The Green Room ~ Property and theft


By the Revd Dr John Harrison


How do you feel about people who steal?

If you are the victim is your life the poorer for the experience? How does it make you feel? After all, we can point to biblical reference to justify our embittered feelings as we step up to the moral high ground. In Proverbs 6: 30 we are asked the question “Is not a thief contemptible if he steals, even to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry?” and in the New Testament John (10:10) tells us that “a thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy”, while Paul emphatically denies the Kingdom of God to any thief (1 Cor 6: 10).

Anti-fracking protestSo it is with disappointment that we read the headline “Figures show that we’re fleeing without paying what we owe” (The Journal October 1st), which is based on an analysis of recent crime figures. What is reported is a massive increase in the number of people who leave filling stations, restaurants, and taxis without paying the bill. The figure quoted is a 70% increase between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. While such a crime is probably, in most cases, spontaneous and does not require the planning of a criminal mastermind, nevertheless it is not victimless and it is still theft.

Before we stampede off to the moral high ground, is this not something that many of us have considered at some point in our lives, when ‘getting away with it’ is part of the adventurous spirit of youth? This may be as humble as nicking apples from Mr Jones’ orchard or perhaps travelling a short distance on your local train or bus without paying the fare; but there isn’t a scale of theft, on which the lesser crimes are almost acceptable, or maybe have a romantic ‘Robin Hood’ quality attached to them.

Theft is theft. As a society we are increasingly taking without paying, which is a fundamental issue which we face when it comes to the world around us.

We take from our environment that which is not ours to take – we take what we want without paying, which is not a victimless crime. Robbing the ground without paying for what we take degrades the soil, which becomes impoverished and unable to sustain plant growth. Robbing the land of its mineral wealth without thought for the future impoverishes the Creation which God placed into our care. Fracking, for example, is a careless cut-and-run course of action which feeds our greed for energy, and which leaves an impoverished world behind.

So before we stand on our moral high ground we should ask, are we not all the same? While we would perhaps shy at the prospect of stealing from our fellow human beings and are diligent in paying our dues at the filling station, are we not stealing from Creation without thought for the consequences of our actions?



  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.





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