The S.P.U.D. Test

It happens to every teacher:

my materials for a class did not come on time. 

S.P.U.D

From October, 2009

I explained to the students that I would make adjustments to the course schedule.  We would use other methods than the backordered computer disks from the educational company for the next week or two.  One young college student interjected, “Dr. Eckel, just give me the CD and I’ll make copies for everyone.”

I turned to the board and wrote one word: “ethics.”  Looking back at the class I asked how they might respond if someone took their property without paying for it.  “But when it comes to electronic data, it’s so easy to reproduce, and . . .” is as much as the young man got out of his mouth.  “Does that matter,” was my serious reply, “If property belongs to another, no matter in what form it is transmitted, isn’t stealing, stealing?”  My freshmen students, new to a Christian college, did not believe copying CDs without paying for them was a problem.  I had my work cut out for me.

Is stealing wrong?  How do we know?  By what standard will we assess the question?  Where is the measure found?  In essence, “Who says?” I should do this or that?  Genesis begins by answering that query.  Based on the first seven installments in the Genesis series I would like to offer a four-fold standard for wisely addressing ethical issues from a Christian point of view.[1] I call it “The S.P.U.D. Test.”

ONE: Is the belief sensible to what is?  Is it prudent and logical?  Or is the worldview based on emotion, experience, or the desire of the moment?  Is the thinking true to life or do you respond, “Oh, come on!”?

TWO: Is the belief practical and workable in everyday life?  Can people live this way?  Or when applied to reality is the worldview useless and unbeneficial?

THREE: Is the belief universal—for all people in all places at all times?  Does the worldview produce a helpful impact for people today and throughout history?  Or are people hurt by the ethics of the viewpoint?

FOUR: Is the belief dependable and consistent?  Are the ideas based on a changeless set of standards?  Or are they based on the whim of human decision?

Sensibility maintains that standards are embedded in God’s world.  The Chris Atkins film “Starsuckers” takes aim at celebrity journalism.  Atkins believes that society’s obsession with fame — gaining it and being near it — has distorted everything from the way news is reported to our children’s aspirations.  “It’s the same journalists who write about celebrity hairstyles who write about weapons of mass destruction.”[2] Does it make sense to subscribe to celebrities’ beliefs from global warming to health care simply because they are celebrities?  Does “reality TV” do anything other than distract us from real life?  Do talk show hosts carry any moral weight for human problems outside of their own voices?  Sensibility teaches that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety”[3] when these counselors speak true Truth.

Practicality mandates that life should be intertwined with God’s Truth.  Steven Pinker, an evolutionary biologist, admits that believing right and wrong is nothing more than an impersonal computer program which is hard to practice with his family when he gets home at night.[4] Pinker’s impracticality shows itself when he rejects God as the source of Truth, trusting instead in the goodness of human nature.[5] Leon Kass gets closer to workable ethics when he says “In this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done . . . repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity.  Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”[6] Practicality teaches that Jesus’ comment “what comes out of a person makes him unclean”[7] gets to the Center of Truth.

Universality moves all humans because we are all made in God’s image.  Why are all cultures obsessed by other-world creatures invading our world?  What do haunted houses suggest about peoples’ beliefs in spirits and ghosts?  Why is the movie Paranormal Activity sweeping the country as an instant cult-classic?  Every supernatural thriller film, every scary Halloween costume, every ghost story is evidence of a world-wide belief that there is another world.  Guillermo del Toro, creator of the bizarrely horrific Pan’s Labyrinth, believes fairy tales from every culture add to one’s “spiritual formation.”[8] Universality teaches that “we wrestle against . . . the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.”[9] Truth in this world comes from Another World.

Dependability motivates people toward God’s changelessness.  When we watch an athletic contest all we ask of referees is to treat both teams equally.  When students turn in essays all they ask is that teachers be consistent in their grading.  When the public listens to a news broadcast all they ask is that all points of view are heard.  When MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann refers to Michelle Malkin—a conservative commentator, a Christian, mother of two children—as a “mashed up bag of meat with lipstick,” hateful comments display that his point of view is unreliable.[10] Dependability teaches that we need “God who does not lie,”[11] an Immovable Standard Outside of ourselves.

It was 10 p.m., two hours before bass season opened.  A young boy and his dad were practice-casting in anticipation of the next day.  The lure flashed in the full moon light as the child learned under his father’s tutelage.  Without warning, the next cast hooked a fish.  Reeling it in, two generations gazed on a beautiful bass, the largest either had ever seen.  “Can we keep it Dad?” came the plaintiff cry.  The father lit a match and noted the time on his wristwatch.  “No son.  The season begins tomorrow.”  The boy glanced around the lake.  They were alone.  “But, Dad!  No one will know!  The season begins in two hours!  Please, can we keep it?!”  The father’s insistence was resolute.  Lowering the big bass into the lake the two watched as the animal swam away.  Neither saw a fish that size ever again.  But the boy now sees that same fish every time he is asked to cut corners, fudge numbers, or submit half-truths in his job as an architect.

Adhering to a standard outside of ourselves suggests a Heavenly origin.  Right and wrong is a result of Genesis law: whether we obey fishing rules or property rights.  The S.P.U.D. Test keeps our earthly eyes on Heaven.

Mark has been using the S.P.U.D. test for 30 years employing it with students everywhere.


[1] See Genesis: Lost in the Forest, Part 5. http://warpandwoof.org/biblical-theological/lost-in-the-forest/

[2] Jill Lawless, “New Movie Takes Aims At Celebrity Journalism.” 27 October 09 retrieved from http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gSlGatp55XanTtYu0m-30MVUcfOQD9BJDON81

[3] Proverbs 11:14; 24:6.

[4] Discussed in some detail by Nancy Pearcey in The Total Truth (Crossway, 2004), pp. 107-09.

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print

[6] Leon Kass and James Q. Wilson. 1998. The Ethics of Human Cloning. (AEI Press): 19.

[7] Mark 7:21-23.

[8] http://movies.about.com/od/panslabyrinth/a/pansgt122206.htm

[9] Ephesians 6:12 (ESV).

[10] http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brad-wilmouth/2009/10/13/olbermann-without-fascistic-hatred-malkin-just-mashed-bag-meat-lipsti

[11] Titus 1:2; see the whole of chapter one which shows the difference between trustworthiness and liars.

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