A Nation of Thieves

People steal all of the time. They wouldn’t call it theft per se, but they really do steal.

I work at an Art Center (museum, galleries, and more). Part of my job involves the front desk and let me tell you, people swindle, cheat, and steal all of the time.

What brought this home was our new promotion. We are trying to switch to e-mail for all of our communication. Part of the process is soliciting for e-mails at the front desk with free post cards.

It’s really simple. Fill out a slip with your e-mail address and you can take one of the four beautiful post cards by a local Vermont photographer. One e-mail address nets one card. Two e-mail addresses net two cards. Simple, right?

But here’s the thing, after explaining this clearly to three women, one of them immediately filled out the e-mail slip and took a post card. The second swiped a card deftly and proceeded to hide it behind our free catalogue.

“If you could fill out this e-mail request slip, we’d appreciate it,” I asked.
“Oh, I live in California,” she replied, never looking at me with sunglasses to shade her guilt-ridden eyes.
“But if you fill out the e-mail request slip, then you’re free to take the post card. That’s the point of the promotion.”
Silence, evasion, and awkwardness.
She ended up putting the card back and walking away.

The third woman eagerly filled out the slip for her free post card.

And this happens all of the time. I explain the promotion and someone greedily takes two or three post cards. If I’m lucky, they may leave an e-mail address. Today one couple did not.

And here’s the thing, they just looked intent on evil. On disobeying the rules. I knew they wouldn’t care about filling out the slip.

Another guy was friendly as can be, smiled with glee at the news of the promotion, and then swiftly took two post cards in his fat grubby paws.

What gives?

Part of the problem is that we have removed the monetary value of the cards. Filling out an e-mail slip is a laughable barter. It’s almost free, so why not just take it. Dismiss the terms of the barter if it’s already stacked in your favor.

But I see this culture of theft elsewhere. People try to get in free to the arts center all of the time. As if their children are going to starve if they can’t save $8. Posh, I say. Posh.

It goes beyond finding a bargain. It’s deception. It’s trying to nab what isnt’ yours. It’s bending the rules and even by-passing them.

And let’s be realistic, I let people in for free a lot. Trust me, it’s the best way to get the word out about a great institution. But I am truly bothered when people try to pass as members when they haven’t payed their yearly dues. Others try to get in as members on account of being a United States citizen. Yes, it’s been tried.

This propensity toward theft is not limited to art centers. We steal music, software (is your copy of Windows Genuine???), and lesser commodities that do not carry a harsh penalty if there is one at all.

Yes, if you can get away with it, then it must be alright.

And what does this mean? It means that we as a nation have departed from absolute truths. We need to return to morality and rigid moral laws that will guide us to the path of righteousness. Yes, more truth is what we need. Bigger, better, badder, louder, more obnoxious truth that stares us in the face, pushes us around, backs us into the corner, knees us in the gut, and then clubs us on the head with its pure absolute moral guidelines and goodness. Oh yes, that is just what we need.

And if you just bought that, you’re even more hopeless than the thieving thieves who are currently committing theft right now.

It really means that we need to acknowledge our brokenness, turn away from our stubborn sin, and seek out God. Stop justifying ourselves. Stop comparing ourselves to the “real” criminals. Drop the entitlement game. Get real about our depravity.

Seek out someone who isn’t muddled in the same mess. Seek out someone who can actually bring change, redemption, and new life. Someone who can free us from our sham freedom that really is just selfishness on a rampage. We need real freedom, real life, and a real God.

And no one, not even ourselves, should be able to steal that.