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Gambling and Biblical Tradition

Although gambling is not explicitly forbidden in the Bible, it does prey upon the individual’s desire for worldly riches. This desire for immediate wealth and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the spirit of New Testament teaching.

Jesus taught the multitudes to seek the eternal treasures in heaven rather than pursue temporary, earthly gain. He insisted upon the self-sacrifice and renunciation of earthly possessions and family ties and duties. (Matthew 6:19-21, 6:24-34, 8:21-22, 10:34-39, 19:20-21,29; Luke 9:57-62, 12:51-53, 14:25-26,33; James 5:1-3)

Jesus had no interest in worldly disputes over income and property. (Luke 12:13-14) He taught that life is meant for more than the accumulation of material goods. He condemned those who lay up treasures for themselves, but are not rich towards God. (Luke 12:15-21) In his parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus expressed concern for materialistic persons (Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus taught that it is hard for those attached to earthly riches to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-23; Luke 18:18-25) His apostles lead lives of voluntary poverty; sharing their possessions with one another. Those among the brethren who did not do so were condemned. (Acts 2:44, 5:1-11)

"He who loves his life will lose it," taught Jesus, "and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life...For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25; John 12:25)

In Paul’s words:

"Piety with contentment is great gain indeed; for we brought nothing into the world and, obviously, we can carry nothing out. When we have food and clothing, we shall be content with these.

"Those who are eager to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into numerous thoughtless and hurtful cravings that plunge people into destruction and ruin.

"For the love of money is the root of all evil. In striving for it, some have wandered away from the faith...But you, O man of God, shun these things and go after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness."

- I Timothy 6:6-11

Gambling preys upon those who can least afford it—the people of lower income. The National Commission of Gambling estimated in 1983 that there were over a million compulsive gamblers nationwide. The Commission predicted that as gambling gradually becomes legal across the country, this figure will eventually reach three million.

The first treatment center for compulsive gamblers was built outside Baltimore, Maryland, in 1982. Compulsive gamblers often run into enormous financial hardships--borrowing or even stealing from others, including their own families.

Severe debt becomes a hard fact of life for compulsive gamblers. They sleep poorly, and become indifferent towards eating and affection. Tense and irritable, they often drink, and may even consider suicide.

Since the advent of legalized gambling, per capita crime in the Atlantic City area has tripled. A police check of records at different casinos there wound over one million dollars loaned to 25 underworld figures.

One survey of police enforcement of gambling laws found that 80 percent of the police believe profits from illegal gambling are used to finance other illegal activities, such as loan-sharking. In half of the cities surveyed, local independent criminal organizations were said to control gambling operations.

Although a representative of the Catholic church once said, "There is no eleventh commandment against gambling," conservative Protestants have traditionally taken a dim view.

"I find it impossible even in my weakest moments," wrote Richard Emrich in the Christian Century, "when the financial needs of the church are most pressing, to imagine St. John, St. Paul, or St. Peter running a bingo party or our Lord sending out his disciples to sell chances.

"And I shudder at the thought that some young person might say, "It's all right to gamble. We do it at church."

The Puritans of Massachusetts enacted America’s first law against gambling in 1638. In 1682, the Quakers in Pennsylvania passed their own law against gambling and "such like enticing, vain, and evil sports and games."

During the period from 1830 to 1860, lotteries were banned across America. By 1908, nearly every state in the nation had banned horse racing.

Neil Reagan, older brother to Ronald Reagan, once said of his younger brother, "I don't think he ever saw the inside of a pool hall," indicating that even in mainstream secular American society, gambling carries with it a shady connotation.

Again: the biblical tradition opposes gambling, but this is an implied idea, not clearly spelled out in Scripture.

This is true of the pro-life position and many other moral positions taken by differing denominations.

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