Sunday, September 30, 2012

German Bishops to Congregation: "Pay Up or Go to Hell"

I have to be careful with this one; I'm afraid I'm going to have an aneurysm before I finish.

The German Catholic Church is essentially excommunicating members of the Church who don't pay a church tax.

Apparently, several European countries have already been levying church taxes, ranging from  about 4%-9% of one's income tax, on registered members of certain faiths and giving that revenue to their respective religious institution (after being paid a service charge for collecting the tax, of course). Some smaller religious communities collect the tax themselves. The obvious way around this is to tell the government that you're no longer a member of that faith and then practice it anyway, which is what many people have been doing.

Most of the religious institutions that benefit from this tax have not pursued those who practice their faith without paying the tax. But the Catholic Church in Germany will not stand for tax evasion! Render unto Caesar, damnit!

Last week, German bishops officially declared that "those who lack solidarity bid farewell to the community of believers" and will be forbidden from receiving sacraments. The Church hasn't outright said that those who don't pay the tax will be excommunicated, but I don't see much of a difference. Those who have been excommunicated are also barred from receiving sacraments, which the Church holds are necessary for salvation. The Church has to officially lift the excommunication in order for one to be accepted back into the flock; I don't know if such a formal recognition is required to lift the ban that results from not paying the tax.
Incidentally, it should be noted that the Church's rhetoric is (ironically) reminiscent of Pope John Paul II's  call for solidarity with the poor; it seems the Church is trying to implicitly use the memory of the popular John Paul II to legitimize this decision.

Now, aside from being a dick move, I think this is literally sinful. There is an act called simony, which the Catholic Encyclopedia defines as "'a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of [sic] annexed unto spirituals'. While this definition only speaks of purchase and sale, any exchange of spiritual for temporal things is simoniacal." It goes on to say that "The various temporal advantages which may be offered for a spiritual favour [include] the munus a manu (material advantage), which comprises money...The spiritual object includes whatever is conducive to the eternal welfare of the soul, i.e. all supernatural things: sanctifying grace, the sacraments, sacramentals, etc." The Catholic Church generally considers this an extremely serious offense.

Now, the majority of Church income comes from this tax. So some will argue that any organization needs money to survive. But are magnificent cathedrals, innumerable acres of property, and billions of dollars in cash really necessary for the Church to perform its spiritual duty? As far as I can recall, the Christian god doesn't demand a payment in exchange for his grace. And there has almost always been a grassroots version of Catholicism that advocates a return to the simpler ways of early Christianity. I suspect their ranks in Germany may begin to increase.

So how the hell do they expect to get away with this? Well, the Church has convinced believers that its own interpretation of scripture alone is legitimate. When you convince people that you hold the keys to Heaven, you can get away with just about anything. This is probably why the Church resisted translations of the Bible into vernacular languages for so long; who can argue with the Church's interpretation of scripture when the common believer can't even read it?

Granted, it is true that a clergyman who is extremely knowledgeable in ancient Hebrew, Latin, Greek, etc. will have a better understanding of what the ancient scriptures really meant, but does that mean the Church alone is capable of correctly understanding the Word of God? The Church has utilized its authority to such an extent that people are too scared to think for themselves. As one German Catholic said, "I don't like paying [the tax], but I do because I fear the step of quitting the Church." He, and countless others, equates disagreeing with the church to eternal damnation. Are they really the same thing?

I didn't think the Catholic Church was still capable of surprising me. I thought this kind of blatant avarice and abuse of power was given up in the Middle Ages (as opposed to the subtle avarice and abuse seen today). Perhaps it's fitting, then, that this is occurring in the same country that gave birth to the Protestant Reformation.

It's no wonder Martin Luther consider the pope to be the Antichrist.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Suck It, Wholefoods: Philabundance Opening a Not-For-Profit Grocery Store

Philabundance, the area's largest food bank, announced plans to build Fare & Square the nation's first not-for-profit grocery store. The facility, located in the City of Chester, is being built in response to a problem that many low-income residents face: lack of access to healthy and affordable food. Fare & Square will accept food stamps and also offer other programs to the poor while still offering fresh produce, meats, and other common items at low prices to all other shoppers.

What's up now, Wholefoods?

It seems counterintuitive (to me, at least) that basic food would be more expensive than heavily-processed food; you'd think all of that processing would jack up the cost to the consumer. That's not the case, however. And that's one of the major reasons that obesity disproportionately affects the poor. Philabundance is hoping that Fare & Square is successful and will provide a model for similar programs across the country.

Watch for the hipsters to jump all over this.