Lesson 24- Tithing to Finance the Kingdom
In his recent encyclical, Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the present worldwide economic collapse and the need for the world to integrate on the international level. His point was that time and circumstances seem to make this a necessary and inevitable step since the interdependence of Humankind on the international level is already a fact and the problems facing all of us are international in scope. However, some see any movement towards internationalism as leading to a dictatorial world government such as that described in Brave New World where every aspect of life was taken over by ten World Controllers. Obviously this is a real danger that must be considered since throughout history all levels of power have attracted those who wish to dominate and exploit others. And, it would seem that the power to rule the world would be an intoxicant too great for such people to resist. Yet, we have witness the historical growth of human society from simple nomadic family groups whom roamed about to great nations, such as ours, composed of millions of people, often from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. This development, I have suggested in previous programs, is the result of two natural laws: the Law of Complexification and the Law of Organization and Specialization. And in each step along the way they had to overcome another natural law: the Law of Identity, which motivates each biological and social body to defend its identity by resisting anything foreign to itself. And, yet, following each conflict between opposing identities, common ground was established and integration into a new composite identity resulted. Our own nation is a prime example of this where hostile nationalities from Europe and elsewhere merged through association and inter-marriage into an American identity that transcended their ethnic origins.
If this movement towards human integration on higher and more complex levels is truly the result of natural laws, then it must be the result of God’s will, which is the source of all natural laws. Thus, despite the apprehension of some, the movement towards globalization and international unity is something that Christians should support with caution. It has always been the goal of Christianity, because of its linear, utopian concept of history which it received from Judaism, to unite the world under the Fatherhood of God. So the unification of the world is not the issue. Who it is united under is. From earliest times, the Hebrew prophets warns the Hebrews against having kings who, once given the power to do good for the people, ultimately would use it to harm and abuse them. Instead of external rulers, who were capable of abusing their power, God recommended Himself as a internal ruler who would direct each person by writing His laws on their hearts. In other words, God wanted us to adopt “self control”, which is true freedom and of the spirit, instead of “other control” which is slavery and of the law. Thus, any movement towards international order that involves the granting of power to the few to control the many is a movement away from God’s plan for us. On the other hand, any movement that involves the growth and development of each of us towards mature and responsible self determination is a movement towards it. The Pope’s point in his encyclical was that, if a New World International Order is to come, then we must be sure that it is based on a Christian vision rather than that proposed by the Secular Humanists.
Our motto should be “the government that governs least, governs best” and our guiding principle should be the Principle of Subsidiarity which states that the smallest unit in society that is capable of handling a problem should take responsibility for it. What this means is that whenever we refuse to accept reasonable responsibility, by default the solution to the problem is “kicked upstairs” and the further it is removed from the problem the less efficient and effective is the solution. Therefore, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we can avoid our responsibility and expect that the problems will go away. Many of the problems that are presently being handled or mishandled by a distant Washington federal government could have been solved more effectively and efficiently if those on the lower levels had acted responsibly. There never would have been a need for a Civil Rights Act, if racial discrimination and injustice had not been practiced on the local and personal levels. There never would have been an Affirmative Action program if hiring practices had been fair and open.
So let me continue my analysis of the New World Internatinal Order based on the Kingdom of God by describing some of the reforms that we as people must address to correct our past mistakes and sins. Our guide in this will be Jesus, who, as Divine Wisdom, will teach us through experience. But only those who have “the ears to hear, and the eyes to see” will be able to learn. So like the deaf and blind of Jesus’ day, let us ask for the faith to accept whatever he asks of us so we might be open to his healing touch.
We are, as St. Augustine wrote, a City of God called to be a “counter-culture” whose role, like Jesus’, is to be a “light” or example to the world by showing them the way to their own salvation through our wise and loving practices. And as a Pilgrim People, who are traveling through this world on our way to the Kingdom of God, we are shaping our hearts to receive it by living according to its principles here. So let’s begin to review the problems and difficulties that I identified in earlier programs and begin to consider what type of reforms are necessary to correct them.
As I ended my last program, I had already begun to suggest a key ingredient in the Christian vision for a City of God as a New World International Order based on the Principle of Subsidiarity and Jesus’ command that we should be “in the world” but “not of the world.” Like any city that is set apart, we must establish, support and control our own institutions, which we have done in the past through our churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. But our vision has to be even broader, involving not only these outreaches but also the parish community and all its members’ needs. And to do that we must learn the practice of “self-taxation.” A starting point for this is the practice of thithing, which, according to the Bible, is giving 10% of what we earn to the service of God. This is a well established practice among many fundamentalist Protestants and it is beginning to grow among Catholics. However, as I said, its focus has to be even broader than in the past. Let me review by quoting from my last program how a tithing community united by a vision can create a “counter culture” that is able to transform themselves and, hopefully the world, through loving actions guided by wisdom. In my last program I said,
“We have to realize that the Church was commissioned by Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. To accomplish this, it portrayed itself as the Body of Christ that became His hands, feet, eyes, mouth etc… in the world. Thus, using this analogy, it set out to create His Body based on a cellular theory that, just like a biological body, was built and organized around individual cells. This theory, by the way, was adopted by the Communist Party that built its own structure around cells.
