Monday, November 27, 2006

Thou shalt have no gods before Visa

published November 19, 2006 12:15 am

It took me a while before I had faith enough to tithe. Tithing means giving a tenth of your income. For many who believe in tithing, it means giving that 10 percent first - before any bills are paid.

Tithing is a practice based on Scripture followed by many Christian groups, and the money is used to support the local church. The practice of charitable giving varies among religious denominations. So, too, does the monetary amount or percentage of income members are encouraged to donate.

But many people who believe in the biblical requirement to tithe struggle with this question: Should I give even if I'm deeply in debt?

In a New York case, a bankruptcy judge ruled that some debtors can't tithe or donate money to charity if they want federal bankruptcy protection. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield Jr. ruled in August that because of the recent overhaul of the bankruptcy code, the $100 a week a New York couple wanted to give to their local church had to be used to pay creditors.

Under the new bankruptcy rules, which went into effect a year ago, debtors who file for bankruptcy must first undergo a means test. Those whose annual incomes are at or below a certain amount based on their state's median income are permitted to file for Chapter 7, which for the most part wipes out nonsecured debt.

However, if an individual or couple makes too much money based on the means test, they must file under Chapter 13, which requires debtors to repay their debts over a three- to five-year period.

In a Chapter 13 filing, only certain "reasonable" expenses are allowed. What's left after those expenses are determined must be used to repay creditors.

Before the new law went into effect, bankruptcy court judges were required to permit debtors to tithe a portion of their income on a regular basis.

Specifically, the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998 allowed debtors filing for bankruptcy protection to exempt up to 15 percent of their annual income from creditors for tithing or charitable donations.

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 trumped that law, at least for Chapter 13 filers, Littlefield ruled. It's yet another major problem with the flawed law.

"Thou shalt have no gods before me ... except for MasterCard, Visa and American Express," said Henry J. Sommer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, which criticized the judge's decision and the bankruptcy reform. Littlefield's decision prompted Sens. Orrin Hatch and Barack Obama to propose legislation that would allow individuals in bankruptcy to continue giving to churches and charities.

I certainly hope the House follows the Senate's lead.

Even the judge in the New York case thinks the bankruptcy reform law is flawed.

Littlefield wrote in his decision: "The court does not agree with this awkward, bifurcated congressional framework which makes charitable giving easier for some debtors and not others. Whether tithing is or is not reasonable for a debtor in bankruptcy is for Washington to decide."

This is the opinion of Michelle Singletary. Contact her care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20071 or


I have said this before and I will say it again: you should earnestly strive to ditch all of your credit cards. Credit card companies are run by people who claim to be Jews or Christians, but who blatantly violate the Torah prohibitions against charging their fellow co-religionists interest on loans. They also ignore the 7th year release of debts which God requires.

Once you get caught in their trap, it is nearly impossible to get out - especially now that the credit card companies got to rewrite the bankruptcy laws to suit themselves. The fact that they knowingly extended credit to people who could not repay it is now irrelevant in court. They fact that their "contract" with you is a case-study in bait-and-switch and defies every tenant of common law (how many other "contracts" are there where one party gets the change the terms any way and any time they want and the other party has no recourse?) no longer matters, either. The bankruptcy court is now the wholly-owned subsidiary of the robber baron credit card company CEO's.

There is a question of Halacha as to whether or not one must tithe if one is heavily in debt. For an interesting discussion on that subject, see which is an interesting blog. It is my understanding that according to the traditional christian teaching, one must tithe regardless of any debt or hardship it causes.

But now, the courts have ruled that all must bow to Visa and Mastercard, they are the supreme dieties to whom your income is owed, and I have a problem with that. The predatory practices of banks and credit card issuers are well know, and should not be rewarded.

They can only get away with this because they are making billions (with a "b") of dollars in profit off of their hapless victims. Every time you pay off a credit card and cancel it, you help starve the beast. If enough people will do this, the beast will have much less power.

So why don't more people do it? I posit that few these days are truly willing to live within their means. People have bought into the consumer society to such an extent that "going without" something until they save up for it is an incomprehensible thought. The "me" and "now" generations can't deal with it.

What I am suggesting is nothing short of a revolution - an economic revolt against our modern-day taskmasters who are holding us and our income hostage and in slavery. We need a modern Exodus from the tyranny of usury. No more paying interest! Chop up those credit cards! Pay off your consumer loans and never get another one! Starve the robber barons for a change - they have certainly spent enough time starving you and spent enough of your money. Don't give them any more. You need it - they don't.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be! Vive la revolution!

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