rich patrons?

These are all multi-billion revenue streams which could build infrastructure and create ‘real’ jobs, better opportunities for the chronically under-employed, and genuine training for the army of unemployed youth who need tangible pathways to participate fully in this 12th richest country in the world.

Casual jobs now account for 35% of the workforce, the largest on record, and the majority provide only sufficient hours to allow workers a meager existence. The unemployment rate is close to 13%, including casual workers whose hours fall short of the minimum wage. A true figure is much higher still, when including all unemployed people who have dropped out of the CES system entirely.

To reverse this crisis of casualisation — and the economic insecurity of ’employment by yearly contract’ — a government with integrity would open new revenue streams. They are the traditional ‘sacred cows’ of the wealthy, mentioned above. Without these untapped revenue sources there will be no stabalising of today’s wealth inequity, no national infrastructure funds to curb Australia’s slide into social and economic decline.

And a Death Tax would be an ideal addition to any plan to finally have the mega-rich make a contribution! It was even suggested last year by Malcolm Turnbull — to re-introduce a scheme abandoned in 1978. It’s been long overdue, given that Australia’s wealthiest fat-cats are the meanest in the world when it comes to philanthropy, according to the Arton Capital Philanthropy Report of 2015. Or just pay tax! Put simply, tax minimisation is not only anti-social behaviour it’s a contrived rort on the low-paid who pay their full share.

Religion’s annual $31 billion in tax exemptions is another ancient contrivance that’s long overdue for a major overhaul — to have churches finally make a contribution to the nation’s coffers. Or do they just stand and watch as governments slash more from hospitals and public schools? While Christianity originally preached the ideal, “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s“, they continue to fight tooth and nail to retain their billion-dollar free ride at the tax-payer’s expense. It’s unconscionable, in this wholly secular society!

Malcolm Turnbull’s government faces a budget crisis in May. Wracked by indecision, they have swept ‘off the table’ a full gamut of taxation measures to off-set expenditure and the alarming fall in commodities. But all the easy options have been discarded. And it’s incontrovertible that a Catholic Turnbull would simply run screaming from the remotest mention of “death and religion” paying its fair share of tax to his government.

Brian-Morris-0-Head-Shot-150x150About 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.

 

26 comments

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  1. Kaye Lee

    Business enterprises run by religious groups range from pizza chains, insurance companies, wineries, farms, schools, hospitals and aged-care facilities. Seventh Day Adventists’ own cereal giant Sanitarium. All are exempt from tax. Australia is one of the few countries in the world where religious groups are not forced to pay tax on business ventures.

  2. jim

    A spot on report and on the money thank you Brian,The Liberals and the RC church are almost one and the same.
    Right-wing governments may sap some people’s will to live and result in more suicides, conclude studies in Britain and Australia.

    The right wing (Liberals) increase the suicide rate;The researchers speculate that losers are more likely to kill themselves in the individualistic, “winner-takes-all” societies favored by right wing governments, because they are left to fend for themselves. Wide disparities in wealth also sharpen any sense of hopelessness, the researchers argue. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2817-right-wing-governments-increase-suicide-rates/

  3. stephentardrew

    Excellent post Brian agree wholeheartedly.

  4. ella

    Love the post Brian, “wealth abuse is a global phenomenon”
    Since when have religions been other than corporations for making money?
    How often do we hear the Vatican donating to ravaged communities? So why are we surprised that individuals caught up in their abuse are of no importance to them?
    I was turned off religion ( as a young child) when the minister in our church said before the plate was passed around ,and I find it hard to translate, but, it goes something like this “be a generous giver because God doubly bless those who give generously”
    Perhaps that is why God is not blessing me … I wish all religion would disappear off the face of the Earth.

  5. salina florek

    In Italy by law portion of your taxes go to maintain the catholic church, not the Italian people and even an italian pension in Australia is subject to a demand to support the church

  6. jimhaz

    Good article. Pity no major political party will go anywhere near it.

    Now for a bit of pointless speculative pedantry.

    “Christians have laid claim to the economically dispossessed from the very outset. Matthew 19:24 makes it clear: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

    In my view this claim was initially a fit for purpose one.

    Jesus was really just a buddha type, a semi-enlightened dude. Note that he also said “the kingdom of God is within you” and in this he was referring to becoming Enlightened.

