Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tax-free Churches? There’s No Such Thing!

You pay what churches don’t! US churches* received an official federal income tax exemption in 1894, and they have been unofficially tax-exempt since the country’s founding. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Donations to churches are tax-deductible, making for a double-dip loss of revenues by the government. They are not tax free. YOU pay their taxes.

Grant’s prophecy prediction (below) seems to be off by at least a couple hundred years. We can poke fun at that, or see if there’s any sense in the rest of the quote:

I would call your attention to the importance of correcting an evil that, if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land before the close of the Nineteenth century. It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed church property…. In a growing country, where real estate enhances so rapidly with time as in the United States, there is scarcely a limit to the wealth that may be acquired by corporations, religious or otherwise, if allowed to retain real estate without taxation. The contemplation of so vast a property as here alluded to, without taxation, may lead to sequestration without constitutional authority, and through blood. I would suggest the taxation of all property equally, whether church or corporation.” (Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President [1869-1877], Message to Congress, December 7, 1875; Congressional Record, Vol. 4, part 7, page 175; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 288)

In a sense, an unrestricted religious or corporate leader could exercise multiple votes—his own, plus whatever he could influence from his employees or congregation from his power position. That said, why are religions allowed property-tax exemptions? I would suppose the threat of taxation had been expected to keep them from acting like ordinary people with an interest in the works of government, and so would prevent religious groups’ hands from interfering. It appears that cannot work without a government agent posted in every edifice during every meeting to assure complete adherence to the law. That would happen only at great expense and set a regrettable precedent.

The various layers of government perform many necessary functions for which they prepare annual budgets. Many of those layers suffer deficits even while billions are handed out to religious and corporate enterprises for questionable reasons. Overall, our government seems senselessly generous with our money, with both parties equally guilty. Allowing massive acreage to go untaxed while some favored enterprise holds the title is but one example. The government should maintain titles to all properties from which it does not collect full taxes, and collect rent otherwise.

The following quote inspires questions about how it leads to governmental interference in religion, still at taxpayer expense:

The government has leverage on religious groups because of the tax-exemption privilege. Church leaders, eager for the church to be free to be the church, should ask for the removal of this privilege. If there were no tax privilege for religious groups, hucksters and people who are using religion as a cover for political movements would be discouraged.” (William Stringfellow, lawyer and lay theologian, as quoted in the Dallas Times Herald, December 9, 1978, p. A-27, according to Alan F. Pater and Jason R. Pater, compilers and editors, What They Said in 1978: The Yearbook of Spoken Opinion, Beverly Hills, CA: Monitor Book Co., 1979, p. 447.)

Religious institutions take undue advantage of their tax-free status when they invest in property that far exceeds their needs and become rentiers. I believe it’s obvious that making investments is an activity the scope of which is outside of what can be considered ‘religious’, in the same way as is a pastor’s earnings at a job, for which he is (or ought to be) taxed the same as anybody else. In my opinion, the grounds immediately surrounding the religious or corporate edifice for a reasonable distance (which others must determine, that may allow for expansion, the inclusion of a graveyard maintained by the members, a parsonage, etc.) and that all other properties are expected to produce eventual income outside their normal religious purview.

The quote expects religious leaders (and the government) to do the right thing: the leaders who wish to involve themselves in political activism to renounce their special status and pay taxes like everybody else, rather than yield to temptation and break the law. And, the government to hold their feet to the fire and actually impose fines and demand taxes when they do break the law. Otherwise, the government acts as if to acknowledge the religious claim as correct, that God’s is the higher law, and that all the various kinds of preachers have a right to act upon their arrogant insistence of that as a fact beyond substantiation.

We must recognize the importance of this. Our country’s early churches insisted on, and backed, the wall of separation that kept the new government away from their business. A variety of moves took place early on to insert chaplains into congress and were rejected. Prayer in public schools is still a hot topic. Efforts to insert religious edicts into law (Tennessee voters just approved a sneaky attempt to control abortions via a constitutional amendment) continue to apply every possible twist of logic to their agenda toward preeminence.

I expect their freedom from taxation was intended as part of the “wall of separation” between religion and government. If that is not the case, I see no other legitimate purpose for it, and hate that it depends on voluntary self-governance by those whom, even in Ben Franklin’s /Tom Jefferson’s time, have shown themselves to be dishonest manipulators. According to former White House senior policy analyst Jeff Schweitzer, PhD, US churches own $300-$500 billion in untaxed property. [1] New York City alone loses $627 million in annual property tax revenue due to 9,500 churches being tax-exempt, according to a July 2011 analysis by New York’s nonpartisan Independent Budget Office. [2] [3] What affects citizens is the way they are expected to make up these losses from their dwindling wallets plus pay for all the giveaways to the already wealthy. It would better serve justice to impose the taxes, and to write into law exactly what actions are illegal for religious enterprises to engage in, what actions are illegal for the government, then actually enforce fines against that, and let the courts develop it from there.

