I was reading an article the other day, actually it was this morning, but by the time you read it, it will be “the other day.” The title of the piece was “We Are All Plagiarists” the same as my article with one small difference, I used “We’re” instead of “We Are.” Is this plagiarism? Yes, because I seen it, and I took it, it was not original with me. The title sparked some thoughts in me and I wanted that title, so I took it. In the strictest sense plagiarism is stealing another persons material and passing it off as your own. Stay with me, I do have a purpose which will make sense to some.
We plagiarize all the time, by not giving due credit for an idea, method, style, or approach. It may be as simple as not putting a sentence in quotation marks or saying “I told you so” when it wasn’t you who “said so” initially at all. Most professional plagiarizers get by with it and feel no guilt because some money has passed hands. Preachers do this most often. They will purchase a yearly program of sermons and allow the congregation to believe that the messages were from the Spirit. I myself have been guilty of taking an old work that I like and redoing it, or expounding on an already developed idea. We are all guilty but we justify it in many different ways. Even books on writing, say on essays, advise beginners to take someone else’s work, and expand it, and develop it in their own words. No one would call this plagiarism, but the foundational thought is not original, or the outline, and we’re not told to give credit to anyone else, so there is an element of dishonesty, but it has been cleaned up a bit, enough to pass a given standard anyway. I had a teacher tell me once that “if you copy from one author it is plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it is research.” Of course it was said in jest, but it reveals an underlying element that we just laugh at, brush aside, ignore, or justify some way.
This letter is really a continuation of my thoughts in the previous two letters. There is a thread that ties them together. What happened in that “garden,” in relation to those two trees that formed the subject of the past couple articles, provides us with critical information that links us to characteristics of every subsequent activity, pattern of thinking, or plagiaristic plundering. In understanding what that thread is made of we begin to get closer to the truth that we are all plagiarist, that every thought and consequent motivation, for good or evil, has its origin outside of our self and that we have never had an “original thought.” Each individual is the result of an aggregate of many thought associations, and all our thoughts are the product of one of two trees from which we eat on a daily basis; one giving life, the other death. How we think and what we think either provides for a good future harvest or a horrible spiritual famine, and all those thoughts have their origin outside our self.
It is strange that we see only one tree in the garden that we were not allowed to eat from. Every other tree in the garden could be used for food, a vast number of sources for nourishment. But, what do we see now? Outside the garden it is quite different, as a matter of fact it is just the opposite. We now see one source of proper nourishment, the Bible, and all the other sources of the world are vastly available. The prince of this garden says close to the same thing as God did to Adam and Eve, “eat from any tree you like, but stay away from the tree of the knowledge of Life.” Life on the “outside” of the garden is dangerous. It is more dangerous than we can even comprehended. When we were told to live our life in isolation from the world it wasn’t just a few casual words of how to get along on the outside, it was a matter of survival. “No one can serve two masters,” was Jesus’ words to his disciples (Matt. 6:24). Nevertheless, Christians have spent the best part of the past two thousand years apparently trying to disprove His claim. We have told ourselves that we can indeed have both-the things of God and the things of this world. Most of us live our lives in lockstep with non-Christians, except for the fact that we attend church regularly each week and do a few good works. We watch the same entertainment and share the same concerns about the problems of this world. And, we are just as involved in the world’s commercial and materialistic pursuits. We talk about Heaven as our home but lay up for our best life now. Most often, our being “not of this world” is only theoretical and not a practical.
A letter I received today criticizing me as judgmental because of using the example of a kid wearing a tee shirt, with a picture of a marijuana leaf, as being a signal of his affinity toward the use of the plant, illustrates my point. Our thought processes, world view, attitude toward sin, and ability to discern simple things are heavily influenced by not restricting our diet to that single good tree. The whole idea of eating only what the Lord has provided, Living Bread, is to give us the unimpaired use of a resource, our conscience, to make good judgments (discernment). The question of plagiarism becomes not “will we plagiarize,” but rather, who’s thoughts and ideas are we copying? If we have not separated our lives from the world in every respect possible then we can not hope to be able to understand spiritual things, much less to hear God’s voice. Worldly Christians seek their answers from the never ending reasoning that flows through their heads, provided to them by the keeper of the world’s garden, Satan. The History Channel holds more authority than does the Bible. Creeds and Councils have the final word over the Prophets and the Apostles, and tradition and Popes trump Jesus. All of the Church’s shuffling to find an answer to the world’s ills only displays its extreme and hopeless condition resulting from the exponential growth of knowledge, and all of mankind’s reliance on his own ability to reason out a solution.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is very much alive in the world today. In the last days we are told by Daniel that man will go to and fro in the world and that knowledge will increase, and we see that plainly. All men have made use of his free access to knowledge, even the homeless man under the bridge, and men reason every day and every way how they might effect the world and better it for their use by resorting to what they have discovered through “knowledge.” They have neglected the solitary source of life, a simple food for existence in a foreign land. There is a way out and it is to isolate, to separate, and to cleanse the vessel and make it a fit habitation for the Spirit.
Plagiarism is a crime only if you are copying from the tree of knowledge. God has given us permission to copy Him, in every detail. So, it is true, we are all plagiarist, of one form or another.