    Only the egoless/non-self centric can become enlightened. To become egoless one must be free from attachments of all kinds, free from self interest desires. Egolessness cannot be achieved without a “knowing of reality” upon which your relationship to the universe as an “inherent self” can dissipate and false beliefs laid aside. What is left, supposedly, is a sense of oneness with everything and an ability to think and react with the universe far more rationally than those handicapped by subjective thinking processes.

    This sort of full on enlightenment seems to be a path only 1 in a million with certain brain types or experiences can find or maybe it is only possible theoretically.

    In terms of attachments the rich are like human pack mules – they are overloaded with ego based baggage – materialism, gluttony, power/dominance seeking etc. Without removing this baggage, they will never be able to go anywhere near the path that leads to enlightenment.

    Amongst the poor there will be some free thinkers or those seeking a release from suffering, so Jesus targeted them. Not surprisingly, his disciples however were clearly not enlightened so what Jesus intended was rapidly morphed into a religion attracting followers using the compassion angle – a 360 turn that now promoted the absolute selfishness of an afterlife by doing good deeds, a self-promoting exercise.

    You will find that all conservatives and the religious are attachment heavy people.

  7. Greg Evers

    well when a group or organization becomes active in politics then it becomes a unsanctioned political party an there for should be subjected to those same rules , you cant have it both ways

  8. Jaq

    Great piece Brian!!!! People should share this! As for me I’m with Ella! Sick to death of evil people hiding behind the ‘good works’ of the Church. Their monopoly on morality seems to be falling apart recently. Lets hope so. No one needs an institution to have faith, and as we all know, more wars have been fought on the part of religion that on any other. As for people like Pell and Pope Francis, they deserve a special place in Hell.

  9. JeffJL

    Well that read like a piece by somebody wanting to take on religion and especially Christianity. When I read or hear people putting absolutes in their arguments my “you are full of shit meter” starts ringing loudly. Yes some groups, purporting to be religious, are accurately portrayed in your article, but not all.

    It is not correct to say that all muslims want an end to western lifestyle and values based on the pictures we see in the media. It is not correct to say that there are no members of the Islamic community condemning the acts if IS and others. Were people make these claims they are rapidly put in their place on sites like this and in a reasonable percentage of the MSM.

    I put it to the readers that significant portions of the religious communities around Australia and the globe are appalled by the actions of some of their leaders/spokespersons. Take the church that was putting the pro refugee messages on its notice board (Gossford?). I would have at a guess they are appalled at what has happened in the past with child abuse and how so called Christians are lining up to persecute refugees in Naru and Manis Island.

    Articles like this which just slam religion are more likely than not cause those trying to change things to stop their actions and defend the church. Why not encourage those who are walking the Jesus/Muhammad talk of treating others how you would want to be treated than attack everybody equally. The current Pope with his moves to reach out to other religions and clear and obvious empathy with the poor and dispossessed should be encouraged so other leaders can follow his example and perhaps stand on his shoulders and further the cause of fairness.

    This article does not do anything to improve the issues brought up in it, only make them worse.

  10. Kaye Lee

    I don’t think this article slammed religion. I think it asked questions about their wealth accumulation and tax avoidance.

  11. Maureen Walton (@maureen_walton)

    Great article much food for thought thank you.

    You do not need a Church Building to believe in God at all because once they leave the Building they have forgotten about God till the next sunday where, they can pretend to be good upstanding citizens. Really the most Honest people do not have a Building or the need for one . As they live their lives like the true God meant them to, with Honesty, Respect and Helping others etc. Not a Building that always has a plate waiting to collect money.

    And yes it is time All Churches Paid Taxes..

  12. Miriam English

    Well said, Brian.

    I’m strongly atheist, but a little while back wrote a short piece (only 4 pages long) attempting to frame it from the point of view of a good and honest Christian worrying about these very points. I am sure there must be Christians who are disgusted with the church and want to change things. We need to reach them.

    It is chapter 9 of my free ebook Prescription.

    All my books and short stories are free.
    http://miriam-english.org/stories/

  13. gangey1959

    Thank you Brian.
    Very enlightening, and so very true.
    @Jimhaz. Jesus was a Capricorn.

