Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Isn't That Convenient?

Hardly anyone likes paying taxes. That basic truism has fueled much conservative sentiment here in the United States for decades, and our country is hardly an exception. Recently the African nation of Swaziland ruled that pastors and religious organizations will not be exempt from taxation. This prompted religious leader Bheki Thwala to post a convenient reason on Facebook for pastors to refuse paying taxes - because the money would be used for witchcraft rituals!

In a controversial post on social network site Facebook, Thwala posted "Why should we be taxed, when the money is to be used for witchcraft in the name of culture?"

At the time of going to press yesterday afternoon, Thwala already had 72 comments.

Interviewed after his church service yesterday, the leader of the Sword and Spirit Ministries alleged that it was a known fact that witches were hired to perform certain rituals at cultural events which, however, he did not specify.

"All I am saying is I do not want my money to pay witches in the name of culture," said Thwala.

He alleged that when the country was busy with certain traditional ceremonies, tinyanga were then fetched and were paid to perform certain rituals.

On Facebook Thwala added that he would continue to pay tax, as long as he was not working against what he existed for. "Culture and witchcraft are two different things," he said.

Thwala is right that culture and witchcraft are two different things, and I would have to know more about the ceremonies in question before I could decide whether or not they constitute magical operations. My best guess, though, is that they do not, since most celebratory rituals are not performed in order to produce any sort of change in accordance with a statement of intent. For a ritual to be considered magick such a goal is essential, though the change desired may involve personal consciousness, material circumstances, or both.

What strikes me as so disingenuous about this complaint is that surely the entire budget of Swaziland does not go to pay for traditional ritual celebrations! If that's in fact the case the country has far more serious budget problems than pastors paying these new taxes is going to fix. It seems to me more like criticism of taxes here in the United States based on the fact that some of the money collected goes to the National Endowment for the Arts, which does fund some works that are intentionally offensive in nature. The thing is, compared to the entire federal budget the money that funds the NEA is tiny, a drop in a very large bucket, and such complaints seem like pretty transparent attempts to justify simply not wanting to pay anything.

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