Rudeness

rudenessr

Rudeness

Donald Trump demonstrated quite effectively that he can get the religious vote by getting them accept him as one of them and his opponents as someone they would find undesirable. He accomplished this by imitating the way they think and behave. Rudeness played a large part in that. That some of them voted against him demonstrates that not all religious people approved of his behavior, his mistreatment of women, his disrespect of Hillary Clinton, or of his rhetoric. An astute observer of what goes on in our country, who could take note of the fears generated by the decline of religion in our country, he set himself up to take full advantage of that.

It worked. He threatened to separate himself from the Republican Party, and it worked. He blamed everybody but himself for his low standing, and it worked. He proclaimed himself against the evils he saw on the other side, and it worked. He proclaimed his opponents as evil and himself as good, and it worked. He spoke the evangelical language, and it worked. Hillary won big in the popular category, but Trump got the votes that counted.

He began by claiming the system is rigged, and it is. A man who owes no allegiance to anyone, he simply switched tactics and went after the rural vote and catered to their interests. A con man knows who he can con, and Trump is no exception. If the system is rigged against a big city boy, he would become a country bumpkin. And, it worked.

He showed that rudeness can pay off big for someone who knows how to work it. Our political system was set up to keep the heavily populated cities from overwhelming the rural areas at election time. What Trump demonstrated was that he can game that system and still win. This has happened more than once in a row. Perhaps it is time to take note that our rural areas have become quite well populated, and determine whether, in these times, the popular vote may be sufficient to keep the rural areas from overwhelming the cities.

Pain

painr

Pain

All the ugly sensations get dumped into the heading for PAIN’. Can you imagine a world without pain?

Although we may hate the suffering, pain is part of Nature’s warning system, delivering a message that something is going wrong (Go see a medic) or, you are (or have been; go see a medic) doing something wrong; STOP IT! While we may bemoan the mean system, if we remember we are products of evolution’s sorting process, we can recognize how the process required something with power enough to occupy our fully engaged attention. Hardheaded humans getting their jollies respond to nothing less. “Hoibert, I’m getting sore. We gotta stop for a while.”

He wrapped his arms around her and stared into her blue Irish eyes. His fake Latino accent sounded breathy when he spoke. “My darling, I love you more than life. Just one more time and I will stop. I promise.”

O-o-o-k-kay-a-a,- H-h-hoi-b-ber-r-t.”

As a teacher, pain has no peer. Only love can overcome it. Humans have learned to apply pain to serve their own purposes, some of which may be questionable. Although spanking has a historical place in the raising of children, it is increasingly regarded as a dangerous practice when applied by powerful, angry adults against juveniles. Some regard it as a criminal act to induce pain into another’s body at any age. My brothers and I were spanked, not overmuch, but often. Spankings with Dad’s razor strap ended after I used his razor to cut the strap in two. He whipped me with his belt when he learned what I had done, a thin snake that liked to coil around my legs. When Mom asked him what he would use for a razor strap, he caught the grin forming on my face. “Nothing. I’ll just wear a heavier belt.” I still wore the grin when he next looked at me, from picturing him standing with his pants around his ankles.

Pain represents a cost for accomplishments. Those who won’t endure pain or undervalue their talent won’t pay the price and won’t gain the pleasure of the associated reward. To overestimate your capabilities, on the other hand, will cause at least the equal of that pain. We can’t all sing or perform high-wire stunts, but we can all learn to become good at something enjoyable.

Values

Values

Values are, of course, about what we regard as important in our relationships with others. Values arise from important ideas attached to reciprocity, sharing, cooperating, honesty, factuality, responsibility, integrity, justice, credibility, empathy, compassion, reputation, fairness, kindness, dignity, tolerance and verisimilitude. Morality is about how we apply those ideas, and similar others, within our social interactions. (My Values, verse 11 in the book, NOTES TO MYSELF (AN ATHEIST’S PERSONAL BIBLE), available from Amazon.

Whatever Christianists claim about atheist amorality, immorality, or complete absence of moral guidance, those secular words, and the ideas they represent, were not combed from the Ten Commandments, the other different Ten Commandments, nor from any useful instructions anywhere in my King James Bible.

