Archives For Taxes

During the early 1990s I was stationed at RAF Greenham Common and RAF Alconbury in the United Kingdom. Our family loved our three brief years in that inspiring land. One of the quaint things I recall was the relatively frequent question I was asked when meeting someone new. They would inquire as to “how things were going in the colonies.” It was actually a pleasant ice-breaker, and never said maliciously.

The comment offered no cause for offense. It’s been too long since the United States was a British colony for it to be more than a historical comment. The heated issues that once led to bloodshed have become historical trivia. There are, of course, many “younger” nations in our world that are still struggling to discover their post-colonial identities. This has been notoriously difficult where occidental powers established arbitrary boundaries that failed to recognize ethnic, religious or cultural considerations.

So, why is today’s post pondering the concept of colonialism? It just so happens that today is the anniversary of the imposition of the Stamp Act (tax) on her colonies by the British. It became law in 1765, a full decade before the War of Independence, but it was one of the alienating actions that laid the foundation for the upcoming rebellion.

Apparently, our paternalistic government in Europe regarded North America as a sort of bank from which they could make continuous withdrawals without ever repaying the funds. (“No taxation without representation” was a common battle cry.) The Stamp Act directly taxed all commercially published colonial materials, including newspapers and pamphlets. The Stamp Act would have been burdensome enough by itself, but the colonies were still reeling from three other onerous taxes that had recently been levied:

Sugar Act (1764)

…which covered textiles, wines, and coffee, in addition to sugar.

Currency Act (1764)

…which undermined colonial mercantilism and freedom.

Quartering Act (1765)

…which transformed every American home into a free bed & breakfast for British soldiers.

You get the idea. Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and their like were merely colonies, so why should their concerns be factored into the equation? Extremely shortsighted. Not to mention, quite selfish.

C.S. Lewis addressed this subject in his major historical work.

The best European minds were ashamed of Europe’s exploits in America. Montaigne passionately asks why so noble a discovery could not have fallen to the Ancients who might have spread civility where we have spread only corruption. (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century).

We recognize that Montaigne’s notion is just a tad idealistic. If the Romans had colonized the Americas, for example, the indigenous people would hardly have been treated any differently. And the introduction of gladiatorial arenas would have presented an arguable civic improvement.

Still, Lewis’ point is completely valid. Whenever humans conquer or “colonize” their fellows, the colonies always get the proverbial “short end of the stick.” Thus, we recognize that it’s tough being a colony.

So, where does that leave us? Historically informed, perhaps we can make better decisions in the future. Weaker nations and peoples should never be exploited. It’s not just a matter of justice. Ethics aside, history teaches that sowing seeds of alienation and discontent invariably reap an unwelcome harvest.

One word of hope that we see in this historical snippet is that despite a combative history, lands (and people) can lay aside their animosity and become sincere allies. Which brings me back to the place where I began this column . . . living in an era when these nations that fought not one, but two wars, are steadfast friends.

The Ides of March

March 15, 2012 — 7 Comments

I was introduced to ancient Rome as a young reader. Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) wrote such fine historical fiction that it appeals to young readers and adults alike. A film version of The Eagle of the Ninth was made just last year. And I’m a sucker for a good Roman movie (wherein “good” excludes all of the so-called spaghetti gladiator films made in the fifties and sixties).

As a student of Rome, I find it worth noting today’s date. Even those who know “nothing” about Rome should understand its significance. You don’t need to have studied Latin or the classics to understand the warning “Beware the Ides of March.” The Ides is the fifteenth day of the month. And it was on this day that Julius Caesar was murdered by members of the Roman Senate.

It was left to his adopted son, Caesar Augustus, to transform the Republic into an autocratic Empire. It was this Caesar who ruled Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth, and he bequeathed the title of “Caesar” to his heirs. When Jesus requested that the Pharisees and Herodians “show him the coin for the tax,” we do not know whether Augustus or Caesar Tiberius adorned it. It matters not, since the image of Caesar was tantamount to representing Rome itself.

Jesus taught his disciples to be discerning in the loyalties we offer. We are to be responsible citizens. But we are also required to remember our true citizenship rests in the New Jerusalem.

C.S. Lewis astutely illustrated this truth. He lived during two global conflicts, and served in combat defending his homeland. Yet Lewis recognized the dangers of placing our trust (faith) in even the “noble” things of this world.

A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself. (“Learning in War-Time” – a sermon preached in Oxford in 1939).

So, on this day when Julius’ dreams of glory bled out in Rome . . . may you and I find refuge, hope, peace and meaning in the One who bled and died for each of us on Calvary.