It’s probably something that you’ve heard your grandmother chide you for as she puts her lucky hat on and picks up her change purse to head to the weekly church Bingo sessions – “Gambling is a sin! Don’t you DARE ever do it!” And we all know what we did next…we went out and flipped baseball cards with Jimmy or pitched pennies against the back wall of the 7-Eleven (myself? penny ante Seven Card Stud). But while Grandma’s telling her fellow bridge partners about how much she won during Bingo Night while they count up who owes whom from the game, we might have started wondering…just WHAT IS the relationship between gambling and religion?
Let’s Look at the Books…
For many in the world, the Christian Bible is the work that guides decisions and thoughts on what constitutes “right” and “wrong.” Most Christians, in fact, view the Bible as the “sacred word of God,” handed down by the Creator himself. Judaism looks at the Old Testament as their “Tanakh” which tells the story of “their people,” the Israelites. And, even though many might think that Muslims only use the Koran to derive their worship, they follow the Bible that Jews, Christians and Catholics also use as their religious base.
The Bible, however, doesn’t say one word DIRECTLY about gambling and whether it is “right” or “wrong.”
The Bible itself doesn’t have any passages that directly say that a “righteous” or “religious” person cannot gamble on sports, bet on cards or even play the lottery. In fact, it goes almost 180 degrees in the other direction, mentioning events of “chance” or “luck.” Casting lots – utilizing a drawing process, much like a raffle – is used to determine how land is allotted to the tribes of the Israelites under Joshua. There are 70 instances where “casting lots” are used in the Bible, including by the Roman soldiers who raffled off the clothing of Jesus Christ following his crucifixion.
The Koran does take a stance on the gambling issue. The activity is closely tied with alcohol usage and both are considered violations of their religious views. There is a direct passage from the Islamic holy book that states, “O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, dedication of stones and divination by arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s handwork. Eschew such abomination that you may prosper” (Quran 2:219). Although there is a great love of competition in sports and other activities amongst Muslims, gambling is something that many devout members will avoid.
An interesting aspect – and one that could offer an explanation as to why there is the schism between gambling and religion – could come from Judaism. The Talmud, the book of laws of the Jewish people that dates to the fourth century, doesn’t necessarily ban gambling. It does look at it from another aspect, though – one that looks at the results of the activity. In most cases, the rabbis believed, the activity was a risky financial move and could also be addictive. Furthermore, the activity – which some, including local, state and national governments, think “contributes” to the overall economies of a particular area – are a “zero sum” game because it takes from one person and puts that wealth to someone else.
As you can see, the relationship between gambling and religion is a complicated one. In Part Two of this series, we’ll examine what looks to be the major thrust of what causes problems – that little thing called the “Seven Deadly Sins.”