By R.N. Carmona
In reading Peter Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality, I came across the bit in where he mentions that he and his wife donate 10 percent of their gross income to Oxfam. I was at first astounded by that figure, but 10 percent sounded all too familiar, so that got me thinking. 10 percent is precisely how much a tithe is in church. You’re advised to give 10 percent of your gross income to the church. This will of course pay the church’s rent and thus, keep the doors open, but it will also buy furniture and fixtures, pay for repairs and maintenance, and, in the best case scenario for the church leader, line the minister’s pockets.
Singer argues that if everyone gave in accordance to his utility margin – a threshold at which you give just enough so that you don’t increase your own suffering and the suffering of your kin – one would not only be leading an ethical life, but one would also be helping to alleviate poverty on a global scale and feed starving children. To help bolster his case, he quotes Aquinas who states:
Therefore the division and appropriation of property, which proceeds from human law, must not hinder the satisfaction of man’s necessity from such goods. Equally, whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Gratiani: “The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.
Leave it to a thinker greatly admired by Protestants and Catholics alike to make a case against tithing, not to mention the excessive and elaborate riches of the Catholic church. Surely, a Catholic apologist will not fail to mention that the Catholic church can be considered a charitable organization in its own right; this will no doubt be followed by boastful posts like this one, all in an effort to distract from the point being made.
Tithing is an injustice. That churches, organizations that pay no taxes, require its members to give 10 percent of their gross incomes is ludicrous. If instead they were to give 10 percent of their incomes to charities that can be trusted (e.g., UNICEF, American Cancer Society), they would do more to help others. The tithe does nothing but what I mentioned earlier: keep the doors open, pay for expenses, and line the minister’s pocket. To the believer, it also opens up the windows of heaven for a blessed abundance. In this also, one can see the basest self-interest that drives the believer. Who cares about the child in the pond when the believer receives his blessing? Who cares about children dying of childhood cancers when above the believer the doors of heaven have opened up? 10 percent of their income means much more for them though if redirected away from the church and toward charitable organizations, it could mean a hell of a lot more to others.
So, to summarize, the believer prefers his invisible, faith-based blessings over the sustenance of others. Certainly a good number of believers will mention feeding the homeless, coat drives, and the like, but fail to mention that, at best, such activities happen once a week or once a month and this, at convenient times of the year. The believer also prefers to keep his community church’s doors open over the well-being of others, especially them in foreign countries. Singer touches on this as well, as people in general tend to believe proximity affects whether or not an act has moral significance. Add to that that bystander effect becomes more pronounced as we are very often not the only people capable of offering help and thus, we often rely on the intuition that one of us among the many will take charge. Sometimes and often with disastrous consequences, no one leaps into action; everyone falls victim to that same flawed intuition.
I’m not interested in exegetical debates about tithing, but it was my belief as a Christian that tithing was not canonical as it related to the New Testament. Yes, it is mentioned explicitly in the Old Testament and it is one of those convenient items dragged out of the barbarism of the Old Testament canon, but it is not advised by neither Jesus nor Paul. Jesus, in Matthew 23:23 mentions tithing, but this is more in condemnation of the Pharisees and not as a principle for his disciples to follow. Paul never explicitly makes mention of it and as I remember discussing with a then “brother” in the church, Paul would seem to advise a “give as much as you can possibly give” sort of principle, a principle of equality as seen in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. Given this, there is a sense in which tithing is justified by ministers as means to keep the church open and as means to expand, as is common in Protestant denominations in New York. Tithing is unjust in the main because it’s an elaborate deception preached to the believer as biblical truth. It is unjust furthermore because it would ask a believer to give a significant portion of his post-tax income to an endeavor that is trivial when compared to the plethora of issues people face in the modern world.
With this in mind, I propose the Anti-Tithe. I want to be a leader of many in this movement that compels non-believers and non-Christians to give as much as 10 percent of their income to charitable organizations of their choosing. Now, I am not advising that one give exactly 10 percent. If you cannot donate that much of your income, then don’t. Give 3% or 5% or even 1%; give in accordance with your own situation. I myself cannot afford to go as high as 10 percent. But if you see tithing as unjust and moreover, you see the issues humanity faces and see the need and moral obligation to help those in need, then the Anti-Tithe Movement should make sense. Eventually, I want the movement to lose that identity as I don’t want it tied to the appalling practice of tithing in any way, shape, or form. I do want, at least initially, to contrast it with tithing for sake of winning over believers as well. I want believers to realize that that percentage of income can do far more good! I want them to develop an anti-tithing attitude irregardless of whether they continue to believe as they do.
When Singer wrote his seminal work in 1971, 9 million or so refugees were in crisis in what is today Eastern Pakistan. Today, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, many Haitians are in need. Many childhood terminal illnesses are harming children across the country and around the world. Many women and children find themselves below the poverty line in the U.S. Syrian refugees are in crisis. Child poverty is still too high for our comfort and about 6 million of the world’s children die before the age of five due to preventable causes like malaria and pneumonia. There are still plenty of problems to solve, plenty of causes to support. The Anti-Tithe Movement is a segue into compelling humanists to live a more ethical life. It is the beginning of a shift in collective consciousness, an increased sense of responsibility and accountability towards others. We may not be accountable to any god, but we have moral obligations to one another, so if you can forgo a new pair of Jordans, a new palette of makeup, or a newer model of the car you favor, and instead give to a cause(s) of your choice, please do. The old childhood mantra of “make the world a better place” comes to mind. The world is our place, so if it isn’t better, it’s our fault. Let us change that.