23 November 2009

Does 'Mutual Consent' Eliminate the Evil in Gambling?

by Phil Johnson



e are looking at four essential characteristics in a standard definition of gambling. I have argued that each of the four characteristics involves a violation of one or more vital biblical principles.

In other words, gambling is sinful for more than one reason. It's wrong on several counts. When you gamble, whether you win or lose, you violate God's moral law—quite possibly on multiple levels.

My previous post began this argument by pointing out that if you merely participate in a gambling contest with a desire to win, you are guilty of coveting that which belongs to your neighbor. The tenth commandment expressly forbids that.

Now consider the second of gambling's four distinguishing features. Here is, I believe, the most significant evil inherent in the practice of gambling:

2. In a gambling contest, something that belongs to someone else is placed at stake as the prize. The person who collects that prize violates the eighth commandment: "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15).

I began this series of posts by recounting an incident where a college student challenged my views on gambling. He argued that winning a wager is not really the same as stealing, because the winnings are put up as a stake by mutual consent.

But when someone commits an act that causes hurt to another person, even if he does it with the victim's full permission, the mere fact of prior consent does not necessarily absolve either party from guilt. Lots of crimes are carried out and sins are committed by mutual consent that are nonetheless immoral or illegal. In such cases, mutual consent usually means that the moral culpability in the wrongdoing is shared jointly by both parties. It does not eliminate the guilt of the perpetrator.

A duel, for example, is a contest where one opponent kills another by mutual consent. The fact of the victim's consent does not absolve the victor from the guilt of murder, either in the eyes of God or in the eyes of the state. (I realize, of course, that certain societies have sometimes permitted dueling. That does not alter the immorality of the practice. It is certainly not justifiable by any biblical standard.) Kill someone in a duel in a just and civilized society, and you probably will be charged with murder.

Gambling is to theft what dueling is to murder.

Gambling is stealing by mutual consent. But it is still stealing. It is the taking of that which belongs to your neighbor and to which you have no right. It is not like a gift, which is given willingly and gratuitously. It is a loss he sustains to his hurt, even though he gives his consent to the contest before the die is cast.

Gambling is therefore morally tantamount to stealing. As such, it is a violation of every biblical principle regarding the gaining and sharing of our possessions.

Ephesians 4:28 says, "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." That is the spirit of Christianity, and it is the polar opposite of the various sentiments that drive gambling.

Is there no place for a "friendly bet?"

The question of whether penny-ante gambling is a petty sin is quite different from the question of whether it's a sin at all. If it's a matter of principle that makes gambling wrong, and not a particular amount, we ought to recognize that fact and acknowledge it. I'm expressly arguing that gambling is wrong in principle.

But to be clear: I'm not arguing that all forms of gambling are equally egregious. I'm not suggesting that church discipline should be carried out against Christians who play penny-ante poker. It should be fairly obvious that the size and seriousness of the wrong in a gambling contest is proportional to the amount gambled (among other factors).

Just in case that is not clear to someone, however, let me state plainly that I am not trying to portray the guy who plays Texas Holdem for spare nickels as a miscreant on the same level as the guy who foolishly bets the family farm on the spin of a roulette wheel. Gambling, like any sin, is wrong by degrees.

So I will gladly stipulate that the wrong in betting spare change is ordinarily quite trivial. We could probably list a whole lot of similarly trivial sins. I would argue, however, that in no case is it ever wise or even morally justifiable for Christians to practice any sin (even at a level we might all agree is "trivial")—especially for entertainment purposes, or with the express purpose of perfecting one's technique.

Trivial sins are, after all, still sins.

The problem with trivial sins is that when they are tolerated—especially when they are nurtured and defended—they tend to become big and bold. They also breed other sins. A £5-per-week addiction to playing the lottery will feed an awful lot of covetous fantasies.

It's really no wonder crime statistics are always higher wherever gambling is freely indulged in. In a society that caters to people's covetousness by sanctioning a form of larceny, we should not be surprised when other kinds of crime increase as well.

Feed the sins of "trivial" covetousness and thievery, and they will beget more evil. That's why Paul instructed the Ephesians to get as far from the sin of covetousness as they could. Notice that he ranked it along with fornication as the kind of sin that should never be dabbled in at any level: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints" (Ephesians 5:3).

Some people think all kinds of covetousness are "trivial," but the apostle often listed covetousness right alongside the most heinous of sins: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience" (Colossians 3:5-6).

So the sin of covetousness, which lies behind every form of gambling, is in the same category of wickedness as the sin of fornication. What do you think of gambling as a form of "entertainment" now?

Scripture says, "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5). Gambling violates that commandment. And if you should happen to win, you have to add stealing to the list of sins you have committed by your gambling.

Remember, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and according to 1 Timothy 6:10, and those who love money tend to stray from the faith and pierce themselves through with many sorrows. The wreckage of many lives destroyed by gambling provides ample proof of that.

Phil's signature

123 comments:

VcdeChagn said...

Wow, that analogy is fantastic about duelling/murder and gambling/stealing.

Never thought of it that way. Now I pass it on to everyone I know :)

wtanksley said...

My right to my own life is inalienable, but my right to my property is alienable, and indeed I normally alienate my property in order to get something I want more. Thus, the analogy is extremely weak.

In the case of gambling, penny or otherwise, the alienation always occurs prior to the game's reveal, as the price of admission (note that some games, like Hold-em, have multiple reveals). A fraction of the money is then used by its current owner (the house) to sweeten the pot.

I'm convinced gambling is a serious problem, and I was impressed with all the previous posts, but this argument was completely empty; the analogy breaks precisely where it needs to hold, because the entire reason dueling is immoral is because life is an inalienable right, while an item of property is not.

-Wm

Michael said...

In the other posts some of the "gambling as entertainment" guys talked about the harmlessness of low stakes gambling.

If one out of ten guys who loves a weekly game of poker decides to go to vegas and try his luck just once in his life, it's one too many. If one out of a hundred of those guys forms a habit in vegas, it's one too many.

Don't forget that the other thing you stake on the table is your friendships.

If you really want to play games of skill and chance then play for matchsticks. Somethign that has no value and is purely about the skill and fellowship of the game and not about the possible gain.

Chad V. said...

"....life is an inalienable right while property is not." Say what?

Um, property which you rightfully posses is an inalienable right. That's the very foundation of the 8th and 10th commandments. That which is rightfully yours is yours because God has given it to you and no one else has a right to it.

Darrel said...

I have no desire to defend gambling. It is wrong, I'm sure. I don't know how to defend that position scripturally as some people do. I feel the duelling/ murder analogy is weak. Is all killing murder? Should we all become pacifists? Duelling beckons back to a time different from the present time when some things such as honor were considered more important than life itself. That is a form of faith to some degree, I think. The present day liberal induced philosophy is "safety first, life first" at all costs (with the exception of abortion, of course). Men used to be more willing to sacrifice their lives for something they thought was noble. Whether duelling for honor or whatever reason is a noble cause is another debate.

Some reasons to use against gambling would be the "pride, competitive instinct" it arouses in men, which leads to strife and maybe the "adrenaline rush" is a type of "work or lust of the flesh". Which makes me think. Should Christians be involved in anything which could engender strife? What about athletic contests where you are basically trying to prove you are better than another guy? I know that sounds prudish but what about the verse in Galatians, "Let us not be desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another."

Steve Scott said...

Phil,

Aside from any other arguments you've made, one of my fears of gambling comes from just how quickly one can lose large sums of money. What might take months or years in the stock market can be lost in a matter of minutes at the table.

I've always been amazed at people who walk up and drop a day's wage down for the roll of the dice or spin of the wheel. A paycheck - either plus or minus - can be equated in a matter of hours. People seem to think nothing about it. That's always been pretty scary for me.

Phil Johnson said...

Darrel:

Let me make sure I understand you. You seem to think duelling is good and honorable, but you're not too sure about athletic contests because they engender strife?

to others who are inclined to offer personal reasons for hating gambling:

Obviously, I agree that there are many potentially-destructive side-effects of gambling. I don't think that automatically proves gambling itself is wrong. There are potentially destructive side effects of driving, too, and no doubt there are Pyro readers who could give testimony about families hurt or brought to financial ruin or destroyed by automobile accidents--but we wouldn't conclude that it's a sin to drive. Lots of things that are perfectly benign in moderation are harmful if taken to excess. Cream cheese and home schooling are just two examples that come to mind.

What I'm endeavoring to argue in this series is that gambling is wrong on principle--not merely that gambling can hurt you. The latter point is rather obvious, I would think. But it's not a biblical (or persuasive) argument against gambling. So let's not derail this discussion with those points just yet. OK?

Thanks.

Phil Johnson said...

PS: the home-schooling remark was a joke. No need to debate that topic here, either. Some of my best friends are home schoolers.

Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Great article, Phil. When I read the title, I said to myself, "Does 'mututal consent' eliminate the evil in adultery?" No. There's just some sins that take two to tango.

Andy/Drew/Andrew said...

While I agree that gambling more than trivial sums (e.g. pennies/nickles) is at the very least unwise, and very likely sin, your comparison to stealing is wrong, by definition.

The definition of stealing from Miriam Webster's says:

steal
1 [ trans. ] take (another person's property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it : thieves stole her bicycle | [ intrans. ] she was found guilty of stealing from her employers | [as adj. ] ( stolen) stolen goods.

In the case of gambling, the "taking" is both with permission *and* legal right, based upon the outcome of the hand. If a non-winner took the pot, that would be stealing, but a winner taking the pot, is not.

Unfortunately here, your argument is broken, by definition.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I do appreciate Phil's distinction between the "trivial" sins and the more egregious. I agree with all the dangers of big time gambling.

And also that if something is a "trivial sin" it ought not be engaged in, as it could very well lead down the road to a greater sin.

However, I continue to hold that the small stake games are not sin at all, but fall squarely into Romans 14.

In the 11/20 post on stewardship, Phil's definition of gambling includes "something valuable is put at risk."

But if one is going to say pennies voluntarily put at risk count as something "valuable" I don't see how one can argue that $10 actually "lost" at a movie is not also violative of stewardship.

It's just pressing the case too far to call these games "stealing." The minimal and voluntary stake that is lost is not "hurtful" in any meaningful sense of the term, anymore than I "hurt" when I go to a movie. (I only hurt if I mistakenly choose an Adam Sandler movie)

Thus, these games are not "stealing" or "coveting" in any biblical sense.

That is what distinguishes them from "mutual consent in adultery" or "minor coveting of my neighbor's wife." In all those cases, you are taking or desiring something that you have no right to.

But the person who voluntarily gives up a nickel, and loses, does not have his nickel "stolen." His consent creates a "right" to have it if he loses. As long as he's not violating stewardship, this is not a sin, trivial or otherwise.

Andrew D said...

Johnny D,
Pennies have some value. I don't think that can be disputed, can it? They are legal tender and are commonly excepted in exchange for goods & services. I am not sure why anone would question "if" they value.

Why does $10 spent at a movie necessarily violate the stewardship principle?

Andrew D said...

excepted = accepted
ugh!

Johnny Dialectic said...

Andrew, the movie analogy is apt because, if you're "spending" a nickel to play for fun, then spending $10 for the fun of a movie comes under the same condemnation.

What, in your estimation, is the difference between spending five cents for a game and $10 for a movie? The only difference is if you accept the flawed premise that the former is some kind of "stealing" or "coveting."

Absent that, there is no difference.

David Rudd said...

Phil,

I don't intend to continue to engage this discussion because i think you are digging in, and i've no desire to continue banging on this subject.

these will be my last words on this here, and i'm only going to address your argumentation methodology, because i think that's the biggest issue. i do hope that you'll realize you can still speak strongly about the dangers of gambling without trying to call something sin that the Bible doesn't call sin.

It seems that your desire to link gambling to the 10 commandments is leading you down some wacky roads of argumentation. You would never put up with someone who tried to make arguments like this to you.

Just because you say gambling is different than receiving a gift doesn't make it so.

Apparently, you are suggesting that receiving a birthday gift isn't stealing because:
a) it's given willingly and gratuitously
b) no stake is offered up (i'm assuming this is part of your thinking, and if it isn't it needs to be in order to shore up an already shaky foundation)

I have a few thoughts:

1- without the words "willigly and gratuitously" in your definition of gift giving, your entire argument crumbles (and by entire, i mean the whole post). Does that mean if someone ever gives me a gift begrudgingly that i've stolen it? regardless of whether i know their heart?

2- while people might define stealing as "taking what is not willingly offered", no one would ever suggest that stealing requires putting something at stake. thus it would be silly to argue that putting up a stake in gambling is what distinguishes it as theft. (i'm glad you didn't make that argument after all...)

3- As has already been pointed out, your analogies and comparisons in this post are exceptionally inadequate. This is the same thing you did with the coveteousness post. You create the terms that work for you and then use your terms to prove your point. Here it comes out as, "1. gambling is wrong because it is stealing.
2. i define stealing as 'gambling'.
3. Therefore, gambling is stealing and is a sin."

I know that oversimplifies, but it's an effort to make a point. Let me close with a suggestion:

Blogging is pride distilled to its very essence

I know people—and in all likelihood you do, too—who claim that they blog only to increase writing skill or journal thoughts; not out of pride or desire to gain a following.

But if it’s merely better skills they seek, why not blog on a private blog that cannot be viewed? Every blogger to whom I have ever posed that question has given me the same answer: “To blog without commentors is not as much fun.” The readers make the blog more “fun” or more “interesting.”

As a matter of fact, one blogger made that very point: “Blogging simply doesn’t work without some people to view the blog. . . the commentors add to the enjoyment of the blog.” He said he only blogs for a few people —so that “the critical comments are not enough to be any more than fun, and the hit counter not enough to create pride.”

Analyze that for a moment. Why would the element of commentors make blogging more “fun?” There is only one reason: because the “fun” is derived not from the blog itself but from the possibility of having your ego stroked by your neighbor. In other words, what makes blogging “fun” is pure pride.

Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is sin.

donsands said...

The dueling thing is interesting.

Made me think about boxing as well. Two mutual men climb in a ring to beat each others brains out for money and glory.

Thanks for the post. This has been a very good subject to learn about biblically. Thanks for the challenge, and good teaching.

Andrew D said...

JD said,
"the movie analogy is apt because, if you're "spending" a nickel to play for fun, then spending $10 for the fun of a movie comes under the same condemnation."

We know why the $10 must be spent for the movie: that is the price that the cinema requires for the entertainment rendered.

However, why must the nickel be spent "for fun"? Would not it be just as fun without the nickel?

I would like to see the heart motivation fully described and fleshed out. How come when the nickels go away, the fun of the game goes with them???

Incidentally I do not think Phil made the case that small stakes games violate standards of Biblical stewardship. He made the case that they violate other points of God's law: greed, coveting, and stealing.

Frank Turk said...

You cannot have too much homeschool or cream cheese. In fact, at my house, we often have homeschool and cream cheese, which is the way God intended it to be.

wtanksley said...

Chad said: Um, property which you rightfully posses is an inalienable right. That's the very foundation of the 8th and 10th commandments.

The right to own property is inalienable, and is matched with an unconditional duty to respect the property of others. The property itself is always alienable, and in fact the right to own property includes by definition the right to give away or to trade your own property for other property or services.

Any possession or title to property which does NOT include the right to give away or sell the property by definition is NOT ownership, but rather something else.

-Wm

Frank Turk said...

BTW Phil --

There are some objections not worth a response, and this thread is already loaded with them, particularly the accusation that you are reasoning in a circle.

gmftech said...

OK now it's time to read Charles Gasparinos book Sellout describing the history of events leading up to the current financial crisis. Can't wait for your analogy to be applied to that. I am being serious here.

Gambling? You have not seen or heard of anything until you read this book.

My husbands 'job' is to sit at the computer 10 hours a day and make money for us. He does very well, being frugal and conservative in his heart of hearts about money. He studies 'investments' and he studies the 'trades' (not the same thing). For him it's a job.

Throwing money away in any circumstance is stupid, the evil comes from the consequences of any foolish and/or addictive behavior, be it gambling (casino), day trading or shopping.

Jugulum said...

If "mutual consent" argument for gambling was based on the idea that mutual consent baptizes every interaction between people, I would find the murder analogy powerful.

For instance: It's a good analogy to highlight the problem with saying, "My friend and I agreed that we can lie to each other all we want"

Why? Because there's no biblical category for consensual deceipt, or consensual killing. I don't have the right to tell someone they can kill me. I don't have sovereignty over my own life that way.

I do have a steward's sovereignty over transferring my possessions. That's why the category "consensual stealing" seems completely oxymoronic. (Note: Please, don't anyone respond with "gambling is bad stewardship". My point is that whether or not it is bad stewardship, it's not theft.)

If I tell my friend that he can take any book he wants from my bookshelf, is that "consensual stealing"? It's a loss I sustain to my hurt.

I assume Phil's response will be to point back to this:

"It is the taking of that which belongs to your neighbor and to which you have no right. It is not like a gift, which is given willingly and gratuitously. It is a loss he sustains to his hurt, even though he gives his consent to the contest before the die is cast."

Phil: The distinction you're drawing here is completely opaque to me. Every gift I give is a loss sustained to my hurt. "Willingly and gratuitously"? What's the difference between "willing" and "consensual"? How is "gratuitous" a morally relevant distinction?

If you're willing to clarify this point, great.

