Lesson 25- Tithing and the Mormons
I ended my last program with the song, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” since as it is often said “we should put first things, first.” If what the song says, based on Jesus’ statement, is true, then it would seem that if we really did seek the Kingdom of God, all those things that are truly good in our present world would still be there and even more. St. Paul, in Philippians4:8 said “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Sometimes we get the impression that God expects us to live a life of total denial rather than fullness. Yet, Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it fully.” Then what’s the problem? Didn’t God want us to have and use all the wonders that science and technology have created? Is modern technology evil in itself because, as Aldous Huxley predicted, it could lead to a scientific and technological dictatorship like Brave New World? Were we all suppose to live like the Amish or cloistered nuns and monks? Didn’t God want us to discover electricity, automobiles, television, computers, or the laws of aerodynamics that allows an airplane to lift 450 people off the ground and fly at nearly 600 miles per hour? If He didn’t then why do obviously good people such as famous Protestant evangelists, Popes, and even living saints like Mother Theresa of Calcutta use them?
Buckminster Fuller, a modern day Renaissance Man, noted that the universe itself was based on mathematics and the most magnificent technology and Albert Einstein, who was one of the greatest seekers of all time, said:
“The most beautiful and most profound emotions we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting Itself as a higher Wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties (mind and senses) can understand only in their most primitive forms- this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. My religion consists of the humble
admiration of the illimitable superior Spirit who reveals Himself in the slight details we are able to
perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior
reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God… “All I ever
wanted to do was to understand the mind of God.”
The Higher Wisdom that Einstein speaks of is, according to the Church, Jesus Christ, the Word, Logos, and Logic of God who established the mathematical laws of the universe that are the source of all science and technology. I know that most of us don’t think of him in this role because we have limited him to what is religious. But, according to the teachings of the Church and the Bible, he is the Wisdom that the Father used to create the universe and all that is in it. Thus, he is the source of all truth and we limit his influence unnecessarily when we forget his cosmic dimension as reflected in the natural laws that science seeks and discovers and the technology that flows from these discoveries. So when Jesus and the song say, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be added unto you”, we should understand it to mean that we should be seeking all truth, religious, moral, scientific etc…, so as to establish a kingdom upon this earth which is based on love and wisdom. In short, our motives should be loving and our methods should be wise. Anytime our motives are unloving but wise or loving but unwise, or, heaven forbid, both unloving and unwise, we “miss the target” or sin and we start to reap the consequences that flow from our decisions. And that is the source of our current condition. Our motives were neither loving nor our methods wise.
Virtue, which is what God expects of us, is defined as “right use” and thus vice must be “wrong use”, and “sin”, which comes from a Greek word that means to “miss the target”, is simply the result of failing to seek and follow the Truth that flows from Divine Wisdom, or Jesus. And once we realize this, the proper response is to “repent and reform” by using the gifts that flow from God in the way that He intended. And that is what our current analysis is attempting to do. And, to the extent that we succeed, we will contribute to the “ending of the world system” and the “ushering in of the Kingdom of God.” So let me continue my analysis of what went wrong and how we might repent and reform our actions to correct our mistakes. Remember, that the Kingdom of God is based on love and wisdom and thus all our decisions should reflect these two qualities that flow directly from the nature of God, Himself.
I have already made the point that the first thing that we must do is to recapture the vision that we, as Christian, are merely pilgrims passing through this world on our way to the Kingdom of God. Therefore, our psychological attitudes in one of “being in the world” but not “of it.” Our role is to be a corrective to the world by being a light of wisdom and love through the example of our lives. We, like Jesus, were born to serve through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy by sacrificing ourselves through our time, treasure, and talents out of love for others. And we are called to do this not just as individuals but as a corporate body, representing the Body of Christ Himself. And each parish, as a cell in that body, should reflect the spiritual genetic code of Christ Himself so that it is no longer we who act, but Christ who acts through us. In essence, we become what St. Augustine termed, The City of God and, like any city, we must learned to tax ourselves to support the needs and programs of its members. Thus, in my last program, I suggested that we should learn the principle of “self taxation” through the thithing of ten percent of our income to the service of God’s Kingdom. As I mentioned then, many people, including myself, have been doing this for years and have found it both doable and beneficial to our spiritual growth because in order to prepare ourselves to go to God’s Heavenly Kingdom, we must first begin to live it here. Otherwise, it will be so foreign to our hearts that we will be unable to accept it.
However, at this time in history, our need to live God’s Kingdom goes beyond our personal salvation. The world itself is in danger of collapsing because of its own foolishness and the only remedy for it is to repent and reform by replacing our foolish practices with ones based on wisdom. Thus, tithing has to take on a corporate and social dimension that goes beyond the support of the parish church and individual acts of charity. It has to be viewed as “self taxation” to support a counter-culture lifestyle that seeks to establish the Kingdom of God on earth by living out the principles of the gospels.