They are not ‘commandments’, but carry within our understanding of their meanings the commands to be applied and the consequences we may face for shirking. Nature is, of course, not a god but a guide, so we learn thru experience, wise parental instruction, warnings and, in a nod to hedonism, thru pain. Let us evaluate the list as Merriam-Webster defines it:

reciprocity: the King Of The Hill, reciprocity teaches us how to deal with and treat each other in kind. To stray away from “kind” is not reciprocal. As soon as you notice a decoying tactic, call it out: “That has nothing of relevance to the topic. Intentional or not, that sort of tactic gets used to lure an opponent away from a dangerous subject. It is very effective because most people watching us don’t have a clue about rules of debate. But, now they have been alerted, and will be watching to see how many times I let you sneak one past me.

1 : the quality or state of being reciprocal; mutual dependence, action, or influence.

Date 1766

Derived rule: Those who tell lies may well have justifiable lies told about themselves. Those who teach love may themselves be loved. But, they who preach love and practice hatred will be despised. We make friends by helping people to feel good, and enemies by causing bad feelings. We learn while watching others what we can expect from them; others learn while watching us.

Sharing:

Date: 1590

transitive verb
1 : to divide and distribute in shares : APPORTION — usually used with out <shared out the land among his heirs>
2 a : to partake of, use, experience, occupy, or enjoy with others b : to have in common <they share a passion for opera>
3 : to grant or give a share in — often used with with <shared the last of her water with us>
4 : to tell (as thoughts, feelings, or experiences) to others — often used with with.
intransitive verb
1 : to have a share — used with in <we all shared in the fruits of our labor>
2 : to apportion and take shares of something
3 : to talk about one’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences with others
—a list of synonyms will often convey more understanding than any dictionary.
synonyms SHARE, PARTICIPATE, PARTAKE mean to have, get, or use in common with another or others. SHARE usually implies that one as the original holder grants to another the partial use, enjoyment, or possession of a thing <shared my toys with the others>. PARTICIPATE implies a having or taking part in an undertaking, activity, or discussion <participated in sports>. PARTAKE implies accepting or acquiring a share especially of food or drink <partook freely of the refreshments>.

Derived rule: While modern humans tend to regard sharing as a contributor to loss and cost, failure to find a role for reciprocity makes sharing an unbalanced activity. The increased stress that has resulted requires that we learn to live fully balanced lives for health’s sake.

cooperation:

Date: 14th century

1 : the action of cooperating : common effort
2 : association of persons for common benefit

Derived rule: cooperation exemplifies the application of reciprocity.

honesty:

Date: 14th century

1 obsolete
2 a : fairness and straightforwardness of conduct b : adherence to the facts : SINCERITY
synonyms HONESTY, HONOR, INTEGRITY, PROBITY mean uprightness of character or action. HONESTY implies a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way. HONOR suggests an active or anxious regard for the standards of one’s profession, calling, or position. INTEGRITY implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge. PROBITY implies tried and proven honesty or integrity.

Derived rule: avoiding corruption in our dealings with others, always requiring the same from them, will enhance your good name, but one slip can undo years of effort, often for all our remaining years.

factualness:

Date: circa 1834

1 : of or relating to facts <a factual error>
2 : restricted to or based on fact <a factual statement>
Since all the dictionary did was point to “fact”, we’ll take the hint:

fact:

Date: 15th century

1 :obsolete
2 archaic : PERFORMANCE, DOING
3 : the quality of being actual : ACTUALITY <a question of fact hinges on evidence>
4 a : something that has actual existence <space exploration is now a fact> b : an actual occurrence <prove the fact of damage>
5 : a piece of information presented as having objective reality
in fact : in truth

Derived rule: since facts pertain to information about reality/actuality, and we commonly recognize the three forms of information as lies, opinion, and facts, we must stay mindful to accept and trust only information from trustworthy sources.

responsibility:

Date: 1771

1 : the quality or state of being responsible : as a : moral, legal, or mental accountability b : RELIABILITY, TRUSTWORTHINESS
2 : something for which one is responsible : BURDEN <has neglected his responsibilities>>>><

Derived rule: the burden of proof lies in the arms of those who make positive assertions, for they can can lie, lie, lie, and lie with the Devil without that barrier against injustice.

Integrity:

Date: 14th century

1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTIBILITY
2 : an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS
synonyms see HONESTY.

Derived rule: to maintain high integrity is the only way to earn others’ trust.

