I’ m sure readers will have views on the question above, but I want to start with another question:
Why did Jesus give so much of his reaching in the form of commands? Of course people who grew up with Bible stories are used to the idea of commandments, but most people associate commands with being children who need told what to do because they can’t yet be trusted to know what is best. In adult day to day life, most people are rarely issued with a command, unless they are in the armed forces or some other work where lives may be at risk.
Jesus seems to have been in favour of lifting people up rather than bringing them down, so why did he give so many commands. Certainly he grew up in a religious culture which gave a prominent place to the “commands of God” which had been entrusted by God to Moses and the prophets. But lawgivers and prophets always prefaced commandments with ‘This is God’s word’ whereas Jesus simply gave commands on his own authority – ” in the old times they said …..but now I tell you.” His attention was more on the content of the command that on its supposed origin. “This way is good …..follow it!”
This means that when Jesus commands “Love your enemies” he is not giving wise advice about the best life – style. He is speaking as the channel of a long tradition, allowing its collective insight to speak through him, so that he puts his whole being behind its truth and expresses its urgent relevance to his own time. Although he loves his disciples he believes they need the creative pressure of his commandment to keep them on the right track. Jesus knew the capacity of human beings for good and evil. We are not naturally good and therefore need a degree of discipline to keep us decent far less good. Commandments are an instrument of beneficial discipline. We are not to question, but to obey, which of course we will only do if we trust the one who is issuing the command.
I listened to the only question to the triumphant SNP worth asking this week. “When as promised you get responsibility for benefits and income tax in Scotland, will you reverse the Government’s benefit cuts which you are presently denouncing?” Answer? “Well no, not really, because we won’t have control of the whole economy.” Mmmnnn…. …I think I just heard the sound of hypocrisy. Because of course, increasing income tax to increase benefits would be very unpopular even with the SNP’s own supporters. That’s because years of undisputed capitalist propaganda have dinned it into people that they as individuals should be the sole arbiters of what is done with “their own money.” If we as individuals want to help the poor, we can do so, but no government should make us do it by increasing our taxes.
Well I can remember when conservative philosophers accused socialism of believing in the perfectibility of human beings! Now conservatives believe so much in the goodness of human beings that they will leave whole areas of social justice to the whim of individuals. In this matter, I think, knowing myself, that Jesus was right. Left to myself, I may feel I want to increase social justice by my own charitable actions, but probably, because I am a sinful, selfish person I will not do so with sufficient regularity to make any difference to the lives of the poor. I need discipline, and I can find it by voting for a party that will, if elected give me no choice. it will tax me justly to create more justice in society. In matters of social,justice, taxation can take the place of a commandment.
Sure, this would only be acceptable if a) I supported the social programme of that party and b) trusted it to use taxes honestly and effectively. But if I trusted the SNP in those respects, I would vote for a programme that increased my taxes. I am not a rich person, My annual income is not more than £30,000 all told, although I have full ownership,of my own house and car. I am semi- retired and lucky enough to need no medical or social care. There are many people in my position. £5 buys a cheap bottle of wine. Would it really give me pain to miss one bottle of wine a week, if I could be sure that the extra £5 of tax would allow the poorest of my fellow citizens some dignity?
So, here is my xtremejesus challenge to the SNP or any political party. “Tell me what you could do with that extra £5 per week tax, and I might well campaign for that increase. Jesus has commanded me to give to the needy without expecting a return, and to worship God not Wealth. You could help me obey.”
It’s time we were adult about this issue rather than resting on the childish and destructive nonsense peddled by selfish people who cannot see that all wealth is communally earned. Who builds their roads, their houses, their cars, their airports? Who maintains emergency services and the rule of law? Who cleans their houses? Who looks after their frail elderly? The Thatcher doctrine that there’s no such thing as society is just an excuse for beggaring your neighbour. We are inevitably dependant on others. We can choose to make this relationship fruitful for all rather than some. And what’s more, as I probably drink too much wine, this tax would also be good for my health and save the NHS the expense of my liver transplant.