Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Short Jeremiad on Integrity

At the end of each term, Mountain U has a fancy(-ish) dinner: lox and tenderloin and seventeen sides and eighteen desserts.  Dr. S and I took the children 'out' to the college cafeteria that night (for a grand total of $24, by the way).  While walking up, we ran into a visiting faculty member and his daughter.  I asked if his spouse was meeting him there and he said no, he was planning to buy one dinner for himself and take her a box dinner home.  (Without paying.)

I was speechless.  They go to Mass every week, and profess to be Catholics, of the rabid anti-choice variety.  Doesn't Catholicism have some things to say about personal integrity and sinning in secret and the moral damage it does you?  Of course it's tempting to take a shortcut, but personally, my religion is not compatible with stealing.

A few weeks ago, after picking Tatoe up from preschool, I backed into another car in the parking lot, leaving a small dent and a scrape.  You can bet your bottom dollar that, as I looked in the rearview mirror, I was thinking "Maybe I can drive away and nobody will ever know."  But I didn't, I left a note, because I thought it was the right thing to do.  (I'm not looking for praise; believe you me, my desire to do evil was in full force.) You can call it religion, or supporting a social contract, or whatever you please, but doing the same thing whether anyone's looking is integrity.


  1. I'd say there are religious people with integrity, and quite a few without. There are atheists with integrity and without it, too. Humans are humans. Honestly, before I met Patrick it wouldn't have occurred to me that taking an extra meal home was stealing, though I'd have never taken something from a grocery store. That's probably my father's influence, he's so cheap as to be borderline dishonest.

    You'll be glad to know I've changed my ways. Patrick is a good influence on me. He doesn't even cheat at board games... It helps to have plenty of money for food, too. Not that a fellow prof should be lacking in that respect.

    I'd like to see a study on integrity, comparing peoples of various religions and beliefs. I did have a Catholic describe her religion as, "You do whatever you like and then just confess and be forgiven." But she was 16 and not super bright in high school. She did manage to graduate without having a baby, unlike many classmates.

    I hope I'm not too rambling or incoherent. Perhaps I should've waited to comment after finishing my coffee.

    1. I continue to have a hard time with people who spend hours and hours every week talking/thinking about how to live in what they see as the 'right' way and lack basic morality. I mean. WHAAAAAT.

  2. Oooooo! I wish you hadn't been speechless. I wish you'd said, "Isn't there a commandment about that?" It's true, though, that religion is no guarantee of ethical behavior. And it sounds like what bugs you most is not the lack of integrity but the hypocrisy? I like how Dan Ariely describes it--dishonesty is fundamentally human. People don't cheat because they're bad (though they may be), they cheat because they're human. For Nicole, I recommend:
    Does religion make people moral? Norenzayan, Ara; Behaviour, Vol 151(2-3), 2014 pp. 365-384.

    1. The hypocrisy is definitely what gets me. Of course everyone is at the very least tempted to dishonesty; it IS human. But spending all your time being judgy about other people's morality while failing to recognize one's own fundamental dishonesty is a special, special thing to do.


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