Monday, September 24, 2012

Germany's Church Tax

by Edd Doerr

In Germany 8 or 9% of one's federal tax bill goes to the church of which one is a member, Catholic, Lutheran or whatever. But as church attendance has been plummeting for years, many Germans are able to avoid paying the church tax by declaring to the government that they have left their church. In  recent years as many as 120,000 people have left the church annually, a figure that has jumped to about 180,000 in the last couple of years due to the revelations of clerical sexual abuse of minors. Alarmed at the loss of revenue (the Catholic church rakes in about $6.5 billion per year, the Protestant churches somewhat less) the German Catholic bishops have decreed that "defectors" will be denied  such church benefits as the sacraments, church funerals, jobs in church-run (but tax supported) institutions, participation in choirs and charities. Some thoughts ----

Herr Schmidt approaches the church door. A burly guard demands:"Your papers -- er, your tax returns -- bitte. What, you can't prove you paid your church tax? OK, Hans, hit the Strasse."

What would Jesus do? The Bible relates that Jesus drove the money changers  out of the temple. And he reportedly asked people to follow him but did not charge admission. But the German bishops seem to want to BE money changers. Perhaps the bishops read to NT to say, "Render unto Caesar what will end up with the bishops."

Some German wit is sure to offer this trope: "Pedophiles, ja: freeloaders, nein!"

Churches in America have been doing quite nicely without government subsidies, though bishops and fundamentalists and Republican politicians have been push for tax subsidies for church-related private schools through vouchers. But in general churches have done rather well in the US even though we enshrined the Jeffersonian/Madisonian church-state separation principle in the US and most state constitutions.

Perhaps the German bishops should read what Benjamin Franklin had to say on the subject: "When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not choose to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

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