Chad V. said...

wtanksley
Yes I grant you that distinction but that hardly renders Phil's comparison void now does it?

Phil said...

Jug
The answer is the stake is still yours when you throw it in. You do not gift your stake to the other players but hold onto it and use it. You may gamble it away, but you gambled away something you were using, not something you had already set aside.

RJP said...

As a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Certified Investment Manager (CIM), and Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute (FCSI), I have enjoyed your posts about gambling very much.
Can't find anything wrong in what you've said.
I have written your "four verities of gambling" in my commonplace book for the next time someone at a church meeting suggests another 'silent auction'.

Scott Fuemmeler said...

The real question that I think deals with both this post and the last one (on coveting) is this:

When you gamble, do you desire to win?

If the answer to that is no, you're either not gambling or deluding yourself.

So then what is the desire for? Someone else's stake (coveting), which they in turn do not want to lose (stealing). Mutual consent to enter the game does not equate to giving you my stake.

On the losing side, I agreed to enter the game and abide by the rules...but I still don't want to give you my stake (ie, I want to win).

Jugulum said...

My question had more to do with how that's a morally relevant distinction--how it invalidates the exercise of my steward's sovereignty over my possessions to allow someone to take it.

If you think your answer addressed that... I may have to mull it over more, because I have no idea what you mean. If you can't explain it any more than that, either (1) I'm being a bit dense, and I'll have to consider more in order to understand, or (2) you're seeing something that isn't there.

Jugulum said...

Scott,

Read the end of the last entry. Sometimes the point of adding stakes is about not losing--not getting the stake.

But I agree that's a small subset of gambling. Probably even a small subset of small-stakes gambling.

Phil Johnson said...

Jugulum: "What's the difference between "willing" and "consensual"? How is "gratuitous" a morally relevant distinction?"

Seriously? You can't see any moral difference between the generous individual who freely gives a gift and the gambler whose real aim is to win someone else's money?

A gift is given gratis--without return or recompense; without cost or obligation; without asking anything in return. That's what grace is all about. It's fundamental to Christian doctrine.

A wager is made for the opportunity of getting what the other gambler owns and has staked his bet on.

Furthermore, the "consent" in a gambling game is an agreement to to the terms of the contest, not to the giving of one's money as "a gift." To treat it as if it were merely a "gift" after one has lost the contest is moral sleight of hand. Likewise it's a corruption of both language and morals to suggest that generosity is ever the point in gambling.

Chad V. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Fuemmeler said...

Jugulum

I think you're making a distinction that isn't there. How (in gambling) do I desire to not lose without desiring to win? Even if your overall goal is to break even, at some point in the proceedings you're going to have to win to do that.

Chad V. said...

watanskley

Your objection only works if there is never any lawful reason to take someone's life or if there is not lawful reason for someone to give his life. One's life can be lawfully taken or given. The circumstances are extreme to be sure but they are still exist and lawfully so.

Gordan said...

I appreciated the subtle shout-out to your British readers, with the five pounds per week thing. But that's a heckuva lot in real money.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I say we go to Frank's house for some good home schooling and cream cheese. And I bet, even though I am not a betting person, if Frank threw in some milk and cookies, we could all join in and share in the fun. :) I'm not a fan of cream cheese without the crackers, frankly, Frank. Sorry!

Phil has done an excellent job in presenting this subject, and to argue it is just being contentious. Gambling is a sin no matter how you add it up. I didn't need to read Phil's article to convince me that gambling is a sin, but I learned many of the details as to WHY it is sinful.

However, for those who were not convinced before about its questionable merits, I think this article has been helpful to all those bordering on the fence.

Great article, Phil!

Jeff said...

Hi, Phil.

You define gambling: "To gamble is to play a game of chance for stakes. And a stake is a prize that is obtained at another gambler's expense."

I presume you were thinking of insurance members (i.e., group members) when you were referring to the player in the game. But what about the 'person' running the game?

Why would the owner of the insurance company not qualify as the player?

If the owner of the insurance company is running a game, then wouldn't that make the members sinners by association?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Johnny Dialectic said...

Andrew, on the "fun" issue, you'll have to re-read all my previous comments wherein backgammon is mentioned and explained. I do think the issue is stewardship here, not coveting or stealing, for reasons previously given.

So let's assume just for purposes of argument you agreed that the issue was not a commandment, but stewardship. Assume also that playing for pennies is fun and playing for points is not.

Where is the principle that calls this poor stewardship, but going to a movie is not?

I submit no principle. Now, of course, you do not have to accept my assumptions. OTOH, I have not been convinced that these assumptions don't hold in this example.

So we are at an impasse on the level of assumptions now, and that's probably where I'll leave it. I'll let Paul have the last word. "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way."

Jugulum said...

Scott,

Did you go back and read the context that I referred to?

It has to do with why someone would want to add penny wagers to a game--why it would make it "matter". One source is the thrill of possibly winning something. Another is the bite of losing something.

Denis said...

Johnny Dialectic, I just wanted to clarify one point of your argument ...

There no absolute need to use money in games like poker or backgammon (with the doubling cube). There are non-monetary ways of playing these games which still use all the rules of the game and the associated challenge levels involved.

However, while the need is not there, some people, as you've argued, prefer to play with real (albeit low amounts of) money at stake.

Is that accurate? The need vs. preference distinction, I mean.

Scott Fuemmeler said...

Jugulum

I did read it...and I stand by my last post. In the context of gambling, not losing = winning. So trying to prevent the "bite of losing" is no different than trying to win. IMHO, it's a semantic argument that plays with the language to make a distinction that doesn't exist.

Brody said...

Despite all the comments to the contrary, I still believe Phil is spot on in his promotion of a Bibilical principle regarding gambling.

I would like to say to the commenters that it saddens me much when the Word of God is reduced to being used to defend worldly vices, enticements, or entertainments instead of being used for its intended use, that being to introduce us to God, Christ, and the Gospel and to change us into being more like God and Christ instead of using it to defend the embracing of worldly amusements. Remember that the Bible teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

It seems to me that Christians should be quick to want to flee anything that is remotely sinful when a Biblical principle gives even the possibility that there is sin in any activity. That is where the Christian's passions should be exercised, not in so passionately, almost to the point of anger, defending the opposite.

Saddened but not disheartened,

B. Rauch

David Rudd said...

sorry to reappear, i liked this.

"it's a semantic argument that plays with the language to make a distinction that doesn't exist. "

;)

Andrew D said...

JD,
Re: stewardship, I/All agree. I do not think anybody is applying the Biblical stewardship violation directly to small stakes gambling.
I read through your previous comments, but have not yet found where you explain why it is only fun when playing with money, but no fun without the money.
I have played backgammon with chips and the game is played the same way. What desire specifically is at the root of the “added joy” and interest in substituting real money stakes?
I believe that needs to be answered before declaring small stakes gambling is A-OK.

Jugulum said...

Phil,

"Seriously? You can't see any moral difference between the generous individual who freely gives a gift and the gambler whose real aim is to win someone else's money?"

What? Of course I can see a difference there, Phil: The difference of covetousness. That's morally relevant, because covetousness is moral problem--all by itself.

We were talking about a morally relevant distinction for establishing that gambling is stealing, because consent doesn't matter here.

An otherwise legitimate transaction doesn't become theft if I have covetousness in my heart. The gambler's intent is morally relevant to the general question about gambling--but how does it make the transfer stealing in spite of my consent?


"Furthermore, the "consent" in a gambling game is an agreement to to the terms of the contest, not to the giving of one's money as "a gift." To treat it as if it were merely a "gift" after one has lost the contest is moral sleight of hand. Likewise it's a corruption of both language and morals to suggest that generosity is ever the point in gambling."

Agreed that it is not generosity or a gift; I was not intending to suggest anything of the sort. My analogy didn't depend on the idea that stakes are a gift. (If that's what you thought, then we had a failure of communication.) The analogy was about the principle that I stated:

"I do have a steward's sovereignty over transferring my possessions. That's why the category "consensual stealing" seems completely oxymoronic."

My puzzlement over your comments continues, because I can't glean how you would answer the question:

In general, do I have a steward's sovereignty over transferring my possessions? If so, how can it be be theft if I say, "You can take this", even if it's conditional consent? How does "the consent is an agreement to to the terms of the contest" make the consent irrelevant?

Scott Fuemmeler said...

David

Are you saying my unecessary redundancy wasn't needed?

:P

Jugulum said...

A quick follow-up thought. Maybe this is more concise:

I completely agree that "mutual consent" is not a magic wand that baptizes sin.

For consent to matter, I have to have the right to allow you to do the action. I don't have the right to let you kill me. I do have the right to transfer my possessions to other people.

(Sometimes it's bad stewardship--i.e. wrong--for me to do so. Just like it's bad stewardship for me to give an exorbitant gift that I can't afford. Bad stewardship on my part != stealing on the recipient's part.)

