This Is the Only Really Good Reason to Cheat

‘Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.’ (CCC 1865)

‘Cheating’ (photo: Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock)

Each year I engage my students in a conversation about why they should cheat. Yes, that’s right — why they should cheat. 

I begin by acknowledging the fact that they have been told, many times, all of the reasons they should notcheat, and I am sure they are tired of hearing those reasons. They have probably come up with their own list of reasons why those reasons don’t apply to them or how those bad results can be avoided. Instead, I want to discuss the one and only good reason to cheat. 

At this point, they are intrigued. 

There are a lot of reasons that people cheat in school, but most of those reasons are not good reasons. So I have the students tell me why most students cheat. I tell them that I am sure they are not the ones cheating, of course, but they probably know others who do cheat. Why do they do it?

The list that results inevitably includes wanting to get good grades, pressure from parents, lack of preparation, laziness and a whole host of other reasons. We then go through each reason to see if there is another way of accomplishing that goal or dealing with that problem. There are other ways of getting good grades like studying. If unhealthy parental pressure is a problem, cheating won’t solve that problem; family counseling is advised. Lack of preparation can be dealt with by preparing more or being honest and taking the bad grade. In the end, cheating turns out to not be the only solution. Cheating is not the only way to achieve those ends.

There is, however, one thing that cannot be accomplished unless they cheat. Cheating is the only way to do this one thing, and so it is the only really good reason to cheat. And what is that thing that you have to cheat to do? 

To become a cheater. 

If you want to become the kind of person who experiences and thinks about the world from the perspective of a cheater, then you have to cheat. There is no other way to become a cheater than by cheating. To become a cheater is the only really good reason to cheat.

This is the case with all of our other habits that we want to develop. The only good reason to lie is to become a liar. The only good reason to steal is to become a thief. The only good reason to murder is to become a murderer. If we want to become something, to have that habit become a part of our identity, then we must commit that action.

In the cases just mentioned, those are vices: habits that contradict reason and human nature, dispositions to evil.

A virtue, on the other hand, “is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” (CCC 1803). These virtues are developed in the same way as vices: practice. 

The way to become courageous is by doing courageous acts. The way to become wise is to think like the wise. The way to become charitable is by doing charitable deeds.

C.S. Lewis puts it so well:

Every time you make a choice you are turning that central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

(I was only planning on quoting part of that passage, but I couldn’t resist going on once I got started — Lewis tends to have that effect). With each choice we make we turn ourselves into a cheater or a sage, into a coward or a saint (CCC 1804). We become what we practice.

God, recognizing our weakness, gives us help (CCC 1810-1811). Again, Lewis tells us that the Christian life is not a matter of just carrying out what Christ taught, but that “a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has.”

So, if you want to become a cheater, then you should cheat. But who in his right mind would want to be a cheater when we are offered God?