By Jerry Parks
Did you know that the Bible says absolutely nothing about shoplifting? But the Bible has much to say about thieves, -stealing, dishonesty, greed, selfishness, extortion, deception, covetousness and crime; principles which need to be taken into consideration when discussing our modern day term “shoplifting”. It is a crime punishable by law as well as a sin in the sight of God. Such a person is a thief. He or she is stealing, dishonest, greedy, covetous and selfish. Such a person is engaging in deception and extortion. This being the case, it is easy to see how an article on the subject of’ shoplifting fits into the general theme of morality.
I doubt if many of us realize the seriousness of this problem. Shoplifting is a serious problem from many standpoints. It is a social problem, it is an economic problem, but far more important, it is a spiritual problem. The Bible condemns stealing in no uncertain terms and those who do so are going to be lost if they do not repent and turn in obedience to God’s will.
To show you the relevance and reality of this matter, let me quote a few statistics. U.S. News and World Report, Nov. 28, 1977 says the following:
“Merchants this yuletide are bracing for a wave of shoplifting and employee theft that could easily exceed 1 billion dollars.
About 500 million dollars will be lost to light-fingered shoppers and another 600 million to pilfering employees this year, according to Gordon Williams of the National Retail Merchants Association. The total will be swollen by another 400 million spent by merchants on loss prevention.”
Time Magazine, Dec. 12, 1977 is an article entitled “There are 18 shoplifting Days till Christmas” also reports some interesting statistics:
“Shoppers who neglect to pay for their merchandise are criminals for all seasons, and their numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. The FBI reports more than 600,000 shoplifting arrests across the nation last year, nearly three times as many as in 1970, and the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates merchants’ losses from thefts in 1976 at some $8 billion.
You may have noticed that these statistics I have quoted are not the most current. If the losses are estimated at $8 billion for 1976, think what they must be for this past year! Let me also hasten to point out that the problem is not simply restricted to the poor or lower class Americans. It is to be found in every class of our society.
Why Are So Many Involved In This Crime?
This is an interesting question and deserves our attention. I believe there are a number of reasons why people decide to shoplift. Many from a psychological point of view, I would be totally unqualified to deal with. I am afraid, however, that many are too quick to label everyone who engages in this criminal pastime as simply being “psychologically maladjusted”.
A lady wrote to Ann Landers once, complaining about her husband bringing things home from work that did not belong to him. Ann replied by saying that she should take him to a psychiatrist because he was “sick”. They used to call such a one a ferry thief. Certainly there are some who are psychologically maladjusted, and a psychiatrist probably could help; but let us not forget that most of those who engage in such action are simply thieves and need to be identified as such.
But why are so many involved in this crime? Permit me to list a few of the more obvious reasons:
1. The tendency to rationalize: Those whom I have talked to about why they shoplifted, generally say, “The prices are too high”, or “The stores are trying to rip us off so why not?” or “Everyone else is doing it.” In other words, they are simply rationalizing their conduct. They are trying to convince themselves and others that there is nothing wrong with such conduct. Of course no amount of rationalizing will make something right that is inherently wrong to begin with. Stealing in any way, shape or form is wrong. It is sinful, and no amount of rationalizing will make it right. It was condemned in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. One of the ten commandments simply stated “Thou shalt not steal.” (Ex. 20:15). Jesus endorsed this commandment in Matt. 19:18, as did the apostle Paul in Rom. 13:9. Rationalizing will not remove or erase these verses from the Bible.
Such rationalizing begins early in life. Children will take money from Mother’s purse thinking, “She doesn’t need it,” or “She has so much she won’t miss this small amount.” Sometimes children will take something from a parent as a means of retaliation because the parent disciplined the child or told the child “no”. Sometimes parents will in a subtle way condone children taking things that do not belong to them. This is often done because parents have guilty feelings about not giving their children as much time and attention as they should. Stealing seems to have a great deal to do with the issue of entitlement- what a person feels is due him. Stealing or shoplifting, to such a one, is’ simply making up for something which is rightfully his, but which was denied because of life’s unfairness. These people say to themselves, “I have this coming to me.”
Usually, the person who steals thinks that, at some point in the past, something that belonged to him was taken away. Thus, the person who steals sees himself as the victim rather than the perpetrator of a theft. Often he feels victory rather than guilt when he has successfully stolen some article from a store.
