Garth Minott, Contributor
Gambling and money are closely associated. Gambling is the attempt to gain money, goods or service without an equal commitment to mutual exchange. In this sense, one must lose for another to gain.
It has been said, traditionally, that gambling is a game of chance. The Church does not consider a game of chance, by itself, as being intrinsically evil. Rather, the Church is against games of chance, which seek to benefit one party at the expense of another. Such practice borders on the traditional practice of usury, the attempt to gain unfair advantage in the process of trade.
Gambling encourages gain by greed rather than gain through the productive process. The Church has always opposed usury. Similarly, the Church continues to oppose all forms of gambling and the misuse of money. The current global economic meltdown is an opportunity for us to take another look at the issue of gambling and money.
What is the purpose of money? Students of Christian ethics would immediately recognise the word purpose as indicating telos or goal. Money is a means toward human flourishing and not an end in itself. Money exists to serve the human striving to attain the good life. Money exists to serve the needs of human beings. The Church's perspective on money is, therefore, helpful as we seek clarity for its purpose. In 1962, the Jamaica Christian Council, the predecessor of the Jamaica Council of Churches, had this to say about money: "Money is a moral matter. Its use is an index of our treatment of our fellow citizens." Here, the Church suggests two things.
Money and morality
First, money and morality go together. Morality means the quality of life people live in the community. Money exists to facilitate our becoming good. To the extent that we use money to enable us to pursue good ends is the extent to which money and morality are consistent. Money, like morality, should enable us to live the good life or the life God wishes us to live. We can know we are living the good life whenever we do not allow things, money or otherwise, to stand in the way of building healthy communities. Money is a means toward the realisation of healthy communities. The acquisition of money should be pursued for the purpose of ensuring the positive growth and development of each citizen. Money is, therefore, necessary to improve goods and services and these, in turn, should be used to advance the welfare of the citizenry.
Second, money is a spiritual symbol. Spirit is the ordering principle, which guides the way we live our lives. Money is a means through which spiritual, or non-material, reality works in the world. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the prayer over the gifts at communion says: "Father we offer to you these gifts which you have given us, this bread, this wine, this money; with them we offer ourselves, our lives and our work."
Bread, wine and money, material things, are used to represent the non-material realities of selves, lives and work. Money, like the other elements of bread and wine, are suggested means whereby the divine communicates with the faithful and the faithful communicates with God. The prayer further suggests that we live in a moral universe. Since morality is the way/s we order our lives toward goodness, then money, like other things, should be used to remind us that material things do not exist to be used as ends but as means toward human goodness and the worship of God.
The council had the worship of God in mind when it says: "It is on this basis (i.e., money is a moral issue) that the Church protests against gambling. In an act of gambling there is an artificially created risk for the purpose of gain. The gain is being made at the loss of the loser and simply on the turn of chance. Nothing creative is added to the life of the community. Money changes hands without any exchange of value in terms of goods and service."
At the heart of the word worship is worth. The question thus is: Is the exchange that takes place in gambling worthy as an offering in worship? The answer is no. Money is a symbol of trading goods and service. Gambling is an exercise in which money and/or other things are gained without the corresponding exchange of goods and services. The only exchange that takes place is money and pleasure. Very often, it is the owner that gets both. A few people might gain (win), but the majority will walk away as losers.
What of the argument that significant capital gains can be made for our ailing economy? Ernle Gordon, a colleague Anglican priest, has noted that: "Gambling preys on the weakness of the poor and the disadvantaged. The National Gambling Study Commission (in the USA) discovered that those with incomes lower than US$10,000 spends more on lottery tickets than any other income group. High school drop-outs also spend four times as much as college graduates. The same is true of Jamaican men whose earnings are very low, and who will spend their week's pay on horse racing.
The Bible exhorts Christians to take care of the poor, the disadvantaged and issues strong warnings against those who hurt these people. Gordon also suggests that the 'saving help', which gambling should have provided for the native people, on select reserves in the US, has not materialised.
The reverse is the case. A number of the natives have become gambling addicts and, notes Gordon, "Research by Peter Katel has shown that the Indians on the reserves in the USA appear to be enjoying wealth, yet most of the gaming houses do not get stratospheric revenues, and despite statistical indicators, Native American Indians (4.4 million) are still poorer, more illness prone and less likely to be employed than their fellow citizens.
Interestingly, Katel asserts that meanwhile, tribal governments remain largely dependent on direct federal funding of basic services; funding that Indian leaders and congressional supporters decry as inadequate. (In addition) A Nova Scotia Study in 2004 names problem gambling as a factor in 6.3 per cent of suicides, and it is increasing.
Gambling, as a key solution to our economic woes might not be as attractive as the pundits are making it seems. The Church, as well as all other civic groups, needs to remain resolute that the gaining of money at all cost is not in the best interest of our county and citizenry.
Money is a moral, material and spiritual issue. Emphasis on any one or two of these issues will lead to a breakdown in the moral and spiritual fabric of the society. There is evidence that the decay is evident elsewhere so there is no need for us to duplicate the problems and failure of others.
The fact that casino and other forms of gambling have been accepted as government policy does not mean the Church will be silent. On the contrary, the Church will continue to echo the words of the council: "The principle involved in gambling and the attitude to life which it inculcates are wrong. It is a selfish something-for-nothing attitude, and it involves a basic misuse of money and personnel." Sounds familiar in the present climate.
,i>Rev Garth Minott is a lecturer in Christian Ethics at United Theological College of the West Indies, St Andrew.