During our phone conversation yesterday, I told Mom about my trip to Lake Tahoe over the weekend. I told her my husband and I had both won a little money gambling there.
"OH! You're so lucky! And you don't even pay tithing!"
It's her belief (and probably the belief of most Mormons) that paying tithing of 10% of one's gross earnings leads to financial success. When I was young and still attending church I often heard stories that went like this: "We were struggling. Then we began paying our full 10% tithing. My husband got a new job! We bought a new house! A new car! We're sending our kids to college! All because we pay our tithing. We are so grateful to God for blessing us in this way."
To my mother, it's inconceivable that tithing and income are not connected in that magical way -- the more you pay, the more you earn! She is getting close to death (she thinks) so she is definitely not willing to risk pissing God off this close to her judgement. She paid 10% of the proceeds from the sale of her house. That was a big check. In addition to tithing, she pays "building fund" and "missionary fund" and any other fund her bishop suggests she should pay. The Mormon church (unlike most other Protestant churches) does not report its income or expenditures to its members. No one knows their annual income; no one knows where all that money goes, exactly. They're not required to disclose and I've never known a member to ask.
Here's the story they tell believers: To gain entrance into the Celestial Kingdom of heaven, you have to be Mormon and follow all the rules, including abstaining from alcohol and caffeine, refraining from sexual misconduct (adultery, defined as all sex outside Mormon marriage and including all sex between two people of the same sex), attending church services and tithing a full 10%. There are other essential rules, of course. Like not killing, stealing -- all the more popular sins. Without full compliance, you do not get into heaven, period. Here's the real heft of that deal: Mormons believe heaven is a place where families are reunited after death. Mormons participate in special "sealing" rituals (available only to Mormons in good standing) that guarantee eternal togetherness with one's family. Eternity. With your family. And not just your immediate family -- your whole gigantic extended Mormon family! Can you see where this is going? This great extortion scheme is perfect, isn't it? If you do not give the church a full 10% of your gross earnings, you cannot be with your dead loved ones after you die.
Was there ever a better mechanism of control? Seriously. Can you think of anything else that would get you to pay that much money over your lifetime? Let's do some math:
Average annual income of American workers, 2002: $38,428 (source)
x 45 (assuming one makes the same wage for 45 years -- just play along here)
x 11,000,000 (estimated number of Mormons worldwide; source)
= $1,902,186,000,000 or one enormous pile of money, even assuming a percentage of Mormons don't love their dead relatives enough to pay tithing. To offset those deadbeats, corporate CEOs like J. Willard Marriott, Jr. are presumably paying their own 10%.
Yesterday I told Mom, "You should just take your 10% and play the slots instead. Maybe craps. The odds are better." She laughed.