Taxing the godless religiously
The Advertiser, February 12, 1999
Among the many obituaries to our compassionate and humanitarian former premier Don Dunstan was one which described him as "dogmatically atheist". I am not sure if this was the case. However, it prompted me to look at the concept of atheist "dogma", a concept which originally struck me as something of oxymoron.
There is no handbook: for atheism, no bible of rules and rituals. However, on reflection I realised that there is a form of atheist dogma in the writings of the rationalists, the humanists and even science. There are lots. Atheists do not believe in God because they find the concept untestable, a false notion or simply meaningless. Theirs is a clear-cut and defined view. Their belief that there is no God is as much a commitment as the Christian or Muslim belief that there is a God. It is a firm belief. And a belief is a religion.
Agnostics, so often confused with atheists, are the don't-knows. Their minds are open but they have no belief one way or the other. They seek evidence. They have no dogma to speak of. They are wait-and-see people. They have no religion. I ponder these differences in the light of news that the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc has been refused the tax deductions which are accorded to religions in Australia.
For more than two years, this group has been trying to recover the 48.5 per cent tax deducted from an investment it had with the ANZ Bank. The Australian Tax Office, it seems, has decreed that because the atheists do not believe in the supernatural, they are not a religion. This strikes me as discriminatory.
We have a group of people bonded by belief, but because the belief is not in God, it is not a religion. Scientology, however, is accepted by our government as a religion. I read that the Church of Scientology believes in a population explosion among the stars millions of years ago which resulted in the killing, freezing and exporting of excess people to the planet Teegeeack, which we call Earth.
Then, heavens above, I can't really follow it all. There were hydrogen explosions and the souls of the dead, known as 'Thetans" have been spread around the planet, trying to get into human bodies and make a mess of life. For payment to their cause, Scientologists will attempt to get rid of the "Thetans" besetting you if you tell them everything about yourself and undergo a few tests with an E-meter.
Now I am no expert in Scientology and I am sure that Scientologists would take me to task for a poorly plotted version of their texts. I am not asking that Scientologists be tossed off the tax-exemption bandwagon. I am simply pointing out that these beliefs are accepted by the Australian Government while the rationalist beliefs of the atheists are not.
If I had my druthers, though, I think I would throw all the religions out into the taxation cold. They are a tremendous burden on the taxpayer and most of them are very wealthy in their own right.
If ever there was a wild irony about religious affluence and tax exemption, it must have been when the Anglican Church owned the Adelaide Tax Office.
Did the Tax office pay tax exempt rent? The Church sold that building in 1996 for $44 9milllon.
Another irony is the religious statistics of Australian taxpayers. We are not a very religious culture and we are getting less so. Our 1996 Census found 2.9 million people as having "no religion" and the statistic of people describing themselves as Christians had declined from 96 per cent at the turn of the century to only 70 per cent as the century draws to a close.
One national church survey found that only 18 per cent of these Christian Australians attended church regularly.
And here we are supporting those minority-interest churches from a tax burden which is straining to deal with fundamental social needs. I have always been a bit perplexed at the financial preoccupations of churches. I used to treasure a slogan button which asked: "If money is the root of all evil, why do churches have so much of it?" I visited Bolivia some years ago and .was horrified at the grinding poverty of the people in the harsh high Andes condition. And there, among these threadbare citizens on their sparse tuber diet, I went into a church and found it lined with gold. However stunningly beautiful, I could not help but think that God was a bit vain and greedy
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, I say. And this should be the bottom line for religious beliefs. The way it seems now, the government is playing God by arbitrarily judging when a belief is a belief.
And, just as it has ordained that non-religious weddings must cough up GST, it has decided that if a body of believers is not out there owning, investing, capitalising, employing and evangelisng, then it is entitled to do a bit of old-fashioned biblical smiting. Heathen save us from such hypocrisy!
Most of our religious institutions are quite affluent.http://www.skeptics.com.au/features/weird/media/mw-taxgod.htm