Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Should You Tithe To A Church?


This was my shortest, one-word blog entry, until now.  I think it deserves some elaboration.  Giving money to charity is not inherently a bad thing, provided you are doing it for the right reasons and giving it to the right charity.

By the right reasons, I mean that if you are giving money in order to feel better about yourself or to impress others with your good works, you are giving for the wrong reason.  Few people donate money anonymously, but rather want to make sure their name is prominently placed on a list of donors, or chiseled into a wall of a building, or even put onto a brick on a sidewalk.  Everyone, it seems, wants to advertise these days.  And hey, it is a human urge, so don't feel ashamed to admit it - but do admit it and get that out of the way.

And by donating to the right organization, I mean one that really is doing good, not just providing high-paying salary jobs for the employees of the organization.  NPR executives drag in multi-million dollar salaries every year, in order to make asinine decisions like firing Bob Edwards, to attract a younger audience, or firing Juan Williams and then insinuating he is insane.  Hey, I'm an old fart, I guess they don't need my money - at least so long as they are raking in the kind of dough to pay someone over $1,000,000 per year to make bonehead decisions.  It is just too bad that your tax dollars and mine go to subsidize this, both directly (which they claim is a trivial amount) and indirectly (through program fees from member stations, which is not a trivial amount).

The point I am trying to make with the example of NPR is that an organization might appear to be doing one thing, but actually is doing another.  PETA sounds like a great organization, until you realize they advocate a lot of far-out ideas and not only that, are against "no kill" shelters and also have been known to euthanize a lot of animals themselves.  The Dali Lama sounds like a cool dude, until you realize he is on the payroll of the CIA.  AARP sounds like a great advocacy organization, until you join, and realize that they are just selling your name to people pushing the worst sort of bargains on Seniors and advocating political causes that may or may not align with your own.  The list goes on and on.  The point is, it pays to investigate what is really going on with your money before you just hand it over.

And when it comes to churches, the money you are handing over doesn't go to God, or even Jesus, but to people, human people, who are all too fallible.  God doesn't want your money.   And even in the best case scenarios, the money you throw at a church ends up paying for a building, the heating bill, the church secretary's salary, and for the minister's salary.  That's all very well and fine, but that is a lot of overhead to incur, just to get closer to God, which you can do, by the way, for free.

Yup.  God doesn't require you join a particular church or a particular religion in order to connect with him.  In fact, I strongly suspect that the whole religion thing kind of annoys her in the utmost.  But that's just a suspicion I have.

The largest problem with Tithing is that it dictates to a person that they send off 10% of their pre-tax money to the church - which is a huge chunk of money that most people simply cannot afford.  It is more than Uncle Sam gets, in most cases, and at least most of that gets paid back to people in the form of Social Security and Medicare.

And in many cases, people who are very poor will get snookered into tithing to an odious church, while at the same time, incurring debt.  And in fact, they get in over their head into debt, and think tithing is a way out.

I kid you not.  The getoutofdebt guy site had a pathetic posting from some born-again snake-handler who was bewildered as to why they could not get out of debt - "After all," she said, "I'm tithing $850 a month..."

Here's the deal:  God won't pay off your VISA bill, you have to.  And to do that, it might mean being a little more "selfish" for a while, until you can get out of debt and be in a position to give.  Take care of yourself first - it is part of the unwritten social contract.

Some investment Gurus, like Dave Ramsey, advocate tithing.  In fact, Ramsey offers to do debt seminars at churches, which is an attractive service for a church to offer.  After all, how can someone tithe to a church if they are tithing to the false Gods of VISA and MASTERCARD?  Get 'em out of debt and get 'em tithing!  And Dave Ramsey will help your congregation do just that.

But one other reason I think tithing is a bad idea is that money is power.  As I have noted before in this blog, money is an idea - a great idea, even the greatest idea man has had.  It represents power and control and labor and sweat.  And when you hand over a lot of money to one organization, you hand over a lot of power to them, plain and simple.

And throughout the Centuries, various churches and other organizations have wielded this sort of power, often in ways that were very unseemly.

Grover Norquist, one of the new neo-con thinkers of the Bush Administration, advocated for a smaller government - one so small and weak that you could "drown it in a bathtub".  His point was, that if government was small and weak, it would also be modest, and people could run their own lives, rather than asking the government for permission, or worse, money, every time they wanted to do something.

I am not sure that Mr. Norquist was right with regard to government.  But with regard to churches, I think that the less power they have, the better off we all are.  A church needs only to be some place to meet - a modest place, not an expensive cathedral.  And we do not need an expensive overhead and hierarchy of supervisors and bosses that all need to be paid (and have their retirements funded).  History has shown that such organizations just tend to split up over differences in opinion on official dogma.  Why throw your valuable money at that sort of nightmare?

Take care of yourself first.  God wants you to do this.  He doesn't want you in debt for the rest of your life - miserable.  And trying to curry favor with him by giving money to an organized religion will do little more than incur his wrath.  Instead, consider carefully such donations - whether you can really afford them, what your real motivations for giving them are (not personal glorification) and whether the organization is worthy of such largess.

Because a religion is not God.