One of my favorite passages from the Bible comes from 1 Samuel Chapter 8 verses 1-22:
8 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me,[a] from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle[b] and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Israel’s Request for a King Granted
19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”
TL;DR: Samuel, an ancient Hebrew prophet and judge, is approached by the Israelites who demand to have a king appointed, in order to be like other nations. Samuel talks to God about this. God seems somewhat unimpressed with this request and instructs Samuel to simply warn them of all the awful things that kings do: conscript their sons, confiscate the fruits of your labor, force your daughters to work, etc. My favorite line comes when Samuel, relaying the message from God, says “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Unpersuaded by all this, the Israelites persist in their desire to be ruled, and thus their wish is granted with the anointing of Saul. You’ll need to read the rest of the Old Testament for yourselves, but trust me, the kings certainly end up having their share of terrible qualities.
Now, I am no seminary professor, but it does seem like God is not a fan of formal government, especially the idea of taxation. This is confirmed in the book of Matthew (17:24-27) with Jesus referencing the temple tax:
24 When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax[a] came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”[b] 25 He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” 26 When Peter[c] said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. 27 However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin;[d] take that and give it to them for you and me.”
So according to Jesus (AKA “Son of God”, “Word become flesh”, second person of the divine Trinity, fully God and fully man), it is those who are exempt from this taxation that are actually free. Everyone else (the taxpayers), I think we can safely infer, do indeed have at least some level of freedom stripped away.
I find Jesus’s reaction somewhat humorous. He makes it a point to first show how unjust the tax is before relenting and sending his friend (Peter) out on a somewhat comical mission in order to be able to pay the absurd fee. Jesus doesn’t seem to take his “civic duty” all that seriously.
Every year around this time when I receive my W-2 and start thinking about the coming April 15th, I must say, I feel very close to Christ. I, too, genuinely desire to tell my friendly neighborhood IRS agent to go jump in the Massachusetts Bay, swim around for a bit and open the mouth of the 13th mackerel s/he sees. Therein can be found 25% of my income. In coins.
If Jesus found these taxes in the early years AD to be so ridiculous, I wonder what he might think of modern America. Our obligations today are not “temple taxes”, but rather used for any number of nefarious purposes: nuclear bombs, massive domestic and international spying projects, torturing foreigners without probable cause, drones, a welfare state that traps the most vulnerable in poverty, public schools in state-ruined neighborhoods that seem just as likely to produce felons as graduates, etc.
However, it is also important to look at what Jesus and the early Christians did in these situations: paid their taxes. Perhaps they did so reluctantly, but they did pay. Do not give the civil authorities such an easy way to come after you and prevent you from finding your vocation, fulfilling your life’s goals, following God, starting a family, continuing your education, furthering a career, learning a second language, or any other kind of productive activity. This idea is reinforced by St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 13:1-7 (which many Christians use to argue precisely against my point here, but I think the context of trying to avoid persecution/oppression in an unfriendly time is quite relevant to this particular letter).
Now, this doesn’t mean we need to be happy about unjustifiable state compulsion, nor that we shouldn’t seek to better our own world in this regard, but it is a reminder to us that we shouldn’t be so focused on these things of the world so as to avoid pondering that which is beyond the material.
So sure, render unto Caesar (to borrow a phrase) if we must. Refusing to do so is ultimately futile. But above all, let’s be sure not to forget about the larger goals, aspirations, and just obligations that we have to ourselves and especially to others.