Years ago, my Protestant brother told me that e would have become a Mormon, if it wasn’t for their theology that rejects the Nicene Creed’s view of the Trinity and their belief that God the Father was once a human being who evolved into a God and is married to a Heavenly Mother. According to him, the Mormons are the only church in the United States that pays taxes because they refuse to declare themselves a non-profit organization. I never confirmed this, so we’ll have to evaluate the concepts even if my brother is incorrect. Supposedly, they refuse to accept a tax-exempt status because they intend to use all of their resources towards profit-making enterprises. According to my brother, each Mormon contributes ten percent of his income to the church which then directs it towards investing in Mormon owned business and the welfare needs of their members. Therefore, when a Mormon becomes unemployed or in need of assistance he doesn’t go to a government welfare program. Instead, he goes to his church, which is better able than a government agent to evaluate his true need. The church offers him temporary assistance either through money or a job. However, as soon as he is able, he is expected to assume control of his own life. This is a perfect example of the Principle of Subsidiarity because it keeps the solution to one’s problems as close as possible to the source and is dealt with on a personal, rather than bureaucratic level.
In addition to tithing to his church, each Mormon male is expected around the age of nineteen to devote two years of his life in service to the church. Normally this involves evangelizing others either in this country or abroad. I’m sure that many of you have seen them. They travel in two’s, wear dark pants and a white shirt and have a clean-cut look.
And how successful have the Mormons been? Well, from a small group of heretical Christians, in the 1830’s, who were driven out of New York and the Eastern seaboard, many, led by Brigham Young, traveled to the barren lands of Utah where they planted themselves and established their own lifestyle based on polygamy and the revelations in the Book of Mormons, which was discovered and transcribed by Joseph Smith. Since then they have spread to other areas, both in the U.S. and the world, and, according to my brother, they have significant financial holdings on the West Coast. They have a reputation for honesty, intelligence, and clean living and are often hired by non-Mormons, such as Howard Hughes, because of these attributes. Even though they don’t believe in gambling, they are hired to run the finances of the major casinos in Las Vegas. Thus, in many respects, they of “in the world” but not “of the world.”
It has always amazed me how often radical, heretical groups live out various aspects of the gospel better than orthodox groups. It almost seems that the devil’s favorite device is to mix truth with error, morality with immorality, orthodoxy with heresy so that it becomes difficult for believers to discover the true church. Fr. O’Donnell from Malvern Retreat House used to say that the devil never tells a total lie because that would be too easy to detect. Instead he mixes 95% of the truth with 5% of a lie in order to mislead the undiscerning. If this is the case, then we must learn to separate what is true and good from what is false and bad so that we might incorporate the good into our own lives. Although we, as Catholics, admit that other churches and religions have elements of the truth, it is our belief that only the Catholic Church has the “fullness” of it. Therefore, there is much that we could learn from the Mormons and others.
First, we could learn to approach tithing as they do as a method for financing and creating a counter-
culture that is willing and able to compete with the world in profit-making ventures. I once ask a good
Catholic man who owned a business how much of his overhead was due to employee theft. He shocked
me by say one-third. “If that is true,” I said, “then if all your employees were dedicated Christians who
worked a full day without stealing, you would have a significant advantage over your competitors. And
since, in a capitalistic economy, whoever makes a better product at a cheaper price wins, Christians should
be able to out-compete the world every time. And, the proper response of your competitors, if they
wished to stay in business, would be to discover the secret of your success and either copy it or try to
exceed it.” “Absolutely!”, he said. Thus, it is obvious that through the laws of Natural Selection and
Survival of the Fittest, Christianity, when put into practice, would be able to convert the world by forcing it
to compete with its loving and wise methods. It’s just as St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel everyday and
sometimes use words.”
This is something that we, the laity, could do without affecting the tax-exempt status of the sacramental
Church although that is something that should be considered since too often the loss of tax exemption is use to silence the voice of our religious leaders on important social and political issues. When I speak of the Church, I am thinking
of how the documents of Vatican II used it. Vatican II was clear that this is the Age of the Laity when all
of us have to assume the responsibility for converting the world to Christ through our actions in those
areas of life with which we are involved. We are the Church and all that is lacking is for the laity to have a common vision and a
communal sense of belonging to the Body of Christ that is called to be his active agents in the world. And the first step is to begin the process of self-taxation through tithing.
