A War On Honesty
For nearly two decades, the Josephson Institute of Ethics has published a biennial Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, the most recent report having been released in 2008. (The 2010 Report Card will be published later this year.) Information on these reports is not collected from secondary sources such as parents, teachers, or research groups but rather directly from high school students across the United States.
Excerpt from 2008 Report Card:
- 82% lied to a parent about something significant.
- 65% lied to a teacher about something significant.
- 36% used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.
- 64% cheated on a test (38% did so more than once).
- 82% copied someone else’s homework.
- 30% stole something from a store.
- 23% stole something from a parent or other relative.
- 20% stole something from a friend.
While the statistics above are alarming enough on their own, a greater source of consternation would arguably be that all the offences occurred within the past twelve months of the study (some with frequency), that the majority of percentages showed an increase since the 2006 Report Card, and that an overwhelming 92% of the young people who participated in the review are contented with their personal code of moral values.
In Baltimore, Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University is reported to have suspended the Honor System, under which it had operated for decades. Students were formerly and voluntarily bound not only to uphold the principles of truth and honesty in all academic pursuits but also to disclose violations of them, personal or otherwise. Regrettably, as in other learning institutions across the country, administrators have discovered such ethics can be problematical to impart and to expect.
On March 12, 2009, Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, with losses to investors estimated at $18 billion. Three months later, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison. “As the years went by, I realized my risk and this day would inevitably come,” he addressed the court. “I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for my crimes.” To the victims, he offered, “I have left a legacy of shame, as some of my victims have pointed out, to my family and my grandchildren.”
According to a recent Gallup poll, Congress’ approval ratings are down to 16%, the record low being 14% only two years ago. One evident cause stems from the issue of healthcare reform and the questionable, suspect measures surrounding the bill. Ironically, the perceived need for this government-sanctioned overhaul was partly fueled by the fraudulent actions committed by Americans themselves involving Medicare, Medicaid, etc.
The docket of virtually every courtroom in America will be teeming with hearings this week, a few of which will consist of fabricated testimonies revealed to be so as conclusive evidence is investigated and witnesses questioned. Some might confess the truth to their legal counsel or to those closest to them but, in court, maintain their innocence. Please understand that I am not referring to those who have been erroneously charged or incarcerated but rather to those who have committed crimes and will unconscionably lie under oath to protect themselves.
The dearth of HONESTY in America is perhaps more apparent and disturbing now than it has ever been. With reports such as the ones above and others that come across our desks, one cannot help but wonder how honesty evolved into some moral ambiguity and conjecture if the present ethical welfare of this nation is a prelude to a more dismal future for the next generation; but let us not haste to judge the teenagers, the politicians, or Wall Street. How simple that would be—to point out slivers in their eyes when we Christians have telephone poles protruding from ours. Pastors, parents, educators, and all of God’s people who are commanded to “walk honestly” (Romans 13:13)—let us examine our own lives.
Do honor codes such as these below surpass what we ourselves uphold as “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3)?
- U.S. Military Academy at West Point—“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
- U.S. Naval Academy—“Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They stand for that which is right. They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known.”
- U.S. Air Force Academy—“We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.”
On January 22, 2001, the former President George W. Bush addressed the new White House staff: “On a mantelpiece in this great house is inscribed the prayer of John Adams, that only the wise and honest may rule under this roof. He was speaking of those who live here. But wisdom and honesty are also required of those who work here.” Do the expectations of a former President for his staff exceed what ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5:20) or ministers of righteousness (II Corinthians 11:15) offer to the “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14)?
The children often sing this Patch the Pirate song—
As I was riding underneath the sky, my heart was tempted; and I told a lie.
It looked so little, and it seemed so tame; but soon this evil brought my heart to shame.
Tell the truth; never tell a lie. Oh, tell the truth till the day you die.
As these young people observe our lives and how we interact with one another, will they understand that these lyrics are not simply words to a song but rather a way of life; or will they be part of the 77% of the nation’s youth who believe that their ethics are better than those they know?
“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” (Colossians 3:9-10)
A country, a church, a home, and each of our lives must be built on HONESTY. America is the greatest nation in the world; but when she ceases to be honest—when God’s people are not “in all things willing to live honestly” (Hebrews 13:8)—she will self-destruct.