Is it OK to steal from Bill Gates?

Dear Fr. Joe: In terms of software piracy, if it’s possible to do it, why is it wrong? After all, Microsoft has billions. 

All right, let’s just jump right to it. The first thing to look at is the idea of equivocation. When we equivocate, we make two basic statements, such as the following:

“We never run in the hallways, unless we are on fire.” (I have some experience with this rule).

See how an equivocation works? It gives you a rule, then an exception. Now, let’s look at the commandment, “You shall not steal.”

Now you notice what’s missing from this commandment? Equivocation. Stealing is always wrong. When God gave us that commandment, He didn’t say, “unless they are rich” or “unless you really need or want it.” God  simply says, “Don’t steal.”

Besides the “no-equivocation” nature of the commandment, there are more reasons why it is wrong to steal and then say “Well, the other person has more money.” For example, let’s look at it this way – you are rich. You may be sitting there thinking you’re not, but as far as 90 percent (not an official number) of the world are concerned, you are shockingly rich. Does that mean that people from other countries are allowed to steal from you? Of course not!

So, in the same way that we would never like that principle applied to us in our situation, we should never apply it to others. Besides, I talked to Bill Gates in the airport yesterday and he said he needed the money.

Basically, software piracy is wrong because God said not to steal. It’s just that simple.

Now, I don’t like to pile on any more than the next guy, but let’s look at some things that are stealing that we may not have thought of like cheating on a test or paper.  This is stealing. Cheating is taking someone else’s work and calling it our own. If you don’t do your work assignment, and the gal next to you stayed up late doing it, you are stealing from her if you copy it. This applies to taking credit for work we didn’t do at our jobs, as well as to schoolwork.

Check out these numbers, parents. We have to do a better job when teaching our kids about stealing/cheating:

• A national survey by the Rutgers Management Education Center of 4,500 high school students found that 75 percent of them engage in serious cheating.

• More than half have plagiarized work they found on the Internet.

• Perhaps most disturbing, many of them don't see anything wrong with cheating. Some 50 percent of those responding to the survey said they don't think copying questions and answers from a test is even cheating.

In case you are wondering, I got these statistics from this Web site: www.cnn.com/2002/fyi/teachers.ednews/04/05/highschool.cheating/index.html.

Another thing we may not have thought of in regard to stealing is giving money to the poor. Yup, folks. Believe it or not, not giving of our money to help out those who need it is stealing. Throughout the Old and New Testaments are references to the importance of believers setting aside a tenth of their income to give to their church or to the poor. The reasoning behind this is simple: God gave us the gifts and talents we have, and those gifts and talents are what allow us to work and make money. One way God has asked us to thank him for those gifts and talents is to help out our brothers and sisters in need. When we fail to do that, then it is just like stealing.

So, in the end, we once again find that God believes the best of us: He believes that we can make it in the world by being men and women of character. Our focus for this next month then, can be really simple: we must never steal.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!