Every time I see a Tarrant County tax statement — specifically of the variety I have to pay — it irritates me but probably not for the reasons you think.
I don’t mind paying taxes, and I don’t even feel I’m overtaxed. I simply believe our political representatives spend too much of our tax money on what they shouldn’t and not enough on what they should. I also know they give obscene tax breaks to persons and corporate personhoods that they absolutely should not.
Beyond that, I’m not comfortable with Jesus’ lame hedge-your-bet “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) or Paul’s ludicrous “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities … for there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).
Was the Third Reich established by God? The Khmer Rouge?
What about Donald Trump?
These issues concern me, but they are not my chief complaint.
What bothers me is the beat-down I experience the day I receive my tax statement and every time I go to pay my tax bill. It’s four words printed in neutral gray in the center of the document, just above the perforated tear-line of payment coupon. In larger text than anything else on the page, my Tarrant County tax statement proclaims, “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
Now, to be perfectly clear, I can understand Tarrant County trying to be right with that old white-haired, therapeutic deity in the sky — especially when so many of its gun-toting citizens court if not outright invite Armageddon. It’s Grand Ol’ Politics and plays to the Christian meek.
But what if my personal spiritual affectations favor chubby Buddha or grouchy Zeus? Tarrant County would clearly marginalize my therapeutic deity, and that’s not exactly considerate, decent, or fair. Every tax statement would remind me I was different — an Other — and that the institutions that push this alienating proclamation would be enjoying free, privileged advertising, which is somewhat ludicrous, because, of course, “houses” of God don’t even pay taxes.
How would you feel if your Tarrant County tax statement threw in an “IN VISHNU WE TRUST”? Or *clutches pearls* “IN ALLAH WE TRUST”?
For those of us who are not down with the Bible, “IN GOD WE TRUST” is a subtle taunt. It may be a small thing, but a good community fosters tolerance. And a great community encourages inclusiveness. A majority-pandering proclamation like “IN GOD WE TRUST” diminishes Tarrant County and Fort Worth and makes us less good and not great. In fact, it makes us look ignorant, exclusivist, and narrow-minded.
What is my religion?
It’s none of your business, and it doesn’t matter. And the same is true of yours and the majority of Tarrant County’s.
In one specific God or supreme being WE DO NOT TRUST. Not mine, not yours, and certainly not the Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector’s. And that’s a good thing.
Many of our next-door neighbors and national leaders may forget or like to ignore the fact that our revolutionary ideals about the separation of church and state define our national identity and make us great. In fact, these same inconvenient ideals constitute one of the only ways in which we are still truly great.
I realize our coins and paper currency feature “IN GOD WE TRUST,” but that’s a federal issue. More forward-thinking sorts would have at least used something honest and useful from the Bible — maybe a product warning — like 1 Timothy 6:10, which clearly states, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” But the sycophants who set the presses for “IN GOD WE TRUST” at our mints had to pander to capitalist overlords.
When I go to pay my tax bill, I have to endure a presumptuous, exclusivist, religious proclamation in the body of the tax statement, and then on the back of the payment envelope, the proclamation appears – again. So, after I lick the seal and close the envelope, I’m taunted and alienated once more for good measure. Sort of a “Take that with you, blasphemer, heretic, loser.”
The good news is, I take it better than a lot of you would if the roles were reversed. The bad news is, Fort Worth is appealing to a lower, instead of a higher, power.
E. R. Bills is an Aledo resident and the author of Texas Dissident: Dispatches from a Diminished State 2006-2016 (Eakin Press, 2017).