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September 26, 2007


We seem to be a society that thinks cheating is wrong … as long as we are not thinking about ourselves.

The latest data point comes from the most recent chapter in the Barry Bonds saga. Marc Ecko, a wealthy fashion designer, bought the ball that Bonds smashed over the wall to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Ecko then set up a web site to vote on what to do with the ball. 

There were three choices. Send it to the hall of fame intact, brand it with an asterisk before sending it to the hall of fame, or launch it into space. Ten million Americans voted. The result?  Brand it with an asterisk. The public is well aware that Bonds used steroids during his career (though Bonds maintains that it was done unknowingly). In effect, the court of public opinion ruled that he cheated and they disapprove.

The Bonds story is not the only one. We saw the Bill Belichick story make national headlines earlier this month. Coach Belichick of the New England Patriots was caught cheating. He broke NFL rules by filming the opposing coaches in order to learn how to read their signals from the sidelines. The court of public opinion disapproved of Belichick's cheating. This past year, a prestigious business school was rocked by a large-scale cheating scandal. The list of such scandals seems to grow weekly.

Though the public condemns cheating publicly, the practice of cheating is reaching epidemic proportions in American schools. A recent survey showed between 75% and 90% of high school students cheat. The percentage of cheaters in American colleges and universities is nearly 50 percent, according to a 2005 Rutgers survey. Technology such as text messaging on cell phones is making cheating easier, and more difficult to police. It is not just the kids with the poor grades who are cheating either. Surveys show it is rampant among the honor roll students.

Cheating is the natural result of a pragmatic ethic and morally confused worldview that teaches the goal is success and the end justifies the means. Most seem to believe cheating is okay if it helps and doesn’t seem to hurt anyone … and as long as you are not busted. It is not a far stretch to see how pragmatism leads to cheating in school today, and cheating on taxes and accounting practices tomorrow. What fuels this is the drive to succeed and win ... or at least try to keep up with those who are "getting ahead."

While the Bible clearly condemns cheating in Proverbs and elsewhere, a passage from Luke seems particularly relevant to our culture: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much." (Luke 16:10)

It is tempting to wring our hands and shake our finger at those non-Christians out there as the problem. Given these staggering statistics, however, it would be naive to think this is a problem only among non-Christians. Nor would it be appropriate to single this out as a problem with America's youth. Where do you think the kids learn it? Pragmatism infects us all.

I think this ought to be a wake-up call for Christian parents to teach and practice the "little-big" principle of Luke 16:10. Let it start with those in the church. Otherwise, like the Bonds home run ball, we will find others placing a mental asterisk next to our witness to the transforming power of the gospel.

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Anne has a good article on the topic from a past BreakPoint WorldView:

Marty Walker

Just re:Barry Bonds, can we keep a couple of things in mind? First, he has never failed a drug test. That means, even if he was taking steroids at some point, it wasn't then a banned substance. He wasn't "cheating" deliberately. He was (whether or not he knew what he was taking) simply following a popular trend in body-building.

Second, three grand juries (so far) haven't been able to find enough evidence to bring him to trial.

Third, no one suspects him of taking steroids now, and yet he keeps hitting home runs. Do you think the guy just might have some extraordinary skill?

The real issue is that Americans can't stand their own heroes. We have to pull them down, and the higher they rise the harder we try to destroy them. Now, THAT'S perverse.

Marty Walker
Giants Fan

Dan Rowlison

I, too, am a Barry Bonds fan; but I think that Marty's post only exposes the true cost of cheating.
We hasten to excuse our heroes for their dubious actions (injecting substances into your muscles was never a popular trend in body-building; too expensive and involves needles), while loudly proclaiming that they have never been caught.
Yet by proclaiming that they have never been caught, do we not imply that they have, in fact, cheated?
That's the trap, isn't it? If we dance on the edge of the rules, is it not easy to assume that, occassionally we have crossed the line?
The "not even a hint" standard of Ephesians 5:3 should guide our pursuit of personal integrity. Barry may have unknowingly taken steroids, he may have taken them when they were "legal", he may not have taken any at all, but he did dance on the edge of the rules, and that has, sadly, branded his accomplishments with an asterisk.
Is he a great athlete? Absolutely. Is he a great baseball player? One of the best to play the game. Did his accomplishments come without the aid of performance enhancing drugs? I don't know. And that's the worst thing anyone can say about Barry.*
*=unless it is proven that he cheated, in which case his achievements should be ignored.


Did Hank Aaron take steroids? If he did then it was even. If he didn't then you need to make a new world record. One without drug enhancement and one with.

J. Clinton

I love the chatter about Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, but the thrust of the post was more about the problem of cheating than it was about sports.

I am curious to know if other Christians believe that the problem of cheating is as much of a problem for those within the church as outside of the church?

Stephen Skeete

As an outsider looking on, the American society is an interesting one.

While surveys suggests that cheating is rampant, people are still obsessed about Barry Bonds cheating. What is the issue with cheating if everybody seems to be doing it?

Could the Barry Bonds of America be playing to a society where people not only cheat, but want to cheat, but end up taking out their umbrage on actual cheaters, particularly if those cheaters happen to be successful at whatever it is they do?

And if the people we pay to see, and those we admire most turn out to be the cheats we despise what does that say about our own choice of heroes, and about our own values.

Since America has learned to value celebrity and material success above all else, then why is it not prepared to accept the consequences of "get it at all cost" which really is what cheating (and steroids) are all about.

One other thing, again as an outsider, I heard somewhere that the old heroes were not perfect either. They may not have been cheating with steroids, but many of them were alcoholics, addicts, or messed up in various other ways (some cheated on their spouses). Why were they more acceptable than this present crop?

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