Would Jesus Support the Buffett Rule?

Here's a reminder for wealthy Christians who oppose President Obama's proposed "Buffett rule," which would impose a minimum 30 percent tax on people making over a million dollars a year: Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

I realize Jesus doesn't here mention increasing any marginal tax rates. Indeed, conservative Christians have a point when they say that, though Jesus speaks ill of wealth and espouses help for the poor, he doesn't say the government should be the vehicle for realizing these ideals. So it may be a reach for liberal Christians to invoke Jesus when talking about how the IRS should treat income above a million dollars.

Still, it does seem that Jesus would disapprove of having a million dollars of taxable income in the first place. "Go," he says, "sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." Or, to (loosely) translate that injunction into modern terms: If you made, say, $1.5 million last year, you should have donated so much money to charitable causes that your charitable giving donation will get your income down to where the Buffett rule wouldn't affect it anyway. (And should you fail to do that, and wind up with, say, $1.2 million in taxable income, the Buffett rule, by chipping away at that number, could move you at least a little closer to the path Jesus recommends. Faceless Washington bureaucrats would then have nudged you toward salvation!)

I was led to this train of thought by a great conversation I had with Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist and author of the new book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics . Douthat is a conservative Catholic who thinks conservative Christians should pay more attention to the scriptures' suspicion of wealth. He discusses that in this clip:

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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