You agree that I have the right to transfer my possessions as a gift, or as a mutually-beneficial exchange. But apparently you don't think I have the right when I make it conditioned on the outcome of a game. Why?

Craig and Heather said...

There is no question that gambling offers huge potential for a wholesale slide into acceptance of sin as "good".

It can act like a "gateway" by which participants can excuse all sorts of things that the Bible specifically condemns as evil.

~~Idolatry and Pride in Self Gambling can be addictive and those who do well are tempted to think they don't need God's help.

~~Coveting (desiring to have more than God has seen fit to provide)

~~Lying (certain games encourage the proficiency of "bluffing" in order to win)

~~Stealing? Maybe. Perhaps a better term would be "usury" or the taking advantage of those who really cannot afford to "share their wealth" with you--even if they think they can.

~~Poor Stewardship of those material things which God has entrusted to our care.

~~Murder Although not all games might end up with one player physically killing another, there is potential for harboring of long-term resentment in the heart of losers. Jesus said this is the same as killing that person.

~~Drunkenness because gambling frequently is carried on in a specific environment and there is a tendency to want to escape reality when losers finally tabulate their total losses.

While I don't know that I would call gambling itself a sin, it certainly is an activity that can encourage the growth of the ugly that is already existent in the hearts of all of us.

As Paul said:
All things are lawful to me, but not all things profit. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1 Corinthians 6:12

All things are lawful to me, but not all things profit. All things are lawful to me, but not all things build up. 1 Corinthians 10:23

As believers, we are expected to consult with God and learn to discern between the things that are of eternal value and the things which can potentially cause great harm to ourselves and others.

If I am tempted to indulge in a "peripheral" activity that burns another believer's conscience (would cause him to stumble if he followed me) then I need to ask myself whether it is a worthwhile activity to pursue....even if I myself am not bothered by it.

The extent to which I show love for my brother is visible evidence of my love for Christ.

H

Andrew D said...

Jug,
Do you know of a transaction category that issmore appropriate?

There are:
purchases,
gifts,
loans/investments,
leases,
taxes/fines,
thefts

What category do you put gambling in?

Johnny Dialectic said...

Andrew, good. We've reached some agreement on the stewardship issue. So it comes down (between us) to the idea of the "fun" in playing for pennies v. playing for points, chips, whatever.

What is the root of the fun? Since it's not stewardship (as agreed) and stealing (as it's a voluntary stake) and it's not coveting (as that involves what is not lawfully yours), I think it comes down to personal preference.

You might find Adam Sandler movies enjoyable; I do not. You may find playing for points fun, and I do not.

But since there is no sin or immorality at issue, then "stop passing judgment" on this disputable matter.

How is this not Romans 14?

Jugulum said...

P.S. Your precise definition of gambling was very helpful and insightful.

We don't have a similarly careful definition of theft in view--that might explain the disconnect.

My comments about "steward's sovereignty" reveal something about how I think of theft: taking something without the permission of the owner.

Andrew D said...

JD,

Small stakes gambling only lands in Romans 14 if it doesn't violate God's law.

The "personal preference" is concealing something that violate the 8th and 10th commandments.

I can explain my preferences. Will you explain the preferences of the small stakes gambler?

Phil Johnson said...

Jugulum:

when you gamble, you are not exercising "a steward's sovereignty over transferring [your] possessions"; you are wagering something on a game of chance. You aren't giving your posessions to someone else; you are risking those possessions on a bet. That's not the prerogative of a steward; therefore when he makes his wager he is in effect entering into a covenant for an illegitimate exchange.

Jugulum said...

Andrew:

Off-hand, I can't think of a one-word name for the category, other than "gambling".

There's no reason to assume it will fit into any of those categories.

We could make a new category to describe it, like "one-way transfers conditioned on the outcome of a game of chance", but that's just defining "gambling".

Jugulum said...

Phil,

Let me try it without the word "give". (I'm not sure that's the key word, but I'm not attached to it.)

In gambling, both parties are agreeing to transfer something to the other, conditioned on the outcome of a game. (That's another way to phrase your the language of "wagering", "risking on a bet", right?)

You say it's not the prerogative of the steward, to make that agreement. Why?

Because it's bad stewardship? If that's your reason, I already addressed it twice; what's your response?

If not that, then why?

Johnny Dialectic said...

Already done that, Andrew. I don't believe there is any commandment violation. It's been a long process, and I don't have anything more to add.

Jugulum said...

I said this:

"In gambling, both parties are agreeing to transfer something to the other, conditioned on the outcome of a game."

I didn't make it explicit that the condition decides which party will transfer something.

Mike Bonebright said...

Imagine if two acquaintances, both pick-pockets, are always trying to get the other's wallet. As they each become aware of the intentions of the other, they start to take steps to minimize their own risk, like carrying an empty wallet as a diversion, putting their money in better-hidden places, and carrying less cash when they know the other will be around.

Now, I think we would all agree that they are both still thieves, and none of the circumstances described would change that. The actions of the one are not excused because the other guy is also a thief. The chances of success for each man depends only on his skill as a thief, but that doesn't change the fact of theft either. Further, if they were to talk about their intentions to one another openly, establish a few ground rules, and put their money on a felt-lined table at the outset, they are simply organizing and formalizing their arrangements. There still is no substantial moral change to their actions.

Andrew D said...

When I play backgammon, I can choose between chips and money:

Given the choice between:

1)taking my opponents chips, or
2) taking his money,
my *personal preference* is to take his money.

And there's nothing sinful in my *personal preference* to take my neighbor's money.

Okey dokey!!

Daryl said...

Andrew,

My thinking exactly. And, having read the previous threads, I don't think the Johnny D has offered anything any different.

Johnny Dialectic said...

So winning pennies that have been freely and voluntarily extended by another is "taking" them in a "sinful" manner. It's just the same as stealing.

Okey dokey!

Jugulum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig and Heather said...

I once had an online discussion with a professing agnostic who declared that the God of the Bible is just too vengeful and demanding for her tastes.

Her understanding of the Biblical accounts of the destruction of God's enemies completely obscures the truth of a Father's merciful and loving forgiveness for those who are willing to repent of trying to be god themselves and humbly accept His discipline.

His way is best but she doesn't want to accept that.

When asked about why she would so casually discard the command to repent and accept the offer of love and forgiveness when the consequences of doing so are pictured pretty clearly in Scripture--her answer was basically that:

she would rather take the risk that "if" that God really did exist...and "if" He is so loving and forgiving....she is willing to gamble that He will forgive her for not believing that the Bible reveals to us the need to repent of our rebellious attitudes and believe in Jesus Christ in this life.

That is one wager I wouldn't want to make. According the Scripture, the odds are 100% in favor of an eternity without God.

:o(
H

Jugulum said...

Another point of clarification:

The Title: "Does 'Mutual Consent' Eliminate the Evil in Gambling?"

"Mutual consent" can't eliminate the evil of coveting or bad stewardship. (Assuming gambling does involve those, and it certainly often does.)

If it eliminates anything, it only eliminates the notion that gambling is theft.

gymbrall said...

Jugulum,
There's a distinction between bad stewardship and not stewardship at all. Bad stewardship is when you make a weaker investment than you should have made (as in the case of the parable - at the least, he could have put the money in a guaranteed interest account. It still would have been considered poor stewardship, but it would have been something). Gambling is not stewardship at all. In fact, imagine the parable if they guy had gambled his Lord's money away and tried to call it stewardship. Part of the reason that we are even having this discussion is that we think putting money in a guaranteed interest bearing account qualifies as good stewardship, when the parable clearly says that this is the minimum level of what is acceptable. Our thoughts about money have become rather simplistic and we think that our weakest efforts are actually quite good. We are by our very nature poor stewards.

Take care,
Charles

wtanksley said...

Chad V. said: Yes I grant you that distinction but that hardly renders Phil's comparison void now does it?

That's precisely what I'm claiming. It's the ONLY argument on which his argument in this post is suspended. At the very least, it entirely eliminates the analogy; and at most, it eliminates his argument for the entire post, since the analogical argument is the only proof he offers (the rest of the post is concerned with correctly replying to side issues). Since he hasn't shown that gambling IS theft, it doesn't matter that petty theft is a sin.

Phil said: The answer is the stake is still yours when you throw it in.

It's important to note that the stake is NOT yours after you throw it in. You have the freedom to walk away, but the money at stake is not yours nor any of the other players; the house is responsible for managing it, and I suspect there are some legal subtleties that probably have come up in court cases, but in a practical sense during a normal game the pot belongs to the players in common.

Fuemmeler said: Someone else's stake (coveting), which they in turn do not want to lose (stealing).

