Today’s Elder Quorum topic was gambling. Like Calvin Coolidge, like President Hinckley, we were against it.
As a quorum, we concluded that the gambling is defined by three separate evils. The first is the evil of get-rich-quick, of something-for-nothing. The second is the evil of no-value-added, your-loss-is-my-gain, I-want-you-to-lose-in-this-zero-sum game. The third evil (I’m going to have to drop the hyphens because its less familiar) is the dirty thrill of taking serious risks. It’s the illicit and cheap creation of a sense of adventure and moment, by unnecessarily putting things at risk. We concluded that the more an activity approached all three of these evils–in other words, the more like high stakes betting it was–, the worse it was. What do you think?
In my private musings, I thought it was interesting how close each of these undoubted evils was to something the gospel teaches us is good. We don’t believe in getting rich quick but we do believe that God intends to reward us far beyond our worth. “Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price,” Christ says. Then He adds that salvation is free. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon we’re told that many refuse eternal life because of the “easiness of the way.”
The zero-sum evil, the evil of rejoicing in another’s defeat, is less obviously parallel to a gospel good. I think there is a parallel, but it would take me too long to explain, and I’m saving the explanation for a long post that will rile up the feminists and the pacifists. So I’ll just suggest now that God and Satan are locked in a struggle for each individual soul that they both cannot win. Every influence Satan gains over a person is an influence that God is denied.
Finally, though the willingness to risk is an evil in gambling, it isn’t when it comes to sacrifice. We admire people who are willing to endanger things they value highly for the gospel’s sake and for others. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Moreover, as Shakespeare’s merchant sailors recognized in The Merchant of Venice, a certain amount of refusal to take risks with the things one values is in essence a refusal to trust oneself to God. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow.”
Thinking through the ways in which these evils differ from the goods they parallel proved a very instructive exercise for me. Perhaps it will for you too.
For more discussion of President Hinckley’s talk on gambling, scroll down here.
For a discussion of betting on violence, see here (warning: it gets pretty heavy).