Cheating: The Real American Pastime

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Fallout from Major League Baseball’s latest cheating scandal is littering the nation’s landscape like a sudden explosion from a corked bat, and many of us are expressing shock. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course, because America’s real pastime is cheating.

So far, the league investigation, led by Commissioner Rob Manfred, has singled out the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox for using technology to steal the signs of opposing pitchers—against the rules of baseball. No players have been punished—except those who faced the Astros and the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

While these two teams had to pay a relatively small fine for their misdeeds, they have been allowed to keep their trophies. MLB officials clearly were hoping that the controversy would blow over with a new season right around the corner.

It hasn’t. Players from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to Houston and Boston those years, in particular are among those speaking up. Outfielder Cody Bellinger said he “thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving [the players] immunity. I mean these guys were cheating for three years. … Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

Pitcher Yu Darvish, who was shelled by the Astros twice in the Series and is now with the Cubs, believes the Astros should lose their title. “It’s like the Olympics,” Darvish said. “When a player cheats, you can’t have a gold medal, right? But they still have a World Series title. It [feels] weird.”

Sport is supposed to be about fair competition, a disciplined striving for excellence, and character development. The scandal, in which all the ill-gotten gains are kept, undermines all three. In this, tragically, it is a poster child for a culture that gives lip service to these ideals but too often rewards the opposite.

Sport is supposed to be about fair competition, a disciplined striving for excellence, and character development. The scandal, in which all the ill-gotten gains are kept, undermines all three. In this, tragically, it is a poster child for a culture that gives lip service to these ideals but too often rewards the opposite.

According to the Educational Testing Service and the Ad Council’s Campaign to Discourage Academic Cheating, 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940s. Today between 75 percent and 98 percent report having cheated in high school.

The Open Education Database, meanwhile, reports that nearly 61 percent of college students surveyed admitted to cheating, and many of them don’t regret it; 85 percent think cheating is essential to getting the best grades, internships, scholarships, and awards; and 95 percent of cheaters don’t get caught.

And it’s not just the students who cheat. A federal investigation last year called “Operation Varsity Blues” found extensive cheating by 33 wealthy and well-connected parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, who sought to get their children into the nation’s most prestigious colleges. These moms and dads paid more than $25 million to have their tests or athletic prowess falsified. In addition, eleven coaches and athletic administrators from eight schools were charged in the scheme.

As well, according to HireRight, 85 percent of employers caught job applicants lying on their resumes in 2017—up from 66 percent just five years earlier. Cheating, of course, also includes those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. In just one example, the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration detected frauds that cost the federal government over a quarter of a billion dollars—and this just in the first half of fiscal year 2012.

Lest Christians think cheating is only a problem outside the church, consider the fact that plagiarizing sermons has become a serious and growing issue in the pulpit, drawing unwelcome press coverage not only from outlets such as The Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today but from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. D.A. Carson identifies three problems with preachers who appropriate the exegetical work of others and pass it off as their own: (1) it is theft; (2) it is deceit; and (3) it is spiritually harmful to the one who does it.

For the sake of time, we will not delve into other forms of cheating, such as infidelity or tax evasion. Suffice it to say that the Bible is clear enough on these issues. Cheaters always violate the commandments against bearing false witness, coveting, and stealing—and idolatry, adultery, and murder are often not far behind.

But why is cheating so rampant in American culture? One reason, of course, is the loss of belief in a God who judges by an objective moral standard. As Dostoevsky is reputed to have said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” That “everything,” presumably, would include cheating, which is the logical result of an atheistic worldview.

America’s preoccupation with the material over the spiritual, with things over virtues, naturally leads to cheating as we quickly dispense with quaint notions of fairness, excellence, and character development. When there’s no right or wrong and matter is all that matters, cheating becomes not just likely, but necessary.

If we can cheat and keep all the spoils, then only the suckers will refrain. Many cheaters believe that the lucrative ends (money, fame, and advancement) justify the underhanded means—and are rewarded accordingly.

But there are no shortcuts to lasting success, the Bible tells us. While some run after the fading crowns of this world, it is the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who seek righteousness as their daily food and drink, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted who will receive the lasting heavenly reward.

As the Apostle said, “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” It takes faith to believe this, and to live this way, especially when others are “getting away with it.” Let’s pray that all those troubled or hurt by our culture of cheating would seek a much better way—and see it in our lives.

Stan Guthrie’s latest book is Victorious: Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place.

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