Sometimes the motivation for such action is based on the fact that the victim is impersonal rather than personal. They wouldn’t think of robbing a man on the street, but if they take something from a big department store and get away with it, they feel they have simply beaten the “system”. All this is rationalizing, it is convoluted thinking and in no way justifies the act of stealing.
2. Covetousness: This word is defined as: “To wish for, especially eagerly; usually, to desire inordinately, or without due regard to the rights of others.” There can be no doubt about it, this describes a shoplifter in every detail. He has an inordinate desire for something and has no consideration for the rights of anybody else.
The Bible also condemns such an attitude. Jesus warned the multitude in Lk. 12:15, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Paul described the condition of the Gentiles without the gospel in Rom. 1:29, “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness.” A)1 one has to do is glance at a concordance to see the numerous warnings against the sin of covetousness. Shoplifting involves the sin of covetousness.
3. Sense of excitement: Some people will shoplift simply for “kicks”. They feel a sense of excitement from having “put one over” on their victim. Those with this attitude enjoy the risk. They are very much like the gambler who also plays the odds for the sake of the big win and are quite willing to take the risk. Usually, they are aware of the security systems, but feel they are far too smart or clever to be outdone by a store detective or a camera. Many feel that if they are caught, they can get out of it by simply saying “It was a mistake”. Shoplifters are usually quite daring. I heard of one lady who boasted that she had shoplifted a garbage can. An article in the Sept. 1977 issue of Nations Business described as experiment that was conducted in one grocery store trying to find out if people would report a shoplifter if they saw one in action. The store detective walked up to the poultry department and stuffed a turkey under his coat and walked out the door. One person who witnessed the crime, deciding not to be outdone, stuffed one under his coat and also walked out. Daring indeed!
3. Desperation: The reason we might logically attribute to one becoming a shoplifter is in reality very rare. Stealing or shoplifting has very little to do with poverty or the lack of basic necessities. So states Dr. James G. Blakemore, professor of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. This being the case, it becomes obvious that those who are saying that we can cure the ills of the world. by giving everyone more education and more money, simply do not-have the answer.
What Is The Solution?
We have already quoted from the U.S. News article stating that $400 million was spent last year on loss prevention. Certainly this will help deter some from shoplifting, but this alone is not the answer. There is an interesting article in the Dec. 1978 issue of Family Health dealing with “Mind Manipulation”. The stores under consideration are using soft background music, but it is mixed with the voice of a person softly whispering, “Be honest, do not steal”. The tape rolls on, “I am honest, I will not steal, if I do steal I will get caught and sent to jail.” The message remains basically the same, being repeated some 9000 times every hour. They say that prospective shoplifters walk out of the store scratching their heads wondering why they did not take what they intended. Hmmm! Is that the answer?
Let me suggest another alternative. Let’s take the gospel of Christ to men and women, boys and girls, and see if that doesn’t help. After all, it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). The Hebrew writer said it is sharper than any two edged sword (and I might add, any mind manipulating tape recorder). Paul said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” (Phil. 2:5). Let’s teach people the principles of righteousness contained in the word of God. Let’s teach our young people that sin is real and that the consequences of sin are real. That whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap, (Gal. 6:7). Let’s teach people that truth is not something relative, but that God has an absolute standard of morality. It is reasonable, logical, ethical and equitable. Let’s teach people about the glories of heaven. Certainly that ought to motivate people to want to do right. Let’s teach people what it means to be a Christian. The life of a Christian is satisfying, but not self indulgent. What makes life great, is to have something great to live for, and then to try to influence others to do the same. The Christian will learn to accept the authority of God; to be ruled by God’s will, not self will or man’s will. This is the whole message of the Bible.
Shoplifting, like so many other subjects covered in this series, is simply a symptom. The real problem is basic disregard for right and wrong, and the word of God that shows us the distinction between the two.
Self examination is difficult to practice. Rationalizing our conduct is extremely easy. Do not be deceived to think that stealing can be condoned. We will be judged by God’s word, and the Word forbids such conduct. Parents, do not be deceived by thinking that your children would never do such a thing. Teach them that such is wrong, and why it is wrong.
- Does an action have to be specifically condemned in order to be wrong?
- Is shoplifting a serious problem in our society?
- Is there any particular class of people who are prone to be shoplifters?
- What is the difference between a shoplifter and a thief?
- Name three reasons why people shoplift.
- What passages would condemn shoplifting?
- What solutions have been advanced by those concerned about the problem of shoplifting?
- What alternative is there to these solutions?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 24, pp. 393-394
June 14, 1979