The basic cell in the Church is the parish, which, theoretically, should establish the principles of the Kingdom of God over a limited geographical area. The Church is the nucleus, and the school is the DNA factory passing on the social codes and principles upon which the cell is based. As the parish or cell grows, it subdivides and creates new parishes or cells. Within its confines, the parish is suppose to be a haven from the “world system” and a “light on the hill” to those in the world who are dissatisfied with the “world as it is” and yearn for the “world as it ought to be.”
Like organs within the body that operate independent of conscious thought, so the parish, although a part of the international body of the Church, is a decentralized unit that operates according to general principles set by the leadership but is still autonomous in its day-to-day operation. As a self-contained unit within the body, it is responsible for the welfare of its members and, at the same time, through its connection to the larger body, contributes to and is part of the effort to spread the Kingdom of God throughout the world. It is communism with a little “c” because it is a community of believers who have committed themselves to the survival and advancement of each other.
This, of course, is what the parish was meant to be and, in the days of my childhood, it came closer to this model than many of the parishes today. It wasn’t perfect but I still remember how familes in the Irish-Catholic ethnic community shared and cared for each other in their time of need. They did it automatically without any conscious thought or direction from above or without any sense that they were contributing to the Kingdom of God. Today, where the close ethnic and family ties are missing in the newer parishes, we have to make a conscious effort to build what they did automatically, and, at the same time, see our efforts as contributing to the creation of a model of a counter-culture that is suppose to be a “light to the world.”
In other words, we need to develop a vision and work towards its practical implementation. And how do we do this?...
First, in line with the Principle of Subsidiarity, we must learn the principle of “self-taxation.” If we took my present parish that has 4800 households and, assuming that each household generated at least $40,000, and had each one contribute 10% or $4000 towards the needs of the parish community, it would generate $19,200,000 a year. Ten percent of this, or $1,920,000 could be used for the upkeep of the church and rectory and the rest of it could be invested or made available to service the needs of the members of the parish.
Second, if these same homeowners joined together to form a “pool” to insure their homes from fire, theft, and damage at an average rate of $1000 a year, it would generate another $4,800,000 for a total of $24,000,000 dollars a year. I, like others, have insure my own home for over 49 years and I have made only two claims for a total of $4,800 while the insurer made $44,200. Why couldn’t this be the parish community?
Third, if the 10,000 parishioners who live in these 4800 homes were to enter into a life-insurance pool with other parishes, there is no telling how much capital it would generate. The Knights of Columbus, for example, created just such a program for poor Catholic workers and their assets are in the billions. What might happen if every Catholic made their organization the preferred insurance provider and they, in turn, used their excess assets to help the parishes and the Church?
We need to think “outside the box” and to envision a world in which the warmth and closeness of a small community can exist in the midst of the hustle and bustle of large urban areas. And we also have to think of ourselves as “Gentle Revolutionaries” who are called to revolutionize the world by revolutionizing ourselves. That means that we will have to rethink old ways and create our own new institutions based on Wisdom. As I’ve said before, we often agree with secular sources on their ends but disagree on means. Therefore, we must demonstrate that Christian means based on Wisdom are better than worldly ways based on greed and self interest.
It’s about time that we stopped going to the world for these services and began providing them for ourselves. In other words, we have to learn how to be “in the world” but “not of it.”
And that is how I ended my last program.
There are so many ways that a community of people who are committed to a vision can build resources that can be used to benefit its members. For example, everyone should know that the “extended warranties” offered by many retailers are heavily weighted in their favor. They have hired statisticians to calculate the odds that they will ever have to pay to repair their product and it’s almost a certainty that their product will outlast the warranty. However, there is an “outside chance” that we could buy a “lemon” that might fail during the “extended warranty” period. This being the case, why couldn’t the parish community provide the same warranty for the same amount of money and reap the benefit when it proved unnecessary? This is just one more example of how a creative, loving, and wise community can be “in the world” but not “of it.” And the Catholic parish community is an ideal vehicle for doing this since, especially in urban areas, it is geographically centered around the parish church.
