In the final part of our series on the relationship between gambling and poker, we’ve gone right to the proverbial “horse’s mouth” for comments on the subject. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get leaders of the major religions – Catholicism, Christianity, Islam or Judaism – to discuss issues like this. Perhaps it is a discussion that is best had in person as it can be very nuanced and the repartee would allow for a true discussion. In reaching out to a rabbi on the subject, he had an opinion but couldn’t get it into a quick reply. But a couple religious leader did respond on the subject, with some interesting viewpoints.
Bilal Saleh of the Islamic Society of New Tampa was one member of the religious community who responded about gambling and religion. As we’ve previously stated, the Koran does directly have a statement that gambling is a sin, but Saleh was able to give a bit of background on the subject.
According to Saleh, Islam has a problem with gambling because of how the money is earned. “Making wealth in Islam is based on positive effort, on the fair exchange of benefits – receiving something in return for the exchange of money – and on the productivity of those involved,” Saleh commented. “In Islam, we are also not allowed to make wealth through harming others or other things, which can be found in gambling.”
“Using money to gamble does not achieve a fair exchange of benefits,” Saleh continued. “Instead, it is achieved as a result of harming someone else.” Speaking directly about gambling, Saleh said, “Gambling along with all kinds of usury is considered as one of the main reasons for economic injustice and unfair distribution of wealth, which leads to the creation of classes and unfair concentration of wealth.”
But what about those religions which use gambling – remember Grandma’s Bingo Night at the church? – to make money for their religious outreach and efforts. Saleh was quick to point out that he couldn’t speak for other faiths (“we do not have the answers for other faiths”), but he clearly stated that Islam did not participate in this arena. “That is not a legitimate way for fundraising in Islam,” Saleh stated. “(Other religions may do it) because they anticipate that the benefit of raising funds for doing good is much greater than the harm of gambling for their followers.”
“I am certainly not an expert in the area of gambling and faith, but I will be happy to offer my thoughts on the subject,” a Christian pastor by the name of Erick stated while, at the same time, expressing that it was HIS viewpoint and not the view of his church. He took a different tack in his explanation, indicating that gambling was another form of idolatry and greed. “An idol can be defined as anything that comes between us and God, thus it is considered sin,” Erick stated, while adding in several pieces of scripture that discussed this issue.
As to the issue of churches using gambling for fundraising, Erick saw the evident problems. “My completely honest answer would be that religious organizations are made of humans and we humans are really good at rationalizing when things can benefit us,” Erick said bluntly. “If we could raise $1,000 with a raffle or silent auction, who is that going to hurt and thing of the good we can do with that money. But I can imagine some who have fallen off the deep end of gambling into addiction had similar thoughts when they first began.”
While religion has consistently railed against the evils of gambling, they often have contradicted themselves when it comes to the actual activity. The Puritans, the people who came to the “New World” on the Mayflower, used lotteries to fund some of the premiere academic institutions in the States of America (Yale, Harvard and Princeton didn’t always have those huge endowments) and dice, horse racing and cards were all prevalent in the supposedly “God-fearing” people. The Stamp Act, passed by the British Parliament prior to the Revolutionary War (and one of its causes), included a clause that taxed every deck of cards that was sold in the Colonies.
Over the passing 250 years or so, there have been ebbs and flows in the battle between gambling and religion. While there might be some substantive reasons for religion to consider gambling an “evil,” some of them then contradict themselves when the offer that very same activity under the auspices of “raising money” for their causes. The bottom line is that, even looking back to before the birth of Christ, religion has been on one side of the spectrum and gambling on the other – and there is little that is going to change that fact.