Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Christians and Gambling

I break gambling down into three categories:
  1. Gambling for income
  2. Gambling as entertainment
  3. Social gambling
I will address these one-by-one

Now, for my theological presupposition, I'm of the mind that what is not explicitly prohibited by scripture (or easily derived therefrom)  is permissible with all the attendant caveats about idols, covetousness, making your brother stumble, and especially the lesson that all things should be done in moderation.

Gambling for Income

No way. I cannot possibly reconcile this with the body of scripture. Although--it is not quite as straightforward as I might have hoped, given there is no direct "though shall not gamble and thou shall be a good steward"  command. Even worse, the parable of the talents suggests that one is to be lauded for getting a 100% return on investment, which in any culture involves placing your money at risk. However we must remember that a) it's a parable, and they are never to be taken literally and b) the intent of the risk-taking servants in the parable was to return the profits (all of them) to the master, not to provide income for their family. Their intent is not the intent of the professional gambler. 

I think that with all the scripture related to stewardship, and other scripture related to things like providing for your family, and scripture related to performing honorable work, and especially the picture of God's providence that clearly emerges, the case against gambling for income is solid.

Gambling as Entertainment

By this I mean things like stopping at the 7-Eleven on the way home from work and participating in the most regressive tax ever devised by man, the lottery. 1 I never do this, so naturally I am tempted to take a "Thank you God that I am not such a sinner as he!" attitude. But I hear people say things like: 

It's just for fun. It's cheaper than a movie!

True enough. But what is it about the lottery that is fun? The fun is, I think, in envisioning what you'd do with the money. Still, I feel reluctant to cast a judgement, mostly because I have the trunk of a redwood tree in my eye regarding things that are fun but possibly sketchy (is that still a cool word?) Color me ambivalent.

Social Gambling

This is when you are with friends, typically non-Christian friends, and a gambling situation arises. In this situation, I have no problem with minor gambling. Here I view it (if done right--which implies without seriousness and involving as little money as possible) as a form of fellowship and even the benefit demonstrating the Christians are not (always) legalistic killjoys.

For example: if I am in a group at an event that has a 50-50 raffle,  and most in the group are participating, I would not, as a matter of principle, take the position "I'm a Christian and I don't gamble." The bigger lesson I would see here, absent an explicit prohibition, is to be all things to all people.

Or office lottery pools. The last time the MegaZillions lottery had a 10 figure prize, someone in the department organized a pool, and almost everyone threw in a dollar. I did too. Somehow we "won" a tiny amount because shortly after the  drawing he distributed $0.75 to all participants. (And by winning, I mean we all only lost $0.25 each, rather than $1.00)

Once (maybe ten or so years ago) I was on a work related trip to San Diego. My colleagues at the facility I was working invited me to participate in their weekly game of Texas Hold 'em, which I roughly understood from ESPN—although I hadn't watched enough to appreciate the finer points of small and big "blinds" and the like.

Well—I wiped 'em out! I won everything! ($120).

I never played again. Texas Hold 'em—man that is some game. It involves an intoxicating combination of luck, memory, mathematics, and psychology. That game is dangerous—that game is one that could suck me in. That is "capital T" Temptation. 

Christian Liberty

Somehow this reminds me of a story from some Presbyterian theologian whose name escapes me...hold on it will come.. oh yeah, that R.C. Sproul fellow. He related (paraphrasing from memory) how he went to lunch with a group of Christians and the waitress came to the lady at the head of the table and asked if anyone would like something from the bar. The nice lady huffed indignantly and said something like "We are Christians. We do not drink." R.C. said when the waitress got to him he was oh-so tempted to say "I'll have single malt, neat!" But he refrained. Good man.

I once went to lunch in DC with a group of hard core internet atheists including this guy, where I the lone Christian, (and a Baptist no less) and yet was the only one to order an alcoholic drink (beer). It was a Twilight Zone moment.

1 The most perfect parable in the lottery universe is the fact that the only time a state run "pick three" was ever rigged in the US, the number drawn was 666. Awesome. 

1 comment:

  1. Another good one. Seems to cover the ground.