Plagiarism: Pride, Property Theft, and Pathetic

A few questions that should be entertained are: 1) what is plagiarism? 2) why is it frowned upon? 3) what does commitment of the act reveal about those who plagiarize?

(Before going on, I want to note the reason for writing an article regarding plagiarism. From the onset, I want to state this has nothing, directly anyway, to do with some of the controversy regarding a few high-profile evangelical “megachurch” pastors. This has everything to do with seeing people I know openly and underhandedly plagiarizing the work of others on social mediums such as FaceBook and Twitter; it needs to end).

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (notice the citation), plagiarism is: “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.” In other words it is copying others’ work and assuming credit for originality. Plagiarism is an academic no-no; an enormous academic felony. Though I am a student who researches and writes a lot (and could have saved much time and effort by copying large portions of great sources), I am thankful for programs like Turnitin and Safeassign, which checks documents for originality and detects plagiarized material. It has prompted me and a multitude of students like me to do honest research, writing, and citing of work. With having said that, I want to offer a few problems with plagiarism for both the Christian and non-Christian. These can be identified as the cause, inherent problem in the act itself, and the consequence of plagiarism.

Pride As Cause Of Plagiarism

There is not much doubt that many people are motivated, at least in part, to contribute something to the public at large, by pride. While restraining myself from mentioning the name of a “megachurch” pastor whose been in some hot water for plagiarizing sections of others’ works as his own, it is evident that pride contributed to him ripping chapters from another man’s work and passing it as his own. In fact, this pastor had people help him research and organize materials for his controversial book, and did not give any credit to these “ghostwriters.” Under the authorship of the book is solely his name. For a more and better detailed article check out this one by Andy Crouch writing for Christianity Today. Crouch makes mention of this very problematic trend in the contemporary world of evangelical celebrity pastors and points out their struggle for preeminence and popularity.

Laziness As A Cause For Plagiarism

There are some people who want the fame and the notoriety that comes with writing and publishing, but they do not want to put in the work or perhaps they cannot due to time restraints. So, they turn to stealing intellectual property (which is next) and mask it as their own. Sheer laziness. Anyone who has done honest research knows that writing can be demanding; Quality research and writing processes are for those who are industrious.

Plagiarism Is Property Theft

To steal one’s intellectual work is criminal. Those thoughts, and paragraphs, as they are expressed belong to someone who is not you. To copy them is stealing, and I believe, it is an issue addressed under both civil and criminal law. Plus, in the academic world, such theft is a career-ender, as it should be. People who actually put the time and effort into producing written material work way too hard just to have someone else misappropriate/hijack their work.

Plagiarism Is Dishonest

To pass another person’s work as your own and get caught (which with the available software out is likely) costs you your respect and credibility with your readers. It’s like you have portrayed yourself to be an authority on an issue, but you’re really not. It’s like hiding behind a mask; it’s deceitful.

Ultimately, Plagiarism Is Sad.

Either you can research and write well or you can’t. There is hope for the latter: Practice. It’s something that I think about when I write anything short, or long, analytical or summarily. Practicing writing is the best way to become a better writer (reading a lot helps, as well). While I am not the greatest writer, I can see progress from when I started several years ago. There is no shame in admitting that. Yet it is sad to think there is some unspoken, implicit  standard that has been set; like if you are to be a well-known pastor, you must be on the New York Times’ Bestseller’s List. Those sorts of standards, usually set by non-writers, contribute to such a sad practice. Those who plagiarize sometimes do so to ensure their work will be acceptable to their readers. Write not to publish; write not to impress, but write because you have something that needs to be said, or better yet, something that YOU need to say. Don’t worry about whether you have 10, 100, or 10,000 people read your material. For those of us who are Christians, we should write to glorify the Lord and to advance the Kingdom of God. Write for the good of the Church, not for your own popularity. There is much to say, and unfortunately the current American celebrity pastor culture (another article being drafted), in part, cultivates such action (producing materials to maintain status quo as prominent pastor). Anyway, it is simply sad.

Please, cite your sources well. There are a lot of free resources online that can help you do so. Ex: Turabian Citation Guide; Citation Machine

These are just a few brief thoughts on the subject. I trust that people much more qualified and more intelligent than myself has addressed and will address this issue in the future to a much greater extent. May God be glorified in our work as we research and write.

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