It's not the title of an Onion article. It's not humor at all. Right here, in the United States of America, a prominent Christian leader is calling for taxes on people who do not go to church. Bryan Fisher, of the American Family Association, had this to say during his radio show:
“Because after all, Obamacare is all about improving the health of the American people,” the radio host explained. “We know that going to church is good for you, it’s good for your health. So we are going to mandate that you go to church for your own health and we are going to tax the atheists who don’t go to church.”
Bryan Fisher has slid down his own slippery slope into pathetic fatuity. How does one begin to consider this rationally? It really does sound like comedy. Of course, America was founded on the Enlightenment concept that religion is a private matter, and the government must never make a law respecting an establishment of religion. The idea of taxing atheists for not being religious is absurd, unconstitutional, and histrionic.
Beyond the obvious absurdity, we must also look at the claim that going to church is good for you. It's a highly suspect assertion, on a number of levels. To begin with, the United States is uniquely religious in the First World, and also uniquely dysfunctional when it comes to things like STI transmission, teen motherhood, sex crimes, and other "moral crimes." We are a nation in which 4 out of 10 people believe the earth is 6000 to 10,000 years old, and evangelicals occupy positions of governmental power in most states, and churches receive not only tax exemption but government subsidies. Why hasn't all our church-going behavior produced a top-notch first world nation?
There are studies here and there which point to health and social benefits from going to church. What they fail to account for is the social stigma of not going to church. In countries where atheism is the norm, atheists are the most healthy and socially accepted. Why wouldn't we expect Christians in America to be healthier and happier, when atheists are generally perceived as the worst kind of people, and are often ostracized by friends, family, and work mates?
Christians who cite these studies conveniently leave out the fact that the benefits are not from going to church, specifically. Instead, they are most likely to come from the simple act of forming social clubs. Humans are social animals, and we are healthier and happier when we belong to social groups. Across the world, it is the same. People who are accepted socially are healthy and happy. It doesn't matter what kind of social club it is. It could be church, and it could be the weekly beer club "down at pub."
Most importantly, even if it were demonstrated that there was an objective benefit to going to church (and this is a very big "if"), the government is still prohibited by the constitution from mandating attendance. Daily exercise is beneficial beyond any shadow of a doubt, and we would likely consider armed rebellion if we were roused each morning for state mandated calisthenics. This is not about church, or calisthenics. It's about sour grapes from the Christian Theocrats whose idea of a godly utopia is ignoring at all costs Jesus' mandate to sell all they own and give to the poor.
Political grandstanding is one thing. It's always been done, and to some degree, we just have to live with it. Even so, religion has no place in this discussion. The government has the right to tax. The government has the right to address matters of public health and welfare. The government does not, in any sense of the word, have any right to dictate that anyone attend a church service for any reason at all. The fact that it's been suggested, even in half-jest, should be a shocking wake-up call for anyone who still believes religion isn't intruding into government.