There are two errors here. First, as I've mentioned above, the stake is not "someone else's"; it's the common property of the table. None of the individuals can legally walk away with it, nor even with the part they threw in. Second, all of the individuals did in fact want to lose what they threw in, and they did in fact already lose it; it's irrevocably out of their ownership, usually from the moment they removed their finger from the chip.

-Wm

wtanksley said...

Chad V.: Your objection only works if there is never any lawful reason to take someone's life or if there is not lawful reason for someone to give his life. One's life can be lawfully taken or given. The circumstances are extreme to be sure but they are still exist and lawfully so.

This doesn't begin to address the analogy; it only shows that there may be circumstances where the analogy breaks down even worse. In the hypothetical circumstances where my life is alienable, mutual consent can't make losing my life WRONG.

And more to the point, if it's right that I lose my life for a third party and I rightly tell that third party to kill me, it's perfectly right that they do so (if it was right for me to do, a point which I adopt here purely for the sake of argument).

-Wm

wtanksley said...

It has to do with why someone would want to add penny wagers to a game--why it would make it "matter". One source is the thrill of possibly winning something. Another is the bite of losing something.

And another is measuring how important the current subgame is to all the players and to myself. It's a crucial part of communicating -- or bluffing about -- what card I have.

Zero stakes (which I've always played by) mean the subgame's bets only have relative importance; it only really matters when you're about to run out, and not be able to play. Oh, and the thrill or bite of winning or losing.

Small stakes (which I'd be willing to play) mean the subgames actually have *some* tie to one's real world values and goals. As the stakes get larger the tie gets stronger, to the point that one's values become a little too obvious.

-Wm

wtanksley said...

I would like to say to the commenters that it saddens me much when the Word of God is reduced to being used to defend worldly vices, enticements, or entertainments instead of being used for its intended use, that being to introduce us to God, Christ, and the Gospel

It saddens me to see people inventing a Law that God did not command, and treating it on par with the Gospel of grace.

I think Pyro's doing a good thing by building his arguments carefully. I think that where his arguments fail he needs to rethink them.

Arguing against false arguments adds to God's glory. Christ argued against the false additions to God's law that men had made.

wtanksley said...

Further, if they were to talk about their intentions to one another openly, establish a few ground rules, and put their money on a felt-lined table at the outset, they are simply organizing and formalizing their arrangements. There still is no substantial moral change to their actions.

And what if they were to establish a partnership and use their combined money to fund a charity? Would that also be immoral, since according to your argument they're both pickpockets?

The fundamental premise of your argument either begs the question by assuming that gambling is the same sort of action as pickpocketing, or it judges the action based on the assumption that whatever pickpockets do MUST be theft.

-Wm

stratagem said...

Pickpocketing is not mentioned specifically in the Bible, so it must be OK. Cocaine use, too.

Mike Bonebright said...

The fundamental premise of your argument either begs the question by assuming that gambling is the same sort of action as pickpocketing, or it judges the action based on the assumption that whatever pickpockets do MUST be theft.

Not at all. My premise is that gambling, similar to picking pockets, is by definition an attempt to take someone else's money. How is this difficult? To discredit my analogy, you would have to prove that gambling is something other than an attempt to take someone else's money.

And, by the way, your equivocations on ownership are remarkably obtuse. Your moral reasoning begins with a pile of money lying owner-less on a table.

wtanksley said...

Gambling is not stewardship at all. In fact, imagine the parable if they guy had gambled his Lord's money away and tried to call it stewardship.

The only positive argument for gambling is that it's entertainment. Putting your patron's money into your own personal entertainment is a tort called "conversion". But if this applies for gambling, it applies for all entertainment. I think that argument's too strong.

The fact is that Jesus doesn't seem to condemn using the money He gave us for entertainment... At least I don't think any of us would argue that. The question is how much of the money we should use, which does reduce the problem to a question of wise stewardship.

That's assuming, of course, that gambling isn't outright WRONG for some other reason, and I'm not making that assumption; I'm simply showing that this one argument is poor.

-Wm

trogdor said...

"The fact is that Jesus doesn't seem to condemn using the money He gave us for entertainment..."

Do you think he'd have a problem with us finding entertainment from taking someone else's possessions?

Or doesn't it matter if everyone throws their money into an escrow account for three seconds while the dice are rolled?

Whippet said...

The blog makes interesting reading as one who has seen the damage done in a family by compulsive gambling. My dilema is that my wife who is not a believer has on occasions purchased a lottery ticket. I have explained to my co-workers that I do not wish to join in the lottery syndicate in the office for both family and faith reasons I don't gamble.
Should my wife win a substantial sum what would I do?
Perhaps it's best to trust in God's providence that this will not happen, but I have to be honest that a small part of me is attracted to a large financial windfall, that I could claim 'no responsibility' in trying to gain.

Jugulum said...

gymbrall,

Hmm... Interesting. I'm beginning to see how Phil could answer my last question--about the prerogative of the steward. I do still see a missing piece for his argument, though.


First, it's interesting how vital the "steward" and "authorization" concepts are. If I own my possessions, then I have true sovereignty over them, and I can engage in any kind of transaction without needing any kind of authorization<. (It would still be wrong to pay a hit-man to commit murder, but the hit-man wouldn't be stealing the money.)

But if I'm a steward put in charge of money, and I'm only authorized to use it in certain ways... If I use it another way, I'm acting outside my authority. (The hit-man isn't stealing from me--both of us are conspiring to steal from the owner.)


I can't agree that gambling is stealing from the losing gambler. But I might be able to agree that gambling is theft from the true owner--God.

I'm going to say a bit more in another comment.

Jugulum said...

The major question for gambling, then, is what are we authorized to do with our possessions?

1.) We're authorized to put money to work producing things, in order to make more money.
2.) We're authorized to use money for food and shelter--providing necessities for ourselves and our families.
3.) We're authorized to give money to those who have needs.

We can back those up pretty easily with Scripture. I'm less sure how to do that with the next two.

4.) We're authorized to spend some resources on more than necessities. Meaning, we're not required to buy the cheapest food possible. We can spend a little more on tasty food.
5.) We're authorized to spend some money on entertainment.

If gambling isn't a use for money that we're authorized to make, then we're stealing from the owner when we place a bet, and the winner is stealing when he takes the prize.


One more comment.

I'm going to take #4 and #5 for granted. If they're wrong, then a lot more than just gambling is theft. (Then it would also be theft when a movie theater takes your money for your ticket, when a stadium takes your money for an NFL ticket, etc. All entertainment would be theft.)

joel said...

Jugulum said- 'An otherwise legitimate transaction doesn't become theft if I have covetousness in my heart.'

It becomes theft in a way because covetousness is theft committed in the heart. If God only wanted to forbid the action of taking someone else property He would have only issued the commandment 'Thou shall not steal', instead He also addressed the inner thoughts of man by also forbidding covetousness. Jesus latter affirms this principal when He says ' you were told not to commit adultery, but if you even look at a woman with lust you have committed adultery with her in your heart'. Our inner attitudes and thoughts have very real consequences before God even if they are invisible to man, so I think that it is fair to call gambling 'stealing in the heart' which for a Christian should be avoided with the same passion as the visible action of stealing.

Jugulum said...

I'm assuming we're authorized to spend money on entertainment. So when I agree to transfer my wealth for entertainment, I'm exercising a steward's sovereignty.

So what about gambling for entertainment?


If the entertainment is based on a covetous desire for our neighbor's wealth, then it's sinful entertainment. Does that make it unauthorized spending--i.e. stealing from God?

Maybe it does. If so, it's theft even though you didn't spend any more than you would have on going to a movie. And it's also stealing from God if we invest money in a sinful industry. If you buy stock in a store that sells pornography, you're not just sinning by providing pornography--you're also stealing from God. Even if you make money, I suppose.

Jugulum said...

Joel,

You have a point--but in that understanding, it's not the gambling that is theft. It's the coveting, which translates to "theft in the heart" just like lust is "adultery in the heart".

The theft already happened before you even placed a bet--and it still happens even if you covet without gambling.

Andrew D said...

Jug,
Your #4 and #5 are a matter of a Christian's conscience.

I am not connecting why (in your thinking about how a Christian is authorized to spend) gambling follows the same trajectory as legitimate forms of business/entertainment.

joel said...

Jugulum,
You are right. Theft has taken place in our heart when we covet, but how much more so if you act on the sinful desires of our hearts. Do you think that this is why we are instructed to 'not give any opportunity to the flesh', and to 'flee from evil', or when correcting a brother to be 'careful not to fall into temptation and sin' ourselves. We should also be careful not to go around labeling everything that we deem to have an appearance of sin as a sin itself, e.g., clothing is very subjective and is not a clear sin, but I think it has been shown that gambling is inextricably linked to covetousness and as Christians we have to garner inward attitudes that lead us toward Christlikeness so that we can serve our purpose in the body of Christ that we have been placed in. What do you think?