One of the benefits of self-taxation through tithing is that it would correct a major flaw in our behavior that
contributed significantly to our present problems. We have been living in the never-never land of credit in
which we have been spending money that we don’t have and may never have. The saving rate for the U.S.
was in the minus column, which means that as a people we were spending more than we were earning. As
a result, we created a hyper economy that couldn’t last without a continuous rate of high consumption
based on credit card debt. The government, which kept promising to give us more and tax us less,
followed the same course by borrowing heavily from China, whose people had a saving rate of over 10%,
and other nations and by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund which now consists of I.O.U’s that our
children and grandchildren will have to pay along with our debt to foreign nations. Through tithing we
will be forced to discipline ourselves to set money aside for other uses that contribute to the quality of our
lives and return the economy to a reasonable level of activity based on real earnings and real needs.
The major thrust of the parish community should be to encourage everybody to get out of debt, especially
to become mortgage free. Economists and common sense tell us that how much we make is not what
really matters since two people making the same amount of money may have different consequences.
What really matters is “disposable income.” If two people are making $3000 a month and one has a
mortgage of $1500 and the other is mortgage free, the second one has $1500 more disposable income that
is available to be saved or spent on other items. And, of course, the same is true for other types of debt. For 12 years my wife and I were mortgage free in our first house and the result was that we always had extra money even though I wasn’t making a lot and we were raising three children. In fact, we were often in the position of being charitable to others. Yet, there were others who made much more money than I who never had any money to spare. Every time my fellow workers got a raise to keep up with their expenses, the same raise just gave me more disposable income because we always tried to live within our means. I once heard an ex-millionaire exclaim that “everybody lives at their own level of poverty.” What he meant was that he was as much in debt and sometimes even more as a millionaire as any person on the brink of poverty. Living within one’s means is just another way of following wisdom.
Second, we could learn from the Mormon’s sense of community by seeing each parish as a community
that is a cell in the Body of Christ that is living out the Kingdom of God through its loving and wise ways. If we don’t want to be taxed by a welfare state to provide for the social needs of its citizenry, then we must learn to take care of those needs ourselves on the local and personal level by taxing ourselves. Like the
Mormons, the Greater Church, which is all of us, should respond to the practical needs of its members by
having each parish, in conjunction with other parishes, provide assistance and a safety net for those within
its boundaries. Instead of just saying, “I’ll pray for you!” when told of someone’s need within the parish, we should be able to offer jobs, money, and other practical assistance that helps the person to return to a state of self-sufficiency. It should never be a “dole” that encourages laziness or dependency. It’s should always be motivated by love, which is concern for the person, and guided by wisdom, which is directed towards his growth and development.
Third, the Mormon’s practice of requiring each young adult, before beginning his worldly vocation, to devote two years of his life serving the church is something that would benefit the Church and the young people involved. First, it would provide workers for the many ministries within the Church and second it would teach the young people the concept of service and, at the same time, give them experiences that would help them in directing their lives. At the present time there is a group of single young people who are living a communal life in the rectories and convents of parishes that have died or are dying. Although some are contemplating a religious life, most are simply seeking an environment where they can share their faith with others. Aside from the financial benefit of sharing expenses, they come together for prayers and devotions, and, although the females and males live in separate facilities, they do intermingle in the various ministries to which they belong.
In the early 1900’s, Fr. Judge, after whom the high school is named, tried to convince lay people that they could serve the Church and still remain lay people. In the past, whenever young Catholics thought of serving God and the Church, they immediately thought of entering a seminary or a convent followed by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Fr. Judge was trying to convince his followers that they could serve both God and the Church while single or married. It appears that these young people may have taken the first step towards enacting his vision by living in community during their single years while remaining open to marriage and the family. It certainly seems preferable to the “apartment dwelling lifestyle” that seems so prevalent among young adults and it has a great deal of potential for service to the Church. There is no reason why an alternative lifestyle involving temporary vows couldn’t be instituted that would encourage our young adults to living in supportive communities while searching for their future spouses. It’s a beginning that needs a lot of creative thinking. But this is not the only area that needs reevaluation and creative thinking.
The philosopher Schopenhauer once said that the best way to learn was “Life first … then books!” Unfortunately, we have followed the practice of “Books first.. then life.” And the result is that many of our young people spend years being educated for adulthood without any idea of what they are preparing to do. When I entered college, I was one of the few students that had even an inkling of what I was preparing to do. I thought that I wanted to work with young people as a Social Worker. Many of my fellow students were there because it was expected and they often ended in occupations that had nothing to do with what they studied in college.
However, even I discovered that my goal was off-target. When I entered the Graduate School for Social Work, part of the course was working three days in the field. After one year of experience, I knew that I didn’t want to be a Social Worker. Fortunately, unlike others who spent their lives at jobs for which they were unsuited, I found it out early enough to change my direction. Someone once said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” How true! The world says “Go where the money is!” while God says, “Go where your heart is!” And the best way to test your heart is through experience.
