If you lie, commit adultery, take drugs, break the speed limit, drink and drive, and willingly handle stolen goods, you’re in good company.
Or at least company.
According to research from Essex University in England, British people have become markedly less honest in the last decade. Coupled with this decline in morality is a growing acceptance of dishonest behavior.
For example, in 2000 70 percent said that an extramarital affair was never justified. Now, barely 50 percent would agree. Only 33 percent feel lying on a job application was wrong.
I am confident the same survey would reveal similar results in the United States.
Here is the test:
Rate your attitude to each of the following activities with one point if you think it is never justified; two points if you think it is rarely justified; three if you view it as sometimes justified and four if you think it is always justified.
A. Avoiding paying the fare on public transport.
B. Cheating on taxes if you have a chance.
C. Driving faster than the speed limit.
D. Keeping money you found in the street.
E. Lying in your own interests.
F. Not reporting accidental damage you have done to a parked car.
G. Throwing away litter in a public place.
H. Driving under the influence of alcohol.
I. Making up a job application.
J. Buying something you know is stolen.
According to the authors, a score below 10 suggests you are very honest, 11 to 15 means you do not mind bending the rules but are more honest than average, 16 to 20 suggests you are relaxed about the rules and anything more than 21 suggests you do not believe in living by the rules.
I’ll let you judge your own score.
I’ll confess I scored in the 11-15 range. (My answer on “speeding” took a toll.)
What I found interesting was not simply the decline in morality, or its growing acceptance, but the nature of that acceptance. Did you notice what the questions had in common?
They each posed the opportunity to do something when no one was looking.
It is often said that true integrity is who you are when no one is looking. If the lack of integrity is similarly scored, then “Oh, my.” Suddenly, this test is even more revealing than imagined.
It’s not that we would do more things that lack integrity, or are more accepting of them in ourselves and others, but that the opportunity to “get away” with it is one of the great driving forces of whether we would do it. It’s not only an absence of an internal compass, but no sense of any transcendent accountability.
One of the great biblical models of integrity, Joseph, faced a sexual temptation of this nature. He was approached for a sexual tryst with a woman that would be private, discrete, and enormously enjoyable (Potiphar’s position ensured that he could have almost any woman of his choosing, so there is little doubt she would have been highly attractive).
“How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Who talks that way anymore? Who believes that way anymore?
This is the heart of the moral decline, and the deeper spiritual story behind the cultural polling. It’s not that we don’t know right from wrong. According to the Bible, that’s written in our hearts.
No, it’s that we’ve lost any sense of constantly living our life before an audience
… of One.
James Emery White
John Binghan, “Rise in dishonesty signals looming 'integrity crisis' in Britain,” The Telegraph, January 25, 2012. Read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
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