  14. Tracey Munro

    I agree absolutely the church or (kirk) are the biggest thieves in town, all roads lead to rome, caesar is alive and well, prospering actually, and the rest of us, are slaves to them. So if the dollar note, is a piece of paper with a lot of instructions on it, and say a house is advertised as say,$500k is this really 500 promises? and the …dotted line on a cheque, is the ACTUAL small print, the signatory is supposed to read, with the magnifying glass supplied by the issuer?

  15. Pingback: Opinion: Wealth abuse, taxation and religion - published 8.3.16 | Plain Reason

  16. Geoff

    Start with the FACT that there is NO god ( continual millions of starving children in Africa ) .. extrapolate from there ; 1. religion is a huge tax-free SCAM for evil pedophile priests. 2. The parasite pope is the richest man in the World while MILLIONS starve .. to DEATH!. 3. The pope is a LIAR ! .. god does NOT talk to him !

  17. Shaun Newman

    Geoff, I had wondered what I would write until I read your post now I won’t bother you have covered it beautifully. Surfice to say I will never buy Weet-Bix as long as my bum points to the ground for obvious reasons of company ownership and lack of income taxes paid. Uncle Toby’s Vita-Brits and Bran Plus is a far better choice for me.

  18. Miriam English

    Oops… Uncle Toby’s has been bought by Nestle, that most vampiric of monstrous food giants. I wouldn’t eat anything made by Nestle if you paid me. They’ve proven over and over again that they don’t care if they poison their customers.

  19. Miriam English

    I used to eat Uncle Toby’s Oats for years, then over some months about 15 or more years back I noticed that they no longer tasted nice. I couldn’t work it out, until I found they’d been sold to Nestle… and there was my answer. Uncle Toby’s was quality, but when bought by Nestle the worst quality crap was packed up and sold for the normal “quality” price. That’s why they didn’t taste nice anymore. Heaven knows where they get them — from pesticide-laden fields somewhere with no environmental or health laws.

    Remember when milk powder and pet food was killing babies and cats and dogs a while back? Some of that was coming from Nestle factories.

    I always treat Nestle products as if my life depended on avoiding them… because it actually might.

  20. Michael Taylor

    It was a sad day when Blue Lake flaked oats were taken off the market years ago. Their place on the shelves was taken over by Uncle Toby’s this and Uncle Toby’s that.

  21. Miriam English

    I haven’t had Blue Lake oats.

    These days I usually don’t have breakfast, in my effort to eat only once per day, but on the rare occasion that I do, I have Lowens Whole Foods Original Muesli (the one in the brown packet — the others have too much dried fruit and bran).

  22. Josephus

    There have been large popular movements in the past eg the Albigenses, the Lutherans , the Quakers , which saw Jesus as an anti establishment figure. Read ‘Montaillou ‘by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, on a village in the 12th c.
    Religions can be used to help the poor and to oppress them.

  23. Michael Taylor

    They were made in Mount Gambier, Miriam, and were probably just sold in SA.

    As for muesli, I just love the Carmen’s fruit free.

  24. Michael Taylor

    Anyway, if there was a god, he/she would have seen to it that Blue Lake flaked oats were put back on the market.

  25. Kronomex

    I like the Carman’s fruit free with plain natural (not the “style” versions) Greek yoghurt. Add a big mug of fresh ground Colombian coffee made with milk, it’s a great way to start the day. And to cap it off I sometimes like to eat a chilled lemon, minus the skin of course. I call lemons “The Cats Bum Fruit” because that’s what almost everyones faces look like when they see you noshing away on them.

  26. Miriam English

    Years ago a doctor told me the quickest way to put on weight is to eat yoghurt. (I was looking for a way to put on weight.) Yoghurt’s health claims are generally undeserved. They are yummy though. I love ’em. Rarely eat them though — too expensive.

    I’d be careful about eating too many lemons. They are very acid, just as Coca Cola is very acid and infamous for eating away the enamel on teeth.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for Carman’s Muesli (fruit free).

    I’ve been making a bunch of meme pictures lately, mostly about religion.
    You can find them at:
    http://miriam-english.org/meme/
    Please feel free to plunder them and post them anywhere. I just want them to spread. There is no need to credit me with them. If one strikes your fancy, please take it and post it somewhere. If anybody wants me to make one with a particular message, contact me (mim at miriam hyphen english dot org) and if it tickles me I’ll make it. 🙂

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