Food & Wine ~ Sonoma Valley Sun


Gambling and Religion: Searching for a Compromise

Posted on May 28, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Gambling and religion are traditionally considered as something opposite, something you won’t dare to mention in one sentence. However, even though never associated with each other and definitely on the other sides of the moral fence, religion and gambling have a lot more in common than you might think.

The strained relationship between gambling and religion will become a little bit clearer when we reveal some remarkable scientific facts and find out which religions – if there are any – endorse gambling and which prohibit it altogether. So, without further ado, let’s dig into it!

Our Brain Doesn’t Care Whether It is Gambling or Religion

The most vivid example of how we really perceive religion and gambling – and if there are any differences in that perception – is given in the recent study by Jeffrey S Anderson and his fellow scientists. The research called ‘Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons’ had to do with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on 19 Mormons reading prayers and doing other routine religious stuff. Surprisingly enough, the scans showed that the religious rituals trigger the same brain activity as is triggered by music, love, gambling, and anything else connected with pleasure and reward.

But what could that mean? Well, at least one thing is crystal clear: whether you like it or not, from the scientific point of view, people get pleasure from religion, a kind of reward that many of them most certainly lack in everyday lives. Yeah, absolutely the same kind of pleasure you treat yourself with when winning big at one of the gambling sites for Calgary players or wherever you are playing. Of course, you can claim that the pleasure and reward bestowed to us by religion have no evil roots and can only be compared to the pleasure extracted from love, but come on, let’s keep it real: our brain doesn’t care for the source of what it needs – it just needs it.

Gambling and Most Popular Religions: Far From the Total Prohibition

The tension between different religions and gambling is known even to atheists – and it’s true that most religions condemn games of chance and urge the righteous proponents to stay away from gambling – but it’s also true that some religious branches are less severe and even allow gambling ‘as is’ or for charity purposes. Here’s what religions think of gambling, from the least to the most tolerable:

  • Islam. Without the tiniest shade of doubt, the second-largest religion with close to two billion followers aboard prohibits gambling whatsoever, as it reads it as ‘haram,’ which is a sinful, unforgivable deed. But even Islam – at least according to Prophet Muhammad, the messenger of God – put up with horse and camel races.
  • Judaism. Judaists believe gambling doesn’t give any value to the community and therefore forbid all forms of gambling except for playing dreidel with petty stakes during the Hanukkah celebrations and raising money for synagogues with lotteries.
  • Hinduism. With about 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion in the world and the only one main religion with many sub-philosophies and sub-religions. It’s really hard to come to a uniform conclusion on Hinduism and gambling: whereas some Indian treatises recommend controlling gambling, other teachings see it as an evil manifestation. However, if a single overarching statement could be made, it would say that, revolving around the concept of karma, Hinduism generally suggests an idea that your luck in games comes from your good deeds and intentions. And otherwise.
  • Christianity. Neither Bible nor Jesus has ever said anything about gambling, but Christianity has always been skeptical about gambling since its very nature of gaining at the expense of someone else losing. Nevertheless, it still depends on the branch. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, does not see gambling as sinful activity unless it becomes addictive and depriving of the ability to take care of yourself and others (moreover, the Catholic Church occasionally runs lotteries for charity purposes). On the contrary, Protestantism and the Orthodox Church forbid all forms of gambling, including gambling for charity.
  • Buddhism. As the most tolerant religion towards gambling, Buddhism has nothing against games of chance until you respect the Five Precepts, the commitments to abstain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misbehavior, and intoxication.

What a Priests Says

You don’t expect to see a priest in the casino, but only until you visit Melbourne’s Crown Casino and meet Friar James Grant, a full-time clergyman offering counseling services right in the premises. As he puts it himself, ‘There’s nothing in the bible that says it’s wrong to gamble. What’s bad, and this goes for booze and drugs and driving your car 200 miles an hour down the road, is a lack of moderation. I would consider that in moderation, gambling could be considered a normal human activity.’

At the end of the day, religious people are still people with their passions and flaws – which are sometimes hard to believe – and while there’s no single opinion on whether religious people are allowed to gamble, it is really up to your view of this subtle, ambiguous subject.


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