John From Down Under said...

Some random thoughts from across the Pacific.

I have known some people very closely who were compulsive gamblers (addicted to gambling) and have seen the destruction that it can cause in one’s life. Even without the moral guidance of the Bible it is not hard to see the evil this practice is capable of causing.

The gambling setting you are discussing appears to be a group of men sitting around the table betting with each other’s money. Stealing? Maybe. Covetousness/greed? Definitely.

My question is this though. Following your argument would mean that if one wins the lottery he/she is guilty of ‘stealing’ the government’s money? And the meat tray I won at a work raffle not long ago, should be regarded as ‘stolen property’ from the butcher who donated it?

Jugulum said...

Joel,

If my covetous desire for your car moves me to buy it from you, have I "stolen" from you?


Andrew,

"Trajectory" makes it sound like you think I positively argued, "Gambling for entertainment is exactly the same." But I looked at whether we could go down that trajectory--whether the "authorized for entertainment" principle still applies if the entertainment involves sin. And I pointed out a consequence of saying, "Nope, it's stealing if the entertainment is sinful." That's it.

Does that clarify?

Andrew D said...

Jug,
Yeah thanks.
Here's what you said that was confusing to me:

4.) We're authorized to spend some resources on more than necessities. Meaning, we're not required to buy the cheapest food possible. We can spend a little more on tasty food.
5.) We're authorized to spend some money on entertainment.

....

I'm going to take #4 and #5 for granted. If they're wrong, then a lot more than just gambling is theft. (Then it would also be theft when a movie theater takes your money for your ticket, when a stadium takes your money for an NFL ticket, etc. All entertainment would be theft.)


Huh?

Were you just thinking through something there?

joel said...

Jugulum,
No you have not stolen from me. What you have done is far worse. You have sinned against God by coveting. Essentially you have said 'God you have given me life breath, food, clothing, and the ability to move but that is not enough. Instead I am going to covet what is not mine and you have graciously given to someone else. That is why it is a tremendous sin to be ungrateful before a God who has given us everything. The actual sin of stealing would compound what you have already done before God by hurting another of His creatures, but the primary offense has already taken place in your heart.

Phil Johnson said...

theft–noun
1. the wrongful taking and carrying away of the personal goods or property of another.
2. an instance of this.
3. Archaic. something stolen.

If gambling is fundamentally wrong on any grounds, then the winnings are ill-gotten gains. I.e. The winner has no valid moral right to them. And since it's money taken from other gamblers, it is by definition a kind of theft.

I'm amazed that the pro-gambling commenters persist in blithely equating gambling with entertainment and not one has yet offered any justification for finding one's entertainment in acquiring the money or property of one's neighbor without paying him for it. Instead, the "it's just entertainment" plea comes from a completely self-centered perspective.

Hayden said...

Let me make an observation. How many of the people that object to Phil's point are under 40 years old? (I am 36 and agree with his argument, but I see a trend)

Sir Aaron said...

I actually thought this was your best post of the series, Phil.

I've never understood playing with pennies or nickels. The value is so low you might as well play for nothing. Which leads me to believe that gambling is, in fact, covetous, by nature.

My question would be about tournament play. Let's say we have a b-ball tournament and every one pays a fee but part of that fee goes towards a prize, cash or otherwise. Is that wrong? If it is not wrong, then what about card games with the same premise (i.e. everybody pays the same fee, some of which goes towards costs, some of which goes towards some prize be it a trophy or money?

Sir Aaron said...

One last question...if it is a sin to gamble, is it then also a sin, to play a game that mimics gambling (e.g. poker with chips, texas hold-em online, etc.)?

Sir Aaron said...

Brody:

It seems to me that Christians should be quick to want to flee anything that is remotely sinful when a Biblical principle gives even the possibility that there is sin in any activity. That is where the Christian's passions should be exercised, not in so passionately, almost to the point of anger, defending the opposite.

That same argument was used to avoid alcohol, dancing, church organs, and many other things that are not sinful in and of themselves. I don't care about gambling because I neither gamble nor generally play games that mimic such. But we have to be careful to make good arguments from Scripture lest we start outlawing things just because somebody thinks doing so is a good idea.

Johnny Dialectic said...

It just amazes me, Phil, that you cannot see that theft is the WRONGFUL taking away of the property of another. The "wrong" lies in the fact that the person doesn't want or expect the property to be taken!

How can you possibly persist in this fiction that someone who voluntarily pays to play a game (that is what the stake is, after all) is in the same position as the person whose wallet is snatched without his knowledge or consent?

Chad V. said...

wtanksley

How on earth could the point I made cause Phil's analogy to break down even further? That really doesn't make any sense. Your objection was that life was inalienable and property was not there fore Phil's analogy was invalid. I showed you that life was in fact not inalienable. Your whole objection is built on the false premise that life is inalienable and property isn't. I'm sorry but I understand Phil's point and I think it's spot on.

BTW, all analogies break down at some point. They all have limitations. I noticed that you haven't posited a better analogy.

To summarize Phil's point (sorry to restate what you've explained so well Phil, it should be completely unnecessary). Mutual consent doesn't legitimize something that is fundamentally wrong.

Murder is fundamentally sinful and a dueling is no better than murder. The mutual consent of both parities can't change that. Stealing is fundamentally sinful and gambling equivalent to stealing. Mutual consent doesn't legitimize it. Dueling is an unlawful taking of life. Gambling is an unlawful taking of property. It's a great analogy.

Jugulum said...

Phil,

I really see the case, if you base it on "As a steward, I'm not authorized to wager my money--so the person who wins it is stealing from the true owner, God." (I'm not completely sold on this step of the argument, but it's understandable, and has a ring of truth.)


But that's not what you're appealing to now. Instead, you're basing it on a generalized sense of the phrase "wrongful taking", from Dictionary.reference.com's entry for "theft". Such that consent--i.e. permission--doesn't matter.

But if you had gone to the OED for "theft" and "steal", you couldn't have made that argument:

steal
• verb
1 take (something) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.
2 give or take surreptitiously or without permission: I stole a look at my watch.


You're going to a broad sense of "moral right to take something"--so that it can be stealing even if you have permission and the legal right to take the stakes.


I can understand, if you base that on the moral fact that we are not truly the owners, merely stewards--and if you argue that the terms of our stewardship don't authorize us to enter into transactions for covetous purposes. (In other words, if you say that both gamblers are conspiring to steal from God, then I can see the case. If you say that the winner is stealing from the loser, I don't.)

In that case, the problem is that the winner doesn't have consent--from the owner. Because the steward doesn't have permission from the owner to enter the wager.

Even though you didn't flesh it out that way, is that what you were thinking?

Jugulum said...

Johnny,

What about the steward issue?

In other words, I agree that "someone who voluntarily pays to play a game" isn't in the same position as "the person whose wallet is snatched without his knowledge or consent". But if the player doesn't own his money, and isn't authorized by its real owner to play the game, the owner is being stolen from.

wtanksley said...

Not at all. My premise is that gambling, similar to picking pockets, is by definition an attempt to take someone else's money. How is this difficult?

Computer repair is, in the same way, an attempt to take someone else's money. That is, if you ignore the entire context, and the fact that the money transfer is completely authorized, and focus only on the fact that money in changing hands.

To discredit my analogy, you would have to prove that gambling is something other than an attempt to take someone else's money.

No I won't; all I need to do is point out that "attempting to take someone else's money" isn't wrong. It depends on the context. A shopkeeper legitimately attempts to take my money from my hand; a pickpocket illegitimately attempts to take it from my pocket. Succeed or fail, the problem isn't the TAKING of the money.

And, by the way, your equivocations on ownership are remarkably obtuse.

Of course, this is namecalling, not argument. I'm not equivocating (giving "ownership" two definitions and switching between them); I'm identifying precisely the single ownership that covers the pot in a gambling context. And if I were being obtuse, you would be unable to tell that I was equivocating, so the two accusations don't go together.

Your moral reasoning begins with a pile of money lying owner-less on a table.

Um... No. Money is not ownerless; money is NEVER ownerless. The owner of the money is easily discernible from watching people's behavior. It's NOT possible to take money back once you've left it, and therefore the money doesn't belong to you. If the entire table had to get up and leave (as in an evacuation), the same players could reassemble and resume the same game with the same amount; therefore the ownership is distributed among the players. Those are the plain, obvious facts.

Moral reasoning should involve careful thinking.

-Wm

Johnny Dialectic said...

Jug, I don't get your stewardship point. The owner is God, okay. But playing a game for pennies means, potentially, those pennies are gone. Paying for a movie means those dollars are gone for sure. In both cases, someone has paid for an experience, and not with the milk money. Unless you bootstrap in some covet/theft idea, which I reject, there is no difference.

wtanksley said...

I think that it is fair to call gambling 'stealing in the heart' which for a Christian should be avoided with the same passion as the visible action of stealing.

