An Open Letter on Taxation to the Global Ethic Foundation

January 18, 2009

Doctor Hans Kung

Global Ethic Foundation

Waldhauser Strasse 23

72076 Tubingen



Dear Doctor Hans Kung:

Re: Hans Kung and Karl-Josef Kuschel (eds.), A GLOBAL ETHIC: The Declaration of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, New York: Continuum, 1993.

I recently read your book and was glad to see its emphasis on non-violence, the Golden Rule, and the “fundamental demand [that] every human being must be treated humanely.” [p. 21] This includes the prohibitions that a person should not kill or steal. “Or in positive terms: Have respect for life!” [p. 25]

The purpose of this letter is to ask: How do you reconcile the directives of the Global Ethic with the institution of government, which relies on or resorts to force to collect its taxes?

As you realize all governments, whether democratic or totalitarian, collect at least part of their revenues coercively. Taxes are collected under the threat of the citizen going to jail, having his property confiscated, or both, if he or she does not pay the government the amount it claims is owed.

I hope that we both would agree that a robber is violating the global ethic when he steals from or kills a person in order to take their property. The purpose for which he intends to use the stolen property in no way affects how we judge the violence. It matters not whether he intends to use the stolen property for charitable purposes or for his personal use. Killing and/or stealing are wrong.

Question 1: Are not the actions of agents of the government violent in the same manner as that of the robber?

Question 2: Is not the Golden Rule applicable to this situation? Would not the agents of government prefer not to be robbed or killed themselves?

Question 3: Are not the agents of the government acting violently when they threaten and/or coerce the reluctant citizen? Are they not acting inhumanely toward the citizens?

Question 4: Is there not a humane way to collect money for the government? Is it not possible to remonstrate peacefully with the refuseniks: to explain to them the importance of paying taxes? Is it not possible to cut off some or all government services to those who will not pay their taxes? And in the very worst case, that they still insist on not paying, is it not possible that those who do see the importance of funding governments, dig deeper into their own pockets to make up the difference?

Question 5: Is there any possible justification for stealing, killing, or treating citizens inhumanely who refuse to pay their tax?

Question 6: Does not the government’s resort to violence in collecting taxes set a bad example, which some individuals in society might think is right to follow?

I have addressed these questions to family, friends, religious leaders, and have found that they generally apply a double standard to the actions of government agents despite the fact that the “Four irrevocable directives” of the Global Ethic apply to everyone equally. As Richard Maybury, in his book, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JUSTICE?, explains: “This is what is meant by those five words in the (United States) Declaration of Independence ‘all men are created equal.’ No one gets any special privileges or exemptions from (these directives).” [p. 22] As you wrote in A GLOBAL ETHIC, “No one,” whether a citizen or government agent, “has the right” to “physically … injure, much less kill, any other human being.” [p. 25]

I wonder if you or one of your colleagues at the Global Ethic Foundation could discuss these questions relating to the conduct of government and its agents.


Carl Watner

Box 275

Gramling, South Carolina 29348


(email: “editor” “at” this site)

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