A Word from Doctor Hugo


Hugo makes a good point in a comment on my last post. He writes:

One teensy quibble. You wrote: “I was against the lottery in Tennessee for issues of social justice, not reasons of morality.” I think that even making such a distinction is a bit of a false choice. The fact that it is unjust is what makes it fundamentally immoral, no?

It is absolutely true that injustice and immorality go hand in hand. It’s also true that injustice and sin are one and the same. I think the distinction I was trying to make is between an argument against an issue based on how it affects others (in the example of lotteries, that they predominantly prey on the poor and addicted, and are in fact a regressive form of taxation) and an argument against an issue because of some sort of Biblical mandate or proscription. Some argue against gambling because “it’s a siiiiinnnn!!!” (Make sure to add about four syllables to that last word). God (or the messenger of God, the chosen preacher) say it’s wrong, so that’s enough of a reason to oppose it. Yet, the issue of gambling is not one of the big ten commandments (suggestions for some folks) found in Exodus and Deuteronomy. In fact, the Bible speaks positively at times of “casting lots,” especially as a way to discern God’s will. Thus an argument against gambling solely on a literal reading of scripture is doomed to fail.

As a person of faith, how then do we deal with an issue like gambling? I confess that I cringe when I hear someone speak of “biblical principles” (usually because they are seen as clear cut laws that are easily discerned and are very concrete. Yet, there is a place for discerning the broader messages of scripture. In my case, the frame of reference that I work on is Jesus’ belief that the whole of the Biblical story is tied up into two commandments — loving God with all our heart and soul and mind, and loving our neighbors as we loves ourselves. As I look at loving my neighbor, I have to ask if I am really wanting my neighbor to suffer so that I might be able to send my kids to college and so that I will have the opportunity of winning a million bucks. The answer that I came up with was “no.”

I guess what I was trying to say is that I don’t think that gambling per se is a sin that will damn someone to eternal punishment. Yet, participating in gambling is to participate in an unjust economic system, which continues to separate our world from God. What I was trying to do was to distinguish personal sin from corporate sin.

Thanks Hugo for leading me to think on this.

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