Thus, education, even in the earlier stages, should always involve practical experience. And the best way to get experience is to be involved in a productive enterprise that is of service to others. Years ago, in Europe, young people were often apprenticed to craftsmen and businesses where they acquired skills and were able to test their own aptitude against experience. Even today in parts of Europe the idea of apprenticeship continues. I once taught an exchange student from Germany who was returning there to be apprenticed to be a midwife where she would learn how to deliver babies. How practical… how wise.
In a previous program, I created the greatest heresy for a teacher when I suggested that we had overblown the need for a college degree. In recent years, certain people have convinced the rest of us that no child can succeed or make a positive contribution to society without a college degree. As a result, in many cases, we have placed a guilt trip and financial burden on both parents and students that is both unwise and unnecessary.
Certainly, there are some professions that require higher education that make it necessary to attend a college or university. However, there are many more that a reasonably intelligent person could learn simply by doing it. Yet, we have convinced ourselves and those that do the hiring that one must have a college degree before he or she can be even considered for a job. Hogwash! The emperor has no clothes and in many cases the need for a college degree has no basis in reality. Yet, we continue to propagate this lie even though it places both parents and students in serious debt and delays the adulthood of our young people by extending their dependency four or more years beyond what is necessary. Wisdom says that it is not wise to have young people begin their adulthood in serious debt or to delay their adulthood unnecessarily.
Therefore a Christian community should counter the lie with the truth and refuse to play the game by having Christian businesses and employers hire people according to their aptitude and character rather than by an unnecessary credential. The nuns used to say that your most important school record was your attendance record and I believe that they were correct. Most jobs can be learned by doing them and what really matters is that the person is dependable, honest, and reliable. Let reality be the determinant of who needs or doesn’t need the extended education that college offers. And if a person needs further training in a particular area, let him or her return just for that area. True education is a lifelong process that can be attained in many ways, especially through experience. My oldest grandson, who doesn’t particularly like school, loves to read and to watch the History Channel and documentaries and is interested and conversant on many topics that he learned from these sources. There are so many sources of information today outside of formal schooling that self-education is available to all. Experience is always the best teacher and only life itself is capable of providing it. In fact, in Proverbs 8, Wisdom, who is Jesus, says that it is through experience that he teaches us. And, to reiterate what Schopenhauer said, “Life first… then books!” And that is why the apprenticeship programs in the past and those in some European countries now make more sense than what we are presently doing.
Therefore, let’s reevaluate whether it is wise to require most, if not all, of our children to automatically attend a college or university with the results that the parents and/or students are put in serious debt, the adulthood of the students are delayed way beyond what is reasonable, and often their core values are undermined by so-called intellectuals who reject the Church and Christian values. Never have so many paid so much to receive so little. It’s about time that we returned to reality. However, this can not be done unless there are Christian employers who, sharing the vision, are willing to drop the unnecessary prerequisite of a college diploma.
As you may have guessed, everything that I have said depends on one thing, that is, that we begin to see ourselves as a community with a shared vision because without that we are simple a bunch of ineffective isolated atoms who are often working at cross-purposes or pawns in the implementation of someone else’s vision. However, we must avoid pipedreams that are impractical and too idealistic.
As Christians who have inherited the Judeo/Christian/Linear/Utopian Concept of history, we are called to build a better world. However, throughout history there have been visionaries before who sought to create a better world who failed because they got too far from reality and human nature. Between 1825 and 1829, a group of intellectual visionaries tried to establish a utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana. It failed within four years because it tried to eliminate private property and the right of the individual to control his own life. One of it participants, Josiah Warren, wrote:
"It seemed that the difference of opinion, tastes and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity. Two years were worn out in this way; at the end of which, I believe that not more than three persons had the least hope of success. Most of the experimenters left in despair of all reforms... We had tried every conceivable form of organization and government. We had a world in miniature. --we had enacted the French revolution over again (and the result was) despairing hearts instead of corpses (of the Reign of Terror) as a result. ...It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us ...our 'united interests' (which bonded us together) were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation... and it was evident that in proportion to the (number of )… persons or interests (involved), so are concessions and compromises indispensable." (Periodical Letter II 1856).”
In other words, they failed to institute the principles of “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality” from the French Revolution because “It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us ...our 'united interests' (which bonded us together) were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation... and it was evident that… in proportion to the (number of) persons or interests (involved), so are concessions and compromises indispensable."
They didn’t realize that any realistic attempt to unite the world had to take into consideration our need to be ourselves and that in order to form a cooperative union of any type, including marriage, it always involves making concessions and compromises to the differences in others. This is the point that C.S. Lewis made in his book, The Great Divorce. Hell was isolation from others because no one needed to make any concessions to his neighbor. He just moved away.. It appears that the Kingdom of God consists of paradoxical relationships involving unity with diversity; cooperation with competition; freedom with order; group cohesiveness with individual rights. In other words, the issue is never “either/or”. Rather it is “both/and.
Well, I see that my time is up!