American Civic Life

What Do Diverse Faith Communities Think About Paying Taxes?  

By Tom Levinson
Person with laptop checking bills, taxes, bank account balance and calculating expenses sitting at living room table.

April 15, Tax Day: the culmination of our annual season of data-gathering, number-crunching, and spiritual reflection. (Xavier Lorenzo/Getty Images)

April 15, Tax Day: the culmination of our annual season of data-gathering, number-crunching, and spiritual reflection. 

What’s that? You don’t use tax season as an opportunity for self-examination and renewal? 

OK, fine – me neither.  

Tax Season is a time-intensive, laborious grind, and you’re undoubtedly in good company if you offer a grunt of thanksgiving when it mercifully wraps up. 

In many ways, taxes fall outside our sacred considerations. And yet, our wisdom traditions give taxation a chance to reflect on the delicate, often precarious balance between ethical individual action, just leadership, and the redistribution of resources to meet ever-present social needs. 

Look at the Gospels. Throughout, Jesus and the Gospel narratives intentionally discuss taxation, spotlighting individual values like integrity and generosity and big picture aims like an economically just society.  

Matthew teaches that Jesus was open to paying taxes (Mt. 22:15-22). Jesus welcomed tax collectors, who, at the time, were an incredibly unlikable cohort, presumably to illuminate his broader mission of welcoming the marginalized into his community (Mt. 9:9-13). And John the Baptist urges tax collectors to collect no more than what’s owed (Luke 3:12-14).  

In the Islamic tradition, taxation is a lever to promote social welfare, economic equity, and communal cohesion. Zakat is the primary form of wealth distribution mandated in Islam – indeed, one of the five pillars of the faith. But Zakat isn’t synonymous with tax – it’s obligatory and serves the same end of social welfare. Moreover, it’s seen as a form of worship – a way to purify wealth and provide for those in need.  

Similarly, references to taxation appear throughout the Torah and Talmud. Broadly assessed taxes funded public services, priestly work, sanctuary construction, and care for the poor.  

“Judaism recognizes the obligation of the individual to contribute financially to communal institutions,” notes Rabbi Joshua Maroof, and at the same time, “upholds the right of the individual to demand that taxes be reasonable and just and that tax revenue be spent judiciously.” 

At its best, preparing and paying taxes can tie together the individual and the whole. It offers individuals a platform for ethical conduct, directing our attention to the needs of the neediest in our midst and supporting a stable and just social order. Given the human temptations we all confront in the tax prep process — coveting and cheating, to name just a few — you could reasonably argue that tax season is one of our most potent spiritual proving grounds. 

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How do we make our lives with money more meaningful?  

Partly through how we use it.  

And partly through how we think and talk about it.  

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The week of April 15 – Tax Day – we are thrilled to have the opportunity to continue this conversation more sustainably and intentionally with the launch of a new podcast.  

Money, Meet Meaning will explore the surprising, practical relevance of our religious and spiritual traditions to our lives with money. Each episode promises energizing conversation and insightful reflection—some wisdom to return to your financial life’s complex whir.  

We believe religion and spirituality — our shared wisdom traditions — offer us the gift of a moral vocabulary. With it, we can transform even the prosaic and administrative into something generous and generative. 

Join us as we continue theMoney, Meet Meaning” conversation—available wherever you find your podcasts. 

Money, Meet Meaning

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Conversation and practical insights on the varied ways our religious traditions pave a path – whether you’re religious, spiritual, or none of the above – for navigating our complex, everyday financial lives.