Charles Sonnibank, D.D. by deed dated October 1635, bequeathed a reserve rent, out of land at Broome in the Parish of Hopesay, of 13 pounds, 6 shillings, 8 pence to be paid quarterly at the Rectory to Ten Poor Widows of Ludlow, the Rector to retain 6 shillings 8 pence for his care in receiving it.
Education for the poor, and support for the elderly, have been publicly provided for centuries. Historically churches raised much of the funding for these activities; today governments do.
When it comes to raising revenue, governments have one major advantage over churches: they have greater access to the use of force. As Paul Krugman (and others?) have said, a government is basically just an insurance company with an army.
Churches, however, have a some distinct advantages in the revenue raising department. First, they can promise rewards in the afterlife in exchange for gifts now. The advantage of this as a business model is that heavenly rewards cost nothing for the church to provide. No one can ever know for sure whether or not religious authorities have delivered upon their promises. Moreover, eternal damnation is an uncomfortable prospect, so even if one doubts the existence of the afterlife, it seems like a good idea to hedge one's bets.
A second advantage that churches have in raising revenue is that they are much better at providing people with warm glows, making people feel good about giving. Christian churches generally preach that charity is a virtue.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1 Corinthians 13:13, King James Bible.
As well, they sometimes provide public recognition for their donors. The picture above, and the one below, were taken from a centuries old "donor wall" in St Laurence Church, Ludlow. It would feel good to see ones name there, in a beautiful chapel, joining other great donors from over the centuries.
Ludlow, July 10th, 1766
The Reverend Mr Richard Morgan, Rector of Clungunford, left to the Rector, Lecturer and Reader of this Parish for the Time being, the Sum of £140 pounds in Trust to pay for the Schooling of poor Children
There is nothing to stop governments from making people feel good about paying taxes. When the US government increased income taxes to finance World War II spending, they hired Walt Disney to make people feel fired up about paying taxes to sink the Axis (video here). In a recent trip to Boston Spa I was struck by the recognition awarded to people who pay for the garbage cans on the town's streets. On the left I've included a picture of a garage can provided by one Sheila Cooper.
It seems like a no-brainer: individual tax payers contribute thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars to government revenues each year. It would cost next to nothing to say "thank you", but it might make people feel good.
Or it might not. I've been told that Londoners received a statement with their Council Tax payments something along the lines of "Council has donated £200 to the London Olympics on your behalf." If you're someone who figures that the Olympics are a waste of money, being reminded that they're funded through your tax dollars is likely to give you a warm glow of fiery fury.
But it's a problem: people want health care, education, armies, and support for the elderly. Christian churches have never been able to raise more than a tithe, or 1/10th, of people's incomes, even when they were the major providers of social security. Taxes are the only feasible means of paying for the public services required with current levels of life expectancy, health care technology and educational needs. So how can people feel good - or at least better - about paying them?