That violates the entire point of the Law, and replaces it with Pharisaism. Jesus wasn't telling the Pharisees to replace their external laws with His external laws; rather He was telling them that God's Law looked on the heart with EVERY WORD.

It's possible that gambling is always wrong. There are many things that are. But if so, its wrongness is NOT justified because if we don't gamble we guard ourselves from coveting.

Frankly, I think anyone who thinks that gambling is coveting hasn't ever thought about playing small-stakes. To me (although I've never played that) it seems obvious that covetousness needn't be involved. The money simply provides a norm to help the players attach some concrete importance to each chip the players make, thus allowing the bets to communicate the same message to every player.

Now, sometimes the small stakes can add up to a decent prize -- I've heard of a meal for the big winner. Is that covetousness? Well, would it be covetousness if I sponsored a game of skill (not chance) and paid for the same prize out of my own pocket? It seems to me that the covetousness would be in the heart, and the game could be played totally without it.

-Wm

donsands said...

The sin of coveting was even a thorn in Paul's flesh (Romans 7). He did what he didn't want to do, and didn't do what he wanted.

Gambling has many degrees as Phil has shown. Coveting is in every human heart, except it was never in our Savior's heart.

This is a good discussion of the the law and sin, and the Gospel.

There's no self-righteousness here, so Romans 2 doesn't really apply, but at the same time we all need to realize we all must be struggling with coveting in some sense or another.

Whether it is the eye, the flesh, or pride of life, we all are still struggling in this world.

And we need to have the Word cut us deep, to the soul, so that God can do His work of conforming us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. So that God is glorified in his grace and people.

I still feel that there is a big difference in gambling, and some is sin, and some isn't, but I will be discussing this things with others and i look forward to sharing the wisdom Phil has brought to us.

A side note: My pastor is a Sabbatarian, and yet I disagree with his teaching, though at the same time I took it to heart, and ask God to show me in my heart and mind what is the bottom line here, and then let my conscience have contentment with what I finally agree on.

Here's the verse my pastor preached on Sunday, for our encouragement: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Rom 8:1

donsands said...

Here's the sermon on Rom 8:1. It's short and encouraging.

http://www.bcrecmd.org/component/option,com_sermonspeaker/task,singlesermon/id,10076/%5C

wtanksley said...

If gambling is fundamentally wrong on any grounds, [...then] it is by definition a kind of theft.

No. If gambling is wrong on any other grounds, then it is wrong on those grounds. Full stop. It should be condemned on those grounds, not on the ground that it's theft.

-Wm

wtanksley said...

I've never understood playing with pennies or nickels. The value is so low you might as well play for nothing. Which leads me to believe that gambling is, in fact, covetous, by nature.

That's such an odd thing to say. Your argument seems to indicate that small-stakes gambling is essentially the same thing as playing for free, which is definitely NOT gambling. And yet you conclude that gambling is always covetous.

BTW, that's an impossibility. Covetousness happens in the heart, not on a green table.

-Wm

Andrew D said...

Johnny D said,
"It just amazes me, Phil, that you cannot see that theft is the WRONGFUL taking away of the property of another. The "wrong" lies in the fact that the person doesn't want or expect the property to be taken!"

Gamblers want their money to be taken from them? Um, no. Gamblers want to take other gamblers' money.

Gamblers who lose their bets are not generous givers.

Wouldn't it be better to interact with the actual post? For example, start explaining how gambling, in principle, is different from a duel.

Barbara said...

RE: the entertainment factor, just a thought...someone once noted that you can perhaps measure a degree of how much of God you have in your life by how much entertainment you need to fill your time.

Y'all make a girl wince with all this loophole-finding and all this nitpicky arguing over legal minutiae. If I didn't know better, I'd say all the defenses thrown up at the idea that one's dear pastime could be sinful.... sounds like arguments designed more for the glory of self than for the glory of God.

But then I could always be wrong. Back to my corner now.

wtanksley said...

How on earth could the point I made cause Phil's analogy to break down even further?

Your analogy only applies when the action is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Phil's arguing that gambling is always bad. Unless you're insisting that gambling (like dying -- or even killing!) is sometimes good, you can't even MAKE the analogy you just made.

Your objection was that life was inalienable and property was not there fore Phil's analogy was invalid.

No, my objection was that specific property is ALIENABLE. That is, it's normally right to dispose of your own property; and in fact nobody BUT you can dispose of your property.

Phil's objection rests on the analogy that just as killing is bad (even with consent), so also gambling is bad (even with consent). The analogy fails.

BTW, all analogies break down at some point.

Of course. But Phil's analogy breaks down on precisely the point he's trying to argue. That makes it a false analogy.

I noticed that you haven't posited a better analogy.

1. I don't need to; I'm not making the claim.
2. I used reason to explain why his analogy is bad. That doesn't prove that his point is wrong.
3. I did in fact bring up some arguments against his point, although I'm not against his point; I'm leery of gambling.
4. Okay: gambling is like drinking alcohol. Both are good in moderation, and very bad in excess.

Mutual consent doesn't legitimize something that is fundamentally wrong.

Yes, but his post was attempting to prove that gambling is fundamentally wrong because it's theft. This argument utterly fails to establish this, because it simply begs the question.

Stealing is fundamentally sinful and gambling equivalent to stealing.

Begging the question.

Mutual consent doesn't legitimize it.

Unless it's not stealing.

Dueling is an unlawful taking of life. Gambling is an unlawful taking of property. It's a great analogy.

What do you mean "unlawful"? Both have been lawful; gambling still is.

Phil Johnson said...

wtanksley:

You miss the point. If gambling is fundamentally a violation of God's law for any reason (or as I am arguing, for numerous reasons), someone who takes and carries away another person's money or possessions in a gambling contest has done so wrongfully. And that, as I cited above, is the very definition of theft.

You misunderstood Sir Aaron's point. A few vocal commenters insist that playing for worthless chips is not fun; the stakes must be real money, even if only pennies. Sir A is pointing out that pennies are almost worthless--but they are not utterly worthless. Indeed, the only difference between pennies and chips is that the pennies are in fact, real money.

If that lone difference is enough to be the singular spark without which backgammon games are simply no fun, one wonders how the devoted and argumentative backgammon gambler can be so absolutely sure that his or her motives are pure from any taint of covetousness. Jeremiah 17:9.

I've made that point two or three times already, but it has gone unanswered by the gambling devotees.

John From Down Under said...

After 105 comments it seems that the geometrical shape of this discussion is getting a little… circular. I also find it interesting that so much cyber space has been devoted to a moralistic issue on a Reformed blog post.

Phil made some salient points although the ‘theft’ angle is a dyspeptic syllogism and borders on exegetical acrobatics IMO. Not always smart to argue with a theological heavyweight but I confess, the notion that the meat tray I won in a raffle is ‘ill-gotten gain’ from the local butcher who donated it, fails to sensitize my conscience.

At the end of the day, whether gambling is theft or not, it is still destructive and wrong on so many other levels. Even if I had never read the Bible, just going on the empirical evidence of gamblers I have come across professionally and socially, it is a no brainer whether it’s right or wrong.

Jugulum said...

Johnny,

Your response makes it sound like you didn't read my comments--maybe you just read the last one, where I directed the question to you?

I suggested you reread the comments. Otherwise, I really don't know how to say it more clearly, unless you ask a specific question.

Phil Johnson said...

John From Down Under:

Your butcher's meat tray was a gift, not a stake, and the raffle was a fund-raiser, not a gamble. Go back and read the original definitions I gave, and you can lay your guilty conscience to rest.

greglong said...

Phil,

(A question that might have been more appropriate on the previous post, but comments are closed.)

You argue that a gambler always covets, even when playing for small stakes.

Others argue that they have played for small stakes without coveting.

My question is, Can a person covet without realizing it?

Craig and Heather said...

My question is, Can a person covet without realizing it?

How about:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9

Not sure if that means we can covet without knowing it--but it suggests that we can convince ourselves that our motives are pure when, in fact, they are not.

H

Chad V. said...

watanksey

You said; "Yes, but his post was attempting to prove that gambling is fundamentally wrong because it's theft. "

Here's where you've gone wrong. The analogy is not supposed to demonstrate that gambling is stealing. The analogy is supposed to demonstrate that mutual consent doesn't "eliminate the evil in gambling."

Remember, your whole beef was with the analogy. Now it's obvious why. You've misapplied it.

Mike Bonebright said...

Computer repair is, in the same way, an attempt to take someone else's money.

*sigh*

No, it's not at all "in the same way." To put it simply, a computer repairman will trade his labor for your money. A gambler and a pickpocket will both, quite simply, "take your money", and in a way that affords no comparisons to legitimate trade.