However, the major problem in implementing this is in our hearts, not in any lack of feasibility. The most common objection that people raise is that whenever people join together in any enterprise involving the sharing of assets or resources there is always a chance of fraud. And that is true. But, if that was enough to deter the doing of anything, nothing would be done. There would be no banks, insurance companies, corporations, businesses, pension funds, etc… But in fact there are because the answer to this objection is that you create safeguards to prevent it. And, if they fail, you create better ones. Whenever I run into this objection, I know that the problem is in the heart of the person because when the heart is involved, it overcomes all objections and obstacles and when it is not involved, it creates all kinds of difficulties which simply mean “I don’t want to do it.”
But is it feasible? Are people really willing and able to do this? Absolutely! I have already mentioned how many Protestant fundamentalist tithe to their church and, when I was teaching in the inner city schools of Philadelphia, I knew of many instances where poor, black women with menial jobs regularly gave ten percent of their meager income to a small, storefront church.
But this is not limited to our Protestant brethren. A few years back, my daughter told me that a couple from a Midwest Catholic church spoke at her church concerning the practice of tithing. Their weekly collection, they reported, amounted to over $76,000. And, since I don’t want to be accused of failing to “practice what I preach”, my wife and I have been tithing for over fifteen years.
I wish that I could say that it came from the generosity of my heart but, in truth, it was a difficult decision when I began. Trying to separate the concept of “God’s money” from “my money” was the major psychological barrier but once it was accomplished, I was amazed at how natural and normal it had become. To my amazement, I easily gave away hundreds of dollars of “God’s money” and still had to “think twice” when it came to “my money.” In my mind, this ten percent really belonged to God and it was to be used to benefit the Church and those in need. Whenever I gave “God’s money” to someone in need, I refused to accept any repayment since, as I told them, it wasn’t my money. Instead, they should, when able, help someone else out without repayment and advise them to do the same. Then it occurred to me that if everyone did as I directed, those hundreds of dollars could circulate the globe buying peace and goodwill as each person who gave performed an act of love and each person who received felt the impact of love. And the growth of love, who is God, is what Christianity is all about. Now imagine if over a billion Christians did the same thing. Is there any bank that could give us a better return on our money than this? And how much more effective and profitable is this than a government sponsored welfare program where the giver is a hired bureaucrat and the receiver is an entitled person. This is what gentleman who had lived through the Communist Revolution in the Soviet Union meant when he said that the greatest harm that Communism brought to Russia was that charity disappeared when a super-welfare state replaced and undermined the care and responsibility that each person had for his neighbor. One of the lines in “The Song of Thanksgiving” written by four Catholic priests known as The Damiens” is:
“Creation tells a story that began so long ago
Of a Love that longed to share its life in hopes that love would grow…”
Do you get it? Pope Benedict XVI does. In his recent encyclical, “Charity in Truth” he writes:
“Charity, or love, is not an option for Christians… Practicing charity, in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful, but essential for building a good society and for true integral development.”
It is interesting to note that he says that Charity, or love, is useful and essential for building a good society that results in true development because its final goal is not the giving of a “handout” to a poor beggar on the street. It’s real goal is the creation of a social structure that help to eliminate the need for any person to become a beggar on the street. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he eats for one day… Teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Thus the elimination of all types of poverty, economic, intellectual, relational, spiritual etc…, should be our real goal. As St. Ireaneus once said, “The glory of God is Man fully alive.” And, as the Pope said, it is the goal of charity to build a good society that leads to the personal development of its members. In a sense, he is declaring an antithesis to Adam Smith’s observation in “Wealth of Nations” when he correctly criticized the Mercantalistic economic system for believing that “gold and silver” constituted the “Wealth of Nations.” Instead, Smith pointed out, the real wealth of any nation was the good and service that it produced to satisfy the needs and wants of its people. And this was a step in the right direction because it took the focus off the useless accumulation of gold and silver and placed it on the physical needs of the people. However, as Hegel once noted, any good idea taken too far becomes a bad idea and that is what happened to Adam Smith’s idea when it turned into the philosophy of Consumerism through which the accumulation of things replaced our relationships with each other. And now Benedict XVI has provided the necessary corrective for Smith’s theory by announcing “The primary capital to be safeguard and valued is Man, the human person in his or her integrity.” In short, the wealth of any nation is the quality of its people and our greatest investment is in ourselves.
Thus, although charity and tithing are good in themselves, they fall short of their real objective if they are reduced to “spontaneous acts of kindness” that provide temporary relief for a passing problem. These types of acts should come from “our money”, while the creation of God’s Kingdom should come from “His money.” Thus, tithing, which is simply another name for God’s money, should be devoted to the chronic and ongoing problems that result from institutionalized defects that have been built into the culture. Eric Fromm, in his book, The Sane Society, called these “socially patterned defects” that get passed from generation to generation without anyone becoming consciously aware of their destructive effects on those who practice them. Alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, failed marriages, child abuse, just to mention a few. This led Fromm to ask the question, “If you were born in an insane asylum, grew up in it, and never left it, would you know that your were insane?” Obviously not! No more than a fish who has lived his entire life in water, knows that he is wet.
