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Issue and Interchange
ADVOCATE 1 Concluding Remarks
Back To The Basics
A2 has got it all wrong. Far from punishing Fundamentalism for A2's errors, I sought to admonish A2 for his Fundamentalist errors. Although I thought we shared a basic commitment to the Reformed view of Christian liberty, A2 has shown his true Fundamentalist stripes. Not only has he simply assumed that gambling is guilty until proven innocent; he has also proudly worn the crown as a literalist's literalist by attempting to impugn my obviously metaphorical reference to life as a "playground." A2 contends that life is like a "garden." Fine. Why don't we just say that life is like both a "playground" and a "garden" -- a "park" if you will -- and move on to more significant areas of dispute?
A Matter Of Semantics?
At the most fundamental level, A2 and I have radically different conceptions of the definition of gambling. Though I provided adequate lexical support and defined gambling as (1) putting up money or other stakes (2) on a contingency, A2, by contrast, simply asserts -- without any proof -- that gambling must also involve (3) a desire to "receive back a quantity of value greater than that of the original stake."
What is lurking behind this third element? According to A2, Christians are prohibited from putting up money on a contingency if they have the desire to gain more than they put up because by so doing, Christians plunder their neighbors.
The Return Of Quid
Of course, one can only plunder his neighbor by involuntarily taking or misappropriating what rightfully belongs to his neighbor. A2's third element, then, is just good ol' quid in another guise. A2's attempt to resuscitate quid, however, is fatally flawed.
On the House
If, as A2 admits, there is no difference between the "house" and any other player, then A2 fails to account for the fact that any money paid out by the house is simply a prize. A2 never provided adequate reasons for allowing some prizes and not others. Until he does so, his digital win/loss scenario doesn't adequately account for transactions involving the house.
Don't Worry, Be Happy
Even assuming a two-party transaction, A2 is still mistaken when he argues that the way to distinguish "free economic exchanges" from gambling is that with free exchanges, the parties are happy in that each party prefers his post-exchange state to his pre-exchange state. This "be happy" distinction is hardly a sound litmus test for assessing the propriety of economic exchanges. On A2's reasoning, any time "buyer's remorse" sets in (i.e. when a buyer prefers his pre-exchange state to his post-exchange state), the moral propriety of an exchange would be in jeopardy. Contrary to A2's artificial and mistaken litmus test, a buyer's state of mind after a given transaction is irrelevant.
Beyond Good Intentions
From the outset, I have argued that opponents of gambling in general and A2 in particular wrongly assume that people gamble necessarily to acquire money. A2 has insisted that as long as the money one puts up is put up solely as a "user fee" one is merely spending (which is permissible) and not gambling (which is impermissible). But does A2's distinction really hold up?
Suppose that Party B deposits a silver dollar into a slot machine solely as a "user fee" (i.e. he meets A2's test by not having an intent to acquire any money in return). Suppose further that B wins $100.00. Is B obligated to return the $100.00? If A2 says "no" then he has abandoned his quid pro quo argument because the money B "won" -- on A2's reasoning -- still came at the "loss" of others. If, however, A2 says "yes" then he has abandoned his intent test (which A2 has consistently held to be a sufficient test for determining the moral propriety of putting up the "user fee"). A2's case is hopelessly divided against itself -- graphs and all!
A2 claims that I need to prove that the voluntary nature of gambling is sufficient to prove its moral soundness. By arguing that the propriety of X doesn't necessarily depend on whether X is done voluntarily (with which I wholeheartedly agree), A2 is knocking down a straw man. Again and again he begs the crucial question by offering examples which Scripture clearly forbids (e.g. prostitution, duelling). What A2 has consistently failed to do is to prove that gambling necessarily involves plundering (i.e. stealing from) one's neighbor. In my opening remarks, I defined stealing as taking or misappropriating the property of others without their consent (involuntarily). A2 has been unable or unwilling to prove that gambling necessarily (1) takes or misappropriates the property of others (2) without their consent. Until he does so, he has not even made out a prima facie case that gambling is stealing. From the outset, my position has been that voluntarism is a necessary though not sufficient condition to prove the propriety of gambling. A2's problem is that he has failed to prove that gambling is necessarily involuntary. The buck stops with A2.
A2 claims that gambling requires appeals to chance since praying for success necessarily would entail praying for the failure of your neighbor. I responded by noting that A2's argument depends upon his appeal to quid which has been rendered futile. I also pointed out that A2's reasoning would forbid praying for success on an exam graded on the curve, a trial verdict ( not an unjust verdict!), or a homerun since success in each scenario entails the failure of another. A2's response skirts the real issue: Christians can simply pray that God's will be done. There is nothing presumptuous or idolatrous about that!
No One's Business?
In his first response, A2 challenged me to say upon what basis I would encourage a young man to enter the field of gambling as a life-calling "provided of course that the young man intended to tithe, provide for his family, etc." After I satisfactorily answered that hypothetical, A2 now wants to change the terms of the hypothetical to involve one who is not called to gamble and who wants to gamble his entire nest egg. No problem. Such an individual would not be abiding by the Biblical limits both A2 and I share in common. What's the point A2?
The only way A2 can even argue that I equivocate on the meaning of "gambling" and beg the question by arguing that I would and do encourage young men to become businessmen, entrepreneurs, and developers is if he first begs the question in the opposite direction. While A2 has made many rhetorical overtures, he has done little to jostle my analogy to business investments since most business investments involve putting up money or other stakes on a contingency (and even on A2's definition, the vast majority, if not all, business ventures involve the desire to gain more than what was put up!).
The stock market, for example, provides one of the strongest analogies to gambling. Aside from his rhetorical flurries, then, A2 has not even come close to refuting the analogy to business investments.
Worse Than An Infidel
While A2 and I have sought to explore gambling in a thorough, yet light-hearted fashion, I must confess that this topic really is no joke to me. My own life has been tragically scarred by a father who was a compulsive gambler. Not only did he gamble paychecks, jewelry, and automobiles without blanching an eyelid; he even went so far as to steal from my piggy bank. Needless to say, by stealing practically anything and everything he could get his hands on, he failed to provide for even the basic needs of his family. He also worshipped lady luck, was motivated by deep-seated covetousness, disobeyed lawful authorities, and perpetrated acts of fraud on others.
My story is not unique. Others, no doubt, could tell similar -- perhaps even more horrific -- stories if not about gambling, then about drinking or a host of other activities. So horrified was I that as a young child, I made it my mission (as Fundamentalists are prone to do) to condemn gambling outright and other activities such as drinking. If ever there were a person who would have every reason to stand in A2's shoes!
But praise be to God who has taught me in spite of my personal background that ever and always I am to be constrained by Scripture alone which clearly teaches that we are free to do anything that God doesn't forbid. Though my father's excesses were clearly forbidden by God, I have learned that I cannot condemn gambling per se. Indeed, we should rightfully condemn abuse; but we should also be wary of those who, like A2, condemn legitimate use within proper Biblical limits.
Scripture alone is our standard. Not traditional wisdom. Not public opinion. And not the commandments of men.
Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1990
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