Lindsey Crittenden on the wastefulness of Curiosity.

I was poking around Patheos the other day and came across the Good Letters blog where…

Every weekday, one of the gifted writers on our blogging team will offer a personal essay that makes a fresh connection between the world of faith and the world of daily life, spanning the gap between theology and experience and giving language a human shape.

A fresh connection between the world of faith and the world of daily life?  Cool!  So I checked the post they had up in which Lindsey Crittenden talks about the Curiosity rover.

So I’ll look at the pictures from Curiosity. I’ll read the stories of Pasadena scientists who have been suffering a kind of odd jetlag while living on Mars time (where a day is called a sol and lasts thirty-nine minutes and thirty-five seconds longer than here on Earth) while they “drive” Curiosity.

I’ll wonder how many people could be fed and schools funded with the zillions being spent by NASA. I’ll float between fascination and ambivalence, tethered by hope and skepticism and, yes, gravity.

…what?

Has she seen our military budget?  We could use that to feed people on Mars.

Lindsey, you’re worried about feeding people and the first place you want to cut is from something that adds to human knowledge?  You know, there are a scarcely calculable number of buildings around the world that are functionally derelict that contribute nothing new to humanity (in fact, many of them actively hinder our scientific pursuits).  They’re called “churches.” Why don’t we trim the fat by cannibalizing a few of those to feed the poor before ditching the quest for knowledge?

Let’s do the math.  The Curiosity rover cost us about 2.5 billion dollars.  Compare that to the Vatican.

Bankers’ best guesses about the Vatican’s wealth put it at $10 billion to $15 billion. Of this wealth, Italian stockholdings alone run to $1.6 billion, 15% of the value of listed shares on the Italian market. The Vatican has big investments in banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction, real estate. Dividends help pay for Vatican expenses and charities such as assisting 1,500,000 children and providing some measure of food and clothing to 7,000,000 needy Italians. Unlike ordinary stockholders, the Vatican pays no taxes on this income…

Hooray on the charity work they do, but you also have to weigh that against the money they spend elsewhere.  For instance, the Associated Press estimates the total from settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950-2007 to be more than $2 billion. Add in the last four and a half years and letting child rapists go to jail could’ve paid for the rover!

Even modern day churches are swimming in opulence.  Take the First Baptist Church down in Dallas, which is one church out of FSM-knows how many doing the same thing.

Recently, First Baptist Church in Dallas unveiled plans for a 130 million dollar capital campaign for their new worship center which would include the whole enchilada: a 3,000 seat worship center, 6 floor education building, glass concourse, parking garage, sky bridge, the preservation of their current historic building, a fountain plaza, two side by side gymnasiums, an outdoor patio, and the all important oval pool with a stone water tower topped with a cross.

I scoured the Good Letters blog for other suggestions on how to feed the hungry, but there were none.  Perhaps if NASA had dumped the extra bucks to build a gymnasium so Curiosity could exercise before going to Mars to greatly increase the sum of human knowledge, Crittenden would’ve turned her search for cuts elsewhere.

Or, if you must keep these monuments to human ignorance with all their bells and whistles, how about taxing them?  I mean, the deal for churches was that they stay out of government and they wouldn’t have to pay taxes.  But churches are endorsing candidates and thumbing their noses at the IRS while doing it.  If we started taxing churches, could they really come back with “Yeah, well we’re going to start endorsing political candidates?”  Of course not, because they’re already doing it.  What they would do is whine about being taxed as though they were holding up their end of the bargain.

So how much could we make by taxing churches in the United States alone?  $71 billion.

We know churches get tax exemptions, but how much money does that actually come out to?

University of Tampa professor Ryan T. Cragun along with students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega ran some calculations and figured out a number:

While some people may be bothered by the fact that there are pastors who live in multimillion dollar homes, this is old news to most. But here is what should bother you about these expensive homes: You are helping to pay for them! You pay for them indirectly, the same way local, state, and federal governments in the United States subsidize religion — to the tune of about $71 billion every year.

This comes out to 28.4 Curiosity rovers every. fucking. year.  Also, if the message of churches is that they’re using their money to feed the poor (instead of on bibles, playing politics, building ostentatious modern castles, etc.), it’s rather curious that so many poor could be fed just with their tax exemptions.  This is almost certainly more than they currently feed.

It takes a very short-sighted cynic to look past the lavish wastes of the church to gripe about how much we “squander” on exploring the cosmos.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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