Some years ago, the authorities at Magdalene College, Oxford University, warned their students who attend their ‘in hall’ feasts, to stop nicking the silverware, or these dinners will cease, and, indeed, to return what has already been stolen? Apparently it extended beyond the occasional teaspoon memento, including priceless crystal decanters with silver collars and stoppers, and even an antique table that went missing – though how you could slip that under your jacket is beyond me.
Now, what bothers me is not the thievery itself, reprehensible as that is, but that here we have the supposed cream of young men and women who will form the leaders of our society tomorrow. It would seem that they are following closely in the footsteps of their forebears, who today form the corrupt politicians, bankers and other high-salaried officials who have been caught with their hands in the till or cooking their expense accounts, a growing class of peoples who haven’t come through recent years unscathed in the nicking-stakes. Were they not taught as children that stealing is not what we do? Weren’t the ruling classes always led to believe that they set the moral standard for the nation? Well, such standards, it would seem, are not taught nor the example set at Oxford. Everyone does it. They can afford it. It doesn’t hurt anyone.
Thieves are often glamorised. Somehow they got one over on the system, or triumphed when really they shouldn’t. One Cold War legacy is of border patrols monitoring a crossing. They knew contraband was somehow being smuggled across, but they couldn’t find out how or what. Years later one ex-guard asked their chief suspect how he had done it. “Well”, he finally confided, “You didn't realise I was smuggling wheelbarrows, so you never stopped me when I returned without one”.
For my fellow Christians, such arguments should cut no ice. There is no justification for stealing; it’s a no-no, one of those written-in-stone rules: Thou shalt not steal. But the founder of our faith, the God-man Jesus, took this principle further. He said, “In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you”. Or in this case, don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like them to do to you. Later, people came to know this principle as the Golden Rule.
So as the world crashes all about us, and the graduates from Oxford apparently leave with firsts in “antique repositioning”, wouldn’t it be good if we purloined this ancient ethic and majored in following the Golden Rule?
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