First Put Your Financial House in Order – Not!

Are you frustrated that the war goes on and on? Has your conscience brought up with you the subject of not paying for war? Be careful; your conscience can make you do things (albeit for a good cause) that can turn your life upside down!

You don’t really want to think of refusing to pay part of your taxes to the government, do you? For starters, no matter how you calculate the percentage to refuse, there will always be some frustrating other formula that makes just as much sense. You can use the FCNL percentage of the budget going towards war, but the War Resisters League has another calculation and number. You can refuse to pay a token amount, or you can simply not pay the estimated 50 percent or so of the tax burden that goes to war-making, past war debts, the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons work, and all that spying we do. How to decide?

And then, to top it off, you have to figure what to do with the money not going to the government! Give it to charity? Put it in an escrow account? Use it for peaceful and life-affirming purposes at home or overseas? Of course this problem can be avoided by living under the taxable-income level—if you don’t mind life without all the great stuff we have nowadays.

After you make these decisions of how to go about not paying for war, have fun telling your employer that you don’t want any funds withheld from your paycheck and not to send any money directly to the government for you!

If you get really serious, you can take the government to court, try to change the laws, or try to change the lawmakers. So many options!

And that is not all. Deciding to be a conscientious objector to paying for war and setting up the mechanisms by which you put action into your intentions is the easy part. Once you do that, you know your conscience will have taken a few strides into your being. And with that foothold (not to mention the knowledge and understanding you have been given for having taken those steps), your conscience will begin to demand all manner of other deviations from a normal daily way of living!

Here is where life gets really dicey. The problem is integrity. As your conscience integrates one part of your life with your belief structure (and who says they need to be integrated—people have believed one thing and done another for as long as there have been people!), the process can turn into a domino effect with all sorts of other areas likewise wanting to be integrated. It becomes a terrible sacrifice.

And don’t believe those who say it is actually liberating! It is like putting your house in order: once you start organizing the mess, you keep finding other things to clean up that you didn’t even know were out of place. Take finances. It turns out that we could all pay less in taxes, i.e., buy fewer bombs, if we took all the deductions coming to us. What? Well, for example, if you keep track of all that travel to Quaker committee meetings and write down the mileage in a little book to document the expenditure, it may be deductible.

Businesses deduct driving and lunches (and even golf games), but Quakers seldom do. That is so because we Quakers generally are not hagglers; we want to pay our full share of taxes to support our government as it builds roads, keeps up national parks, and pays politicians’ salaries. We just don’t like that uncomfortable part that goes to war. In the house-in-order analogy we want to share our cake, but not have part of it be eaten by our neighbor the landmine manufacturer.

You might think about something as useful and simple as your credit cards. Who really wants to question those little pieces of plastic that make renting cars or buying great books over the Internet so easy? Even (especially) if you pay off your bill in full every month, there can’t be anything wrong, you think, in using a system that would collapse if everyone were responsible, saved their money before making purchases, paid off debts promptly, and weren’t willing to pay usurious interest charges. In particular, don’t think about how, if you do pay off your bill each month, the credit company tolerates your borrowing money free of charge only because others don’t pay up and you might not in the future. See? If you get started, who knows what trouble you will make for yourself. Now you have to think about going inside to pay cash and talking to the gas station attendant rather than swiping the plastic card out at the pump!

Can we retain integrity in our relationship to money? Forget it! You know very well that money is not important enough to spend precious time keeping track of, even if some folks call it a representation of our life force. Better to spend time on that street corner protesting the lousy war. And heaven forbid the government would audit our finances, since we have been occupied with the real spiritual tasks of speaking truth to power in public places. They say money talks, but not like we can!

We’ve been told that early Friends opened their financial books to their meeting communities. We can’t do that anymore—it’s hard enough to talk about sex, but to talk about our money? Who can trust others that far—well, except if the others are insurance companies, brokerage firms, or retirement planners? We sure can’t trust our spiritual community to have the power and scale of resources to support us in need or relieve the fears of what would happen to us without money!

Yes, money is scary, so don’t bother pondering the irony of why fear of getting out from under its control ends up being even scarier then being part of a war-based society where you can believe whatever you want, as long as you pay up. It’s not worth it—and besides, a messy house is so much more comfortable!

Jens Braun

Jens and Spee Braun are members of Old Chatham (N.Y.) Meeting and live in the Quaker intentional community nearby. Jens is co-clerk of New York Yearly Meeting's Committee on Conscientious Objection to Paying for War.