And as far as my other statement, if you summed it up into an insult, then I apologize. I certainly did not mean it as such and, having read it again, don’t think that it is. But rather than arguing semantics with you, I have no problem withdrawing both terms you mentioned.

But to address the substantive issue there, I am not questioning the technical accuracy of the distinctions you raised. Such arrangements are, I’m sure, necessary to settling disputes and clarifying the rules of the game. And besides, any honest man (though a betting man) wouldn’t wager his money and then take it back. So, I agree with your point. But what I object to is what you’re doing with that point. You’re chopping the act of gambling up into small pieces, so you can closely analyze each one in great detail, but leave the larger picture unexamined. It quite simply doesn’t matter at what point each player "loses" his money, when the point of the entire exercise is for everyone but one to do so.

Phil Johnson said...

greglong: "My question is, Can a person covet without realizing it?"

Yes, of course. Jeremiah 17:9. Plus, covetousness is such a pervasive problem in our culture that most people don't really recognize it as wrong.

Case in point: one of the commenters here who protests most loudly that there's not a hint of covetousness in his motive for gambling previously wrote:

"That strategic component is only pleasurable (to me, at least) when there is a tiny bit of money on the line . . . Yes, I am trying to win the other guy's nickel. He's trying to win mine"

Desiring "the other guy's nickel" may be a petty kind of covetousness, but it is nonetheless covetousness. Moreover, by that gambler's own testimony, the game alone is not "fun" for him if there's no opportunity to "win the other guy's nickel." Yet he insists that desire is not really "covetous" because the amount is so paltry. I do think he honestly believes that.

So in sum: yes, I think it's possible to covet and not admit the fault of it to oneself. In fact, I think that's a pretty common tendency among American evangelicals.

greglong said...

Phil said:

So in sum: yes, I think it's possible to covet and not admit the fault of it to oneself. In fact, I think that's a pretty common tendency among American evangelicals.

I understand, but that's slightly different than the question I asked. You said, "I think it's possible to covet and not admit the fault of it to oneself." I fully agree that to be the case.

But I don't think Jer. 17:9 is the trump card here (excuse me), because you could use that in any case. A person denies he is lusting after a woman, but you say, "Jer. 17:9...maybe your heart is deceiving you!" Perhaps, but wouldn't you have to prove that by the biblical definition of lust?

The definition of covet is: "to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others."

And it seems to me if someone really desires to win, but does NOT desire the money involved (in fact, he doesn't care about it), I don't see how you can dogmatically assert that he is coveting.

"But then why do they have to play for money?" Because then the game isn't as fun. I don't see anything wrong with that answer.

Phil, I've never gambled in my life, not even for pennies, and I don't intend to. I think gambling is a stain upon our culture and you are right to cause us to ponder its dangers. But I have not found your case persuasive in declaring all forms of gambling to be sin. But I appreciate the arguments you have put forth and will use your posts as a resource when addressing this subject in the future.

Andrew D said...

but greg,
the covetous motive is hiding behind the "it's more fun" mask.

there isn't any reason to insist on taking your neighbor's money versus taking worthless chips. Those who are saying "it's fun" are dodging the real question.

Why is the fun gone when the chance to win you're neighbor's money is gone?

Andrew D said...

I think this needs to be said:

One cannot be *confident* that eliminating the money wager from a game will make it less fun and uninteresting....

AND AT THE SAME TIME

not know why the money wager makes the game so "fun".

That is either self-deception or playing dumb.

Phil Johnson said...

Exactly.

Craig and Heather said...

If it's okay, I'd like to expand the passage around Jeremiah 17:9 because I think it actually may be very appropriate to the topic of gambling.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?
"I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings."
Like the partridge that gathers a brood which she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by right; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool.
Jeremiah 17:7-11

And, coupled with proverbs 6:25: There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

It does not appear that self-deception is always the result of a deliberate attempt at ignoring what one knows to be true.

Our inborn sin nature has a penchant for believing lies and when we don't carefully weigh our decisions against scripture and humbly ask God for guidance, we are very likely to default into our natural state of wrongness. And because humans are fallible, we can still think we ARE doing the right thing simply because we failed to consult the One who has an accurate understanding of our hearts.

I'm still not sure yet whether I would call all forms of gambling sin. But I do know that the only way any of us could know for sure whether we ought to be gambling is to individually ask God, who searches our hearts and will uncover hidden motives that we don't even know exist.

H

redbeard said...

Wow.

What a flurry of comments. I like Jugulum's argument that gambling really is a stewardship issue, and that based on the idea that the money is God's, not really ours, and we are not authorized to gamble with it. I agree completely with that idea. It hangs together, it's coherent.

re theft

Personally, I doubt the "theft" angle holds water, and here is why:

The "stakes" in the game are put in an "escrow" - the pot. The pot belongs to all, and it belongs to none - until someone wins it.

Phil argues that the transfer of money in gambling is theft - but the persons participating in the game willingly put their money into the pot. They, of course, each expect to win the pot, with high interest (and, in non-superficial amounts, this is covetousness). But even if they don't win, they agreed beforehand (does that amount to an "indulgence"?) to the loss.

So, I doubt the case is made for gambling as theft.

covetousness

But, gambling as covetousness - that I can easily see. In any amounts but superficial ones, and particularly in lotteries, what one might win compared to what one might lose certainly encourages covetousness.

stewardship

Gambling as throwing money away (and thus bad stewardship, or as argued, no stewardship at all) - that I can see, too. The chance of winning the lotto is less than the chance of being struck by lightning.

And even in games like poker - are you really so highly skilled that you will win? Are you sure? Is it good stewardship? What about the other players? Can they afford the losses? "It's their lookout," you might say, but Jesus says, "love your neighbor as yourself" and gambling with someone you know can't afford to lose that money - well, let's just say that ain't love, dude.

the penny gambler

This leaves the "penny gambler" ideas that have been presented by a few. The idea presented is that "the presence of money makes the game more interesting." This seems to be because of the immediate threat to the wallet, even if you're playing with pennies. But this should probably not be classed as covetous; after all, these are pennies, and unless you're REALLY poor, they don't mean much. It is not the desire for the $3.00 that drives the play; it's the desire not to lose $0.50 that drives better play, and perhaps a bit of pride in winning. As explained in the discourse on backgammon, the wager is not so much for the winning of the money, but to keep players accountable for poor play. I agree with this argument, but it doesn't show that penny-stakes gambling is okay; rather, it demonstrates the "love of money" in all the players, but directed in the negative sense of avoiding loss.

But there is another thing. Some people are weak, and are addicted to gambling. Gambling has, in and of itself, become an idol to them. Gambling with these people encourages them to sin, regardless of the amount wagered. And we are admonished to not trip up the weak.

gambling wrong anyway

Thus, gambling is wrong on several counts:
* Gambling is covetousness if any but superficial amounts are in wager.
* Gambling is not loving your neighbor if any but superficial amounts are in wager.
* The love of money ("which is the root of all evil") drives good play, even when superficial amounts are in wager.
* God doesn't want us encouraging people to commit the sin of idolatry (gambling addiction).

John From Down Under said...

As interesting as it is watching this debate from afar (and thinking ‘these fellas need to switch their iPhones off, it’s getting late’), I cannot resist one more observation.

Phil said in his post: if you merely participate in a gambling contest with a desire to win, you are guilty of coveting that which belongs to your neighbor.

Where does that leave competitive sport or competing for marketshare in business? In both you covet something from your competitors (title, customers, money) so by definition of the letter they should be in breach of the 10th commandment.

Sir Aaron said...

Andrew D: I agree and disagree with you at the same time. Paradoxical, I know.

I think card games are fun, without any money being at stake. I think that is true for most games in general. But I also think most games are more fun when there is a prize to be won. I'm just opposed to that prize being somebody else's money.

wtanksley said...

redbeard, your post is the winner of this thread, as far as I'm concerned. You've hit the nail on the head as to why gambling is crucially dangerous.

I have only two caveats.

First, you said that "gambling is covetousness" for any but tiny amounts. Please be careful. The 10th commandment is in many ways the key to the rest, because it reveals that God is not forbidding only the external action of theft, but the internal motive of the heart as well. To convert the 10th back into an external action again is most unfortunate.

Second, you're misquoting and misapplying 1 Tim 6:10. Look it up to see the correct quote, and note that its context makes it clear that it's talking about people who are not satisfied with God's gifts of provision. That's something that we all suffer from one time or another; it doesn't simply refer to someone who wants to win money in a game. The only cure is repentance and forgiveness.

Argh, I'm blabbering. I do think you said it better than any other here.

-Wm

Andrew D said...

Sir A,
I can agree with that. An independent sponsor changes the event because now we are outside the definition of gambling.

We still have to guard our hearts from greed though, eh?

I am suspicious of myself... and would not want to wind up daydreaming about "THE PRIZE"

Good point nonetheless