Justice:

Date: 12th century

1 NA
2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : RIGHTEOUSNESS c : the quality of conforming to law
3 : conformity to truth, fact, or reason : CORRECTNESS

Derived rule: The principle of equality is based on the idea that all citizens deserve fair treatment under the law. We must carry that practice forward, under the same reasoning, to our treatment of each other for protection against loss of our rights.

credibility:

Date: 1594

1 : the quality or power of inspiring belief <an account lacking in credibility>
2 : capacity for belief <strains her reader’s credibilityTimes Literary Supplement>

Derived rule: to gain and maintain credibility, practice those traits that develop integrity.

empathy

Date: 1850

1 NA
2 : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this

Derived rule: Having our own feelings enables us to imagine the suffering we see others enduring. Empathy then works with compassion to prod us, often at some risk, to offer help. We all know we will eventually need help and “pay it forward”.

compassion:

Date: 14th century

: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it
synonyms see PITY

reputation:

Date: 14th century

1 a : overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general b : recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability <has the reputation of being clever>
2 : a place in public esteem or regard : good name <trying to protect his reputation>

Derived rule: a reputation that takes years to attain can be lost in seconds through hasty or thoughtless actions.

fairness:

Date before 12th century

1-5 NA
6 a : marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism <a very fair person to do business with> b (1) : conforming with the established rules : ALLOWED (2) : consonant with merit or importance : DUE <a fair share> c : open to legitimate pursuit, attack, or ridicule <fair game>
7-11 NA
synonyms FAIR, JUST, EQUITABLE, IMPARTIAL, UNBIASED, DISPASSIONATE, OBJECTIVE mean free from favor toward either or any side. FAIR implies an elimination of one’s own feelings, prejudices, and desires so as to achieve a proper balance of conflicting interests <a fair decision>. JUST implies an exact following of a standard of what is right and proper <a just settlement of territorial claims>. EQUITABLE implies a less rigorous standard than JUST and usually suggests equal treatment of all concerned <the equitable distribution of the property>. IMPARTIAL stresses an absence of favor or prejudice <an impartial third party>. UNBIASED implies even more strongly an absence of all prejudice <your unbiased opinion>. DISPASSIONATE suggests freedom from the influence of strong feeling and often implies cool or even cold judgment <a dispassionate summation of the facts>. OBJECTIVE stresses a tendency to view events or persons as apart from oneself and one’s own interest or feelings <I can’t be objective about my own child>. synonyms see in addition BEAUTIFUL. NA

Derived rule: a reciprocal rule of fairness would acknowledge that others expect us to behave the way we think they should, limited by shared parameters. More common, however, is the expectation that visitors should conform to established standards wherever they go. That is the fairest option, and wise travelers will know they have the greater foreknowledge of where they will appear, and the greater ease of adjustment. That makes the latter the fair choice, with invading armies and missionaries the only apparent exceptions.

kindness:

Date: 13th century

1 : a kind deed : FAVOR
2 a : the quality or state of being kind b archaic : AFFECTION

Derived rule: we must be kind to others to expect them to be kind to us.

dignity:

Date: 13th century

1 : the quality or state of being worthy…
Derived rule: Maintain your dignity; respect that of others.

tolerance:

1 : the capacity to bear something unpleasant, painful, or difficult <had always had a high tolerance to pain>
Synonyms endurance, stamina, toleration
Antonyms intolerance
Synonyms FORBEARANCE 2, clemency, indulgence, lenience, leniency, mercifulness, toleration
Related Words liberality, liberalness, open-mindedness, permissiveness
Contrasted Words narrow-mindedness; prejudice; dogmatism; bigotry
Antonyms intolerance

Derived rule: Intolerance begets intolerance, and shows reciprocity to be a natural rule.

verisimilitude:

the appearance of truth; the quality of seeming to be true.

Date: circa 1576

1 : the quality or state of being verisimilar
2 : something verisimilar:

Date 1681

1 : having the appearance of truth : PROBABLE
Derived rule: maintain verisimilitude by following the trails of verifiable evidence wherever possible, being first to acknowledge your own ignorance, and staying within the range and scope of your knowledge. When others use arguments of questionable merit to lure you into uncertain grounds, tell them, “That’s outside the range of my studies”; then “I don’t see how that is possible. Explain it for me, please.” Always be polite. With some smarts and diligence on your part, those who come to argue will lead you to become the best kind of fully rounded atheist.

Written entirely with OPEN OFFICE.

A Naked Truth

A Naked Truth

Right at the beginning of the creation story in Genesis, the god named God looked upon the naked people he had made and declared all of it, “Good.” The instant he found them shielding their nakedness from his view, he lost his trust and respect, declared their actions a sign of sin, and punished even the innocent animals because of it. “All have sinned and fallen short,” said the man he sent to atone for that, who apparently failed because going naked in public will still get us all arrested in most places.