In short, a “socially patterned defect” is when an abnormal and defective way of behaving has become normalized in a culture. And since it is considered normal, no one sees any reason to “repent and reform.” In fact, it is openly encouraged by the culture. Having grown up in a working class Irish-Catholic subculture, I have seen how the glorification of alcohol led to the destruction of many lives, including my own family, and yet its praises continue in both song and jokes and each generation dutifully follows the previous generation down the same path of destruction. Believe me a drunken mother and father are nothing to sing about or joke about. And today, we could make the same statement about drug addicted parents or children, failed marriages, adulterous spouses, and many other “socially patterned defects, which from a Christian point of view are examples of what the scriptures call the unforgivable Sin Against the Holy Spirit. It’s the sin, which misses the mark of wise behavior, that refuses to admit that it is a sin and therefore sees no reason to repent and reform. And so, its practitioners continue to repeat the same behavior while expecting different results. This, of course, is one of the definitions for insanity and thus the people and the society that subscribe to it are, in a sense, insane because they are out of touch with reality or truth. And, as the Bible says, “only the Truth could set them free.” And since Jesus is the Truth, the Logos, and the Wisdom of God, it is Jesus, and Him alone, that can set us free.
My point is that Eric Fromm’s concept of the Sane Society is comparable to what Christians call the Kingdom of God. Fromm, a Secular Humanist psychologist who wrote like a Christian, envisioned a society in which love and freedom would reign and the development of each person’s full potential was the ultimate goal of the society. The only difference between his vision and ours is that he subscribed to the premise that “there was no God to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself.” And that is where Fromm and the Church part company. The Church’s position is that Man’s fallen nature is incapable of saving itself without the assistance of God’s grace, which is simply another name for God’s love.
So the task before us is to join together as true brothers and sisters in Christ under the Fatherhood of God and begin to create islands of sanity in a world that is falling apart due to its own insane behavior. These islands, as I have already mentioned, are the Catholic parishes which, already containing the structure, simply need to adopt the vision of seeing themselves as Gentle Revolutionaries who have been sent by God to be a light to the world. In accepting this challenge we will have to face the difficulty of breaking old patterns and replacing them with new ones that are more in touch with reality or truth. As Jesus once said, you can’t pour new wine into old wine skins because it will cause them to burst. New wine must be pour into new wine skins. This suggests that many in the older generation will have the greatest difficulty in accepting the new patterns and that our greatest hope is in the young people. However, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be some older people who will welcome the changes or younger ones who will resist them. It simply means that it will be easier for the young who have not already patterned their lives than for the old who have.
Let me add one additional note about the practice of tithing. I have heard many Protestant preachers say that God always gives back more than you give and I have found this to be absolutely true. Since I began tithing, I can not think of any need that goes unfulfilled or want that I can’t afford. In fact, I’ve never had so much extra money in my life. How or why this is so, I can’t explain. I only know that it is a fact. Part of the explanation is that we waste a lot of unaccountable money on things that we don’t consciously consider. For example, when my wife and I first married, we bought a house for $9,500 and paid $79 a month for 20 years. After paying it off, we lived 12 years without any mortgage. When we finally decided to move, I was frightened by the prices and mortgages of the houses we saw. How could I afford an $800 a month mortgage. Nevertheless, we bid on a house for $124,000. When another couple bought the house, I said to my wife, let’s pretend we bought the house and see how paying that type of mortgage would affect our life style. For the next twelve months, I placed $1000 in an escrow account. At the end of the year, I had $12,000 in the account and I couldn’t see any effect on our lifestyle. Where, I asked myself, was that $1000 going before. I still don’t know. All I know is that we never missed it. What it suggested to me is that we all spend money on a lot of unnecessary incidentals and that the money could be put to better use if we devoted it towards a constructive end, such as, building the Kingdom of God.
Well, I see that my time is almost up and I want to leave you with a song whose words express the role that we are called to play at this critical time in history. The song is, “Seek Ye First”, and it is performed by Robert and Robin Kochis, from their album, “How Great Thou Art”.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteous
And all these things will be added unto you
Ask and it shall be given unto you....Seek and ye shall find.
Knock and it shall be open unto you.....
Where to or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in
And whatsoever ye ask, I will do......
Well, I see that my time is up. Next time we will continue our analysis of what we must do to bring about the Kingdom of God.