Late on Taxes?

Psychiatrists have diagnosed a mysterious new mental disease, and it strikes the most unlikely people: highly educated white males. It's called failure-to-file syndrome, and the diagnostic symptom is failing to file income tax returns. The disorder came to light a few years ago when more than 50 of the nation's most respected law partners were identified by the Internal Revenue Service in a computer sweep to pick up nonfilers. Immediately a tax lawyer and a psychiatrist teamed up to write an article describing this mysterious malady. The authors claim that the lawyers who failed to file their taxes suffer from a psychiatric disorder giving them "an aversion to filling out forms." These folks need sympathy, not condemnation, the article said. They should not be indicted, like other tax cheats, but given treatment with psychotherapy and Prozac. Well, it's been said that America is becoming a therapeutic culture, but this may be the most outrageous example yet. Are we really expected to believe that competent lawyers, who spend their working lives filing briefs, are psychologically incapable of filing tax returns? We're not talking here about a few psychotic or mentally incompetent people who are truly unable to manage their finances. We're talking about successful attorneys who are fully functional and in command of all their faculties. Finding psychological disorders to excuse criminal behavior has become a cottage industry in America today. When one teenager kills another over a pair of sneakers, we're told that the murderer suffers from "urban psychosis." When a professional basketball player tries to strangle his coach, his defenders blame the coach for being too much of a "disciplinarian." What we're seeing here is nothing but pseudo-scientific blame-shifting. Liberal social theory starts with the premise that people are basically good. So, to explain why good people sometimes go bad, it blames environmental conditions. The result is an extreme form of determinism that reduces people to pawns of their environment. We're building a legal system that refuses to assign personal responsibility to individuals, no matter what they do. The cause of their behavior is always something beyond their control—the way they were raised, their economic plight, or even some mysterious malady affecting their brain. Virtually all of us can find some unhappy circumstance in our lives to blame. As Christians, however, we know that someday we will all stand before the divine tribunal, where there will be no defense attorneys to get us off the hook with designer excuses. So we ought to stand firmly for the principle of personal responsibility in every area of life. When the state of New York prosecuted several prominent attorneys for tax evasion, many other lawyers suddenly recovered from failure-to-file syndrome long enough to get their own tax returns in the mail. This is the law functioning the way it ought to: holding people responsible to meet their obligations. When it comes to tax evasion, the solution is not psychotherapy or Prozac. It's holding citizens accountable to the law for their behavior—no matter what their excuse.


Chuck Colson



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