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Monday, January 4, 2010

Is It Ever OK To Shoplift?

If someone, say a newly released prisoner, has no options left, is it OK for him to shoplift? What would YOU do in this position?

I remember a few winters ago a homeless man who had found a convenience store to camp near (this was unusual because we live in a fairly rural neighborhood). It was a safe situation, so I gave him food two or three times until he disappeared after about five days. Was this right to give him food? Some people might not think so because it would enable the man to *continue his lifestyle.* I understand this. I also know that many homeless people have mental illnesses for which they've gone off their meds and can no longer integrate back into society without outside assistance.


I don't give money to people who beg because I believe it's likely to be spent on alcohol or drugs. I DO donate money to Salvation Army and a soup kitchen in the area, and figure they have the resources to help homeless people so much better than I can.

This is an interesting interview posted last week from a vicar who says, yes, under dire circumstances it's OK to shoplift. You can see the video HERE.

I don't think I agree with him, although he HAS pointed out an important social behavior: if those who have don't give, then what can those who don't have do? It's a convicting question. The economy is terrible right now and donations for charities are way down. People don't have as much to give.

I'd love to hear what you think!

(This news report was posted on 12/22, so I'm going to hope it's still there.)


Jane Lebak said...

this came up on my Catholic parenting board when it happened. Apparently this kind of social justice (relief for the desperate who are being socially oppressed and unable to sustain themselves) has always been Catholic teaching.

From the Catechism:

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one's disposal and use the property of others.

Thus -- someone is starving, and has no other possible way to get food. Someone else has extra food, more than their needs, but isn't sharing it. That "extra" food doesn't even truly belong to that individual at all -- it belongs to the one who needs it.

That article states that the priest said that if one is truly desperate, and has exhausted all possible avenues from the state or charities, than it is better to shoplift than turn to prostitution or selling drugs. I don't know that someone in a first world country would often be in that situation, though, because of the helps available in most area.

Thomas Aquinas agrees too:

Americans are in a unique position in time/space in that very few of us have ever known actual desperate want. But in other countries, that's a daily fact of living, and the Church in those countries needs to do as Christ did and stand up for the needs of the poor who cannot stand up for themselves.

BTW, an act of kindness to a homeless man isn't permission for him to continue living "that kind of lifestyle." He may be one act of kindness away from turning it around. He may be one act of cruelty away from never making it into God's Kingdom. We don't know. We only know that we've been called as Christians to give without counting the cost.

Leslie said...

Thinking about Ruth and how she was able to feed both her and Naomi - it was commanded by God that the Israelites not harvest everything - leave things for those who don't have food behind for them to pick it up.

Hmm.... its not the "we send them to beg here" for food - they get what they need from the excess.

While I don't agree with shoplifting or stealingat all - I do believe that we should be doing way more than we already are. :(

logankstewart said...

Hi Amy, I found your blog through Brandon Barr's Christian Science Fiction blog. Great topic, and relevant, too.

Shoplifting is never right, as it is stealing, which is sin. The whole thing reminds me of Les Miserables. I think we should give of ourselves to people in need whenever we can and whatever we can. Christ told the rich man to "sell all he had and give it to the poor," and His ministry was deeply connected to the poor, so I feel like I should be, too.

I posted an incident I had with a homeless man on my blog just a few days ago, available here. If you get a chance, give it a read.

Have a blessed day and thanks for the post.