The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


New Year's resolution: I will not cheat. I will not cheat.

Looking for a New Year's resolution, America? How about honesty? There's plenty of talk about a healthy economy, but some folks aren't buying it. Or if they are buying something, they're returning it after they use it.

Or they're sneaking into first class, barreling through a toll booth without paying or stiffing restaurant waitstaff. A Wall Street Journal article says businesses nationwide are reporting an upturn in old-fashioned petty cheating. The irony, of course, is that the cheaters are often people who can afford to pay. They simply consider their actions a protest over high prices or poor service. Others feel they've gotten shortchanged during this economic boom, so they're taking justice into their own hands.

Doneger Group, a retail consulting firm, estimates that the practice of using merchandise — a suit or a power drill — and returning it has jumped 15 percent in the past few years. Restaurants are losing everything from ashtrays to bottles of wine. Said one business person, "There used to be a mentality that ‘I don't take something that's not mine.’ Now it's ‘Look at everyone getting rich. How about me?’ "

Nathan Tierney, chair of the philosophy department at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, says the search for suspects leads to a familiar list. "We've had 30 years of pop political philosophy insisting that tolerance is the only virtue and a pop psychology insisting that guilt is the only vice," he says. "[We have] a naked public square, a flight from authority, a stressed and fragile family structure and a leadership crisis that almost defies belief. It's a wonder we're not doing worse."

Tierney finds hope in the growing emphasis on character education, a decrease in bigotry among youth, a growing social responsibility by corporations and an emphasis on mission in churches. "We have to stop our bickering, join in fellowship with those of other denominations and other faiths, seek common ground and practice what we preach," he says.


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February issue


Embracing diversity