Forget the flu. From Wall Street to Main Street, from academia to the locker room, America's greatest epidemic may be cheating. Consider:

  • More than 90 percent of college students say they would cheat to get a job, according to a recent survey. Donald McCabe, founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity, uncovered a 30 percent to 35 percent jump in some types of cheating among college students in the 1990s.
  • Celebrity academics such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Ambrose, and Michael Bellesiles have faced public humiliation for plagiarism or falsified research.
  • In journalism, Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley, and CBS News are the latest examples of cheating in the newsroom.

Christians are not exempt from such temptations, and apparently neither are their pastors. Last fall, the prominent pastor of a megachurch in North Carolina resigned after admitting he used material from other preachers without attribution. Another pastor in Missouri stepped down after admitting he plagiarized sermon material via the internet.

David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, detects "a pattern of widespread cheating throughout U.S. society." He defines cheating as "breaking the rules to get ahead academically, professionally, or financially."

We might add "spiritually." More than 20 years ago, Eugene Peterson, in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, put his finger on the problem: "One aspect of the world that I have been able to identify as harmful to Christians is the assumption that anything worthwhile can be acquired at once. We assume that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly, and efficiently."

If cheating is taking inappropriate shortcuts to achieve a good, even ...

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