Saturday, January 14, 2012


It’s become epidemic. Herb London of the Hudson Institute writes,

• The Atlantic school system was recently indicted for changing student grades in an effort to improve its schools’ performance profile.

• There has been a breakdown in academia’s standards of conduct. In fact, cheating is so ubiquitous on campus that professors often accept it or avert their gaze.

• In a 2002 survey conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 74 percent of students admitted to cheating on an exam. (Salvo, Issue 19. 64)

One long-standing middle-school teacher informed me that cheating has become so acceptable, that students gleefully admit to it. Unsurprisingly, we find that academic cheating is also broadly paralleled by political, economic and sexual cheating. Cheating has become more than the norm. It has become the prevailing fashion.

What is happening to our society? I think that many things contribute to this epidemic of immediate self-gratification. For one thing, the necessity of self-fulfillment has become has become so deeply entrenched in our thinking, it is now unquestioned. Consequently, society thinks that if your life isn’t fulfilling, then there has to be something the matter with you.

Consistent with this thinking, living according to certain higher principles is now regarded as rigid, limiting, and even judgmental. If you want to be part of the group, you cheat; you don’t moralize. Cheating loves company!

Materialism fits admirably into this “me-first” perspective. According to the materialist, everything is material and energy. Consequently, the materialist not only rejects moral absolutes but insists that they don’t exist. Values are reduced to nothing more than electro-chemical reactions. Therefore, no one is guilty. As a result materialistic neuro-scientists reduce evil to a glitch in our brain wiring. According to Salvo,

• Neuroscientist, David Eagleman of Baylor’s College of Medicine, writes…about using MRI scans to…preemptively identify those who have the potential to commit acts formerly known as evil. (45)

Evil then becomes associated with certain physical or racial types – those who have faulty wiring – rather than freewill moral choices. Therefore, there is now no guilt. Shame is a dirty word.

These changes in our thinking are significant. If prescription follows from diagnosis – and the diagnosis is a matter of faulty neurons – then the prescription cannot be a moral-spiritual one. Instead, it has to be a medical one. However, there is no drug or surgical procedure that produces virtue.

What then do we do about cheating? We can’t lobotomize our students nor can we drug them into moral submission. We are left with one option – moralize them. However, moral instruction must look very strange, even hypocritical, coming from a materialist or a moral relativist – one who doesn’t believe in moral absolutes. After all, moral truth transcends a materialistic understanding of reality.

However, the moral relativist is not discouraged. He’ll teach morality from a pragmatic, self-serving point of view. It might take this form:

• If you cheat, you just hurt yourself. When you take the short-cut, you fail to learn the subject matter.

However, this too should sound strange coming from a materialist who believes that life is no more than a temporary body. From the materialistic perspective, life is short and finding and taking short-cuts seems quite appropriate.

In addition to this problem, preaching virtue based on self-interest is ultimately self-defeating. Self-interest (pragmatism) might at times embrace “virtue” to accomplish its goals, but this inevitably proves to be a very unstable relationship. In this case, there is no truth to virtue; it is merely a tool to accomplish ones goals. But what happens when the cheater perceives that “virtue” will not bring him any closer to his goals? Eventually, self-interest will choose to go its own way. Cheating will eventually dispense with virtue, especially if one is a moral relativist.

From a Christian point of view, there is indeed a glorious correspondence between self-interest and virtue. To a certain extent, we do benefit by acting virtuously. However, this is a holy correspondence, one designed by a God who loves us and wants to bribe us into virtue with a carrot, not just a club, even if it means making use of our pursuit of self-interest.

Bill Maher offers a popular variation – the we-can’t-know variation:

• “I don’t know what happens when you die, and I don’t care.” (Salvo, 63)

This philosophy will also condone or allow cheating. If we can’t know about eternal truths and eternal judgment, we need to focus on what we do know – our immediate needs and how to fulfill them!

In his mockumentary, Religulous, Maher concludes:

• Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do…Anyone who tells you they know – they just know – what happens when you die, I promise you that you don’t. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not.”

Maher makes it clear that everyone has a religion and that everyone is “sure” about something, even Maher. He is “sure” that we can’t have such answers, and he therefore mocks, with all his certainty, those who claim to have the answers that he lacks.

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