AS I was filling out my federal tax return, I came across a significant amount of income that I probably could have got away without reporting. It was very tempting to ignore it, as I could have saved a lot of money in taxes that way. But as I began to think about why I would ever be tempted to cheat on my taxes in the first place, some important moral issues began to trouble me. The issue was not so much saving money as it was deciding what I valued the most. I had always thought that I valued honesty and trustworthiness highly, but knowingly to underreport my income would be to prove otherwise. The problem had come to a head, and it was time to resolve it: ``What is more important to me, money or my own integrity?''
Even though there may seem to be a price to pay, there is certainly much to be said for living a life of integrity. A clear conscience allows us great freedom of thought and expression. And freedom from guilt and self-condemnation results in profound peace of mind. As the Bible points out, ``The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.''1 And Christ Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, assured us: ``Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.''2
Being righteous, however, isn't a goody-goody, do-as-you're-told approach to living. We are living righteously when we are living in accord with the deep, spiritual reality of our being. Because man is created by God, Spirit, such spiritual living is natural to man. Integrity, honesty, trustworthiness -- and the peace they bring -- are an inseparable part of our genuine selfhood. Considering the long-term effects on my life from this spiritual perspective, I began to see that the permanent peace I would gain from being honest far outweighed any temporary, material gain I could reap from underreporting my income.
The dishonesty was less a crime against the government than against my own understanding of my spiritual nature. I would be making a conscious trade-off between dollars and my own integrity. Putting it in these terms helped me decide to take a firmer stand for integrity.
But then there was the temptation ``What difference does it make if no one else knows?'' The ``difference'' is the compromise of conscience we must go through in order to justify dishonesty. Attempting to reconcile cheating with what we know is right compromises our values. The ``difference,'' then, is not whether someone else knows, but the effect that dishonesty has on our own life. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes: ``Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help.''3
If honesty requires us to pay a little more than we'd like in taxes, that little is more than compensated by God with substance of enduring value. Spiritual strength, moral courage, confidence, and innocence are only part of what we gain when we act with integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness. No amount of dollars can ever substitute for these.
In the end, it wasn't hard to decide. I knew that God would never punish me for acting with integrity. So there was no reason to fear that I would lose by filling out my tax returns honestly. I went ahead and reported all my income and gained a newfound freedom from worry about paying my taxes.
1Isaiah 32:17. 2Matthew 5:6. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 453.