Our progressive income tax system - where folks with higher incomes pay a higher percentage - seems to be based on the Bible and Jesus' teachings.
Lawrence O'Donnell on msnbc gave a Bible lesson the other day, where he discussed Christian principles about taxes in response to a Rush Limbaugh quote.
Some of that discussion is reproduced below.
'O`DONNELL: I, for one, believe that asking the question, what would Jesus do is the way into a more thoughtful discussion than Rush`s obsession with the question, "what would Jesus take?"
But the New Testament does have an answer to Rush`s question, what would Jesus take. And it`s not one Rush is going to like. And since he obviously has no working command of the Bible, it will surely shock him, because he will be hearing it now for the first time.
To the question of, what would Jesus take, the answer is, everything.
Not 35 percent, not 39.6 percent, 100 percent.
In the New Testament`s "Gospel of St. Mark," a man approaches Jesus and asks him, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "go and sell all your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven."
Now, I suppose you could interpret that as go and sell all of your possessions and give some of the proceeds to the poor. But it would be equally reasonable to say, go and sell all of your possessions and give all of your proceeds to the poor.
I lean toward the give all of your proceeds to the poor interpretation, but I don`t do so with absolute certainty, nor would I use that line as Christ-based argument for a particular tax bracket. But it seems very clear that Jesus would be cool with a 39.6 percent tax bracket for people making over 250,000 dollars.
And how was Jesus` advice taken by the man who asked him what he should do to inherit eternal life? Well, it was as if Jesus was talking to Rush. As the story continues in the "Gospel According to St. Mark," "but at these words, he was saddened and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus looking around said to his disciples, `how hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.`
That`s not the only clue we have in the New Testament about what would Jesus take. Jesus also said, "any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
That means you, Rush. And that means everything. Give up everything. Those are the words of Jesus Christ. Give up everything. You can be a radio talk show host and you can make your 50 million dollars a year. But you cannot do that and be a disciple of Christ if you keep al of your 50 million dollars a year.
While Jesus may not have specified specific tax brackets, he was the first recorded advocate of a progressive income tax. Jesus actually said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything, all she had to live on."
What would Jesus take? Obviously, he would take from each according to their ability to pay. That is the clear Christian philosophical basis of a progressive income tax; 10 percent on low incomes, 35 percent on high incomes is the current structure.
And if it were up to me, much, much higher percentages on even higher incomes. Now, in holy books as long as the Bible, it is common to find conflicting citations. A quote here to make one point and then a quote there to make the opposite point.
Now, Rush, I know you didn`t bother to do any Bible reading before your silly "what would Jesus take" outburst, and I now invite you and your staff to take as long as you want to try to find a passage anywhere of Jesus sympathizing with rich people for having paid too much taxes, or for having been too generous, or for having been forced by anyone, by the state, by Caesar, by anyone, forced to be too generous.
Take your time. I`m here every night. I`m ready to respond whenever you come up with anything, a word, anything, that you think Jesus said that in any way suggests there is such a thing as an overburdened rich person, overburdened by societal obligation, overburdened by obligation to neighbor, the very neighbor that Jesus instructs the rich person to love.
"When the son of man shall come in his glory, all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations and he shall separate them, one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheeps from the goats. Then shall the king said unto them on his right-hand, come, you blessed of my father, inherent the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me meat.
"I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came unto me.
"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, lord, when did we see you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothed you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and came unto you?
"And the king shall answer and say unto them, verily, I say unto you, in as much as you have doneth unto one of the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me.
"Then shall he say also unto them, on the left hand, depart from me you cursed ones into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no meat. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not take me in naked and did not clothe me, sick, and in prison and you did not visit me.
"Then shall they also answer him, saying, `Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister unto you?` Then shall he answer them saying, `verily, I say unto you, in as much as you did not do it for one of the at least of these, you did not do it for me.
"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Rush, Jesus Christ`s instructions to you could not be more specific. You can follow Christ`s path to righteousness or you can follow the path of the damned. The choice is yours. As you sit back in full recline on your Gulfstream on the way to golf tournaments and you ponder which path to take, you might consider doing Jesus Christ the favor of never again lying about what he said.'