Open Letter to Mormons Regarding Ron Paul, Part II: The Book of Mormon Has a Dim View of Taxation

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Open Letters


Some in the
religious community view spiritual texts most pertinent to the spiritual
realm rather than the social, emotional, or political (I am among
the number). Some may even oppose their application to non-religious
applications. I would not consider myself one of these individuals.
My reasoning for “secular” use of spiritual texts goes like this:
God has given us a brain to at least nominally comprehend spirituality,
especially spiritual writings, like the Bible, Tao Te Ching, etc.
Hence, it is wholly appropriate, or at least consistent, to use
the God-given rational faculty to comprehend and interpret spiritual
writings. Of course the assumption here is that the rational faculty
can be used in many different valid ways to interpret scripture.

Being a Mormon
and a recent libertarian convert, I find myself re-examining a lifetime
of religious teachings and concepts in a libertarian light. The
Book of Mormon is rich with application for me, including the corruption
of power, justification of war in self-defense only, benefit of
the market economy, etc.

Taxation is
particularly harshly spoken of. Most practicing Mormons view these
as complicated references, not directly applicable to our current
socio-political scenario. I grant that as a possibility, but I find
the consistent condemnation quite striking. Very little positive
is said regarding taxation.

Many today
may say taxation is a necessary evil. I also grant that a possibility
(supposing a state is necessary), but I reserve the right to have
ideals about how a government (if it exists) should finance itself,
and certainly how it should not finance itself.

With that preface,
there are primarily four explicit examples referring to taxation
(I won’t get into implicit examples here). The wicked king Noah,
for instance, “Did not keep the commandments of God, but he did
walk after the desires of his own heart…[he did] that which was
abominable in the sight of the Lord (Mosiah 11:2).” For those not
familiar with Mormonism, you can plug in any of the traditional
Biblical injunctions here (Thou shalt not commit adultery, kill,
etc.), for that is very much the tenor. The politically relevant
statements come next (but remember this is right after mentioning
his wickedness): “He laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed.”
Gold, silver, grain, flocks, etc. are mentioned here. Horror of
horrors! A 20% income tax! No tariffs, excise taxes, or other revenue
streams are mentioned, incidentally, so this appears to be the only
source of income. What did he do with these taxes? “All this he
did to support himself, and his wives and his concubines…Thus
they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and
in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon the
people.” Expensive public works projects are also mentioned (a palace,
a couple of towers, etc.) and the buildings are described as “Elegant
and spacious" (Mosiah 11:8). Sounds familiar.

What happened
to King Noah? Hubris, unrighteousness, and rejecting a prophet lead
to military defeat of his people (via invasion) and king Noah’s
death by fire at the hands of his people.

As a result
of the invasion, the former subjects of king Noah were subjected
to even more burdensome taxes from their captors. This time, the
price was “One half of all they possessed” (Mosiah 19:22). These
taxes were used to pay the occupying force. King Noah’s son, King
Limhi (considerably more righteous than his father), lamented over
this tax burden: “Is not this grievous to be borne? And is not this,
our affliction, great?” (Mosiah 7:22) These tax burdens were a direct
consequence of wickedness. This increase in taxation was directly
linked to an increase in bondage.

Now I am not
intimating our high tax burden is the result of a wicked nation
(though there may be some validity to the idea that a rejection
of traditional Christian faith or some aspect thereof may be linked
to the whole-hearted embrace of the welfare-warfare state). I am
trying to indicate that high taxation is considered extremely negatively,
and is linked with slavery, with being in bondage.

At another
point in time and another place, and among another people, another
wicked king levied heavy taxes. His name was Riplakish, and we are
told “[He] did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord,
for he…did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to
be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes
he did build many spacious buildings.” Those who didn’t pay taxes
were thrown in jail and forced to work, or they were put to death.
(Ether 10:5–8). Violent conflict bookended this reign (his
subjects rose up in rebellion), as it does much of Book of Mormon
history. But that (the perpetuity of war) is another story.

There is a
positive example of a virtuous leader who levied no taxes at all.
He is a great Book of Mormon model of leadership. Consider his words
to those he “ruled,” given at the end of his life: “[I] have not
sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you…[I] have
labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, that ye should
not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon
you which was grievous to be borne” (Mosiah 2:14).

I consider
this a high model of civic virtue: a king who appropriated no taxes
from his subjects, even working beside them in the fields for his
sustenance. Granted, this was the exception rather than the rule.
But at least it indicates the possibility of someone having authority
over another group of individuals and not succumbing to the temptations
and corruptions related to power.

In summary,
though the Book of Mormon paints an ugly picture of taxation (consistent
with our views), hope is given that there are some who would not
abuse (or who would abuse far less than most) authority over others.
Ron Paul, in my estimation, is one such exemplary individual. May
he win the 2008 Presidential campaign, that the great and terrible
leviathan may have a true opponent!

12, 2007

Reeve [send him mail] is
a practicing Mormon living in Erie County, Ohio, with his wife.

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