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Baptists Model Better Alternative to Allure of Gambling

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At the time this was written, it wasn’t quite clear who were the lucky winners of the latest EuroMillions lottery jackpot, which spans several European countries including Britain. There are two winning tickets apparently. At least one is an individual, and the other may or may not be a syndicate.

Camelot Group, which operates the United Kingdom’s national lottery, is busy verifying their identities. They’re being very careful about it because there’s a lot at stake: a total of 90 million pounds (more than $151 million).

That is a jaw-droppingly huge figure. Even half of it – and even if the half were split half a dozen ways – would mean that no one in the winner’s family would need to work for generations to come. They could live lives of unimaginable luxury.

So should we rejoice with those who rejoice? Lament the gross materialism of our society? Issue dire warnings about the potential psychological damage suffered by those who suddenly acquire great and unearned wealth?

The answer is surely all of the above. Whatever the winners choose to do with their money, these are life-changing figures. For people who are poor and struggling, worrying about how to pay the next gas bill, terrified about a major repair to their car, perhaps deeply in debt already, the prospect of having these burdens lifted forever is a huge blessing. If we have the good fortune to be solvent and are able and willing to live within our means, we should be slow to criticize those who are not.

Gross materialism? Yes, absolutely. It doesn’t take 45 million pounds (more than $75 million) to give financial stability, but it’s the lure of the big win that keeps the lottery running. People buy their tickets week after week, at ridiculous odds, when they can’t afford it because they are seduced by the glamour of the lifestyles they see on the television and cinema screens.

Clever advertising agents are paid huge amounts of money to sell dreams – and dreams are very powerful. “If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?” asks the poet. “Everything” is the answer today.

Psychological damage? Yes, it’s certainly a risk. Not everyone who might win such an amount is psychologically equipped to handle it. There have been sad, sad cases of people whose lives have been ruined by what was meant to have been their good fortune. But we need to be careful not to overplay this: for most people, according to the evidence, life does get better.

Baptists have traditionally been very wary of games of chance of any kind. The caution dates back to Victorian times at least, when the Nonconformist conscience was highly sensitive to the great social evils of the time. Gambling wrecked lives, as did alcohol and “worldly” pleasures of all sorts: best not to get involved.

So even today, a Baptist church fete is less likely to involve a raffle, even though the prizes are likely to be on a rather smaller scale than Camelot’s.

This policy is sometimes justified on the grounds – rather shaky grounds, it must be said – that games of chance impugn the sovereignty of God. It’s much more likely that, where the prohibition is still in place, there is simply a discomfort about the business because “it just isn’t what we do.”

There are, in fact, no compelling reasons why not. But it’s good that this continues to be the Baptist default position.

We may be happy for the big winners, and pray that they will use their money wisely, with a vision to make the world a better place rather than to enjoy every luxury that it provides.

But in declining, with a smile, any invitation to take part ourselves, we are bearing witness to a better way. This is a way that sits lightly to the good things of this world, that does not judge the quality of a life by the measure of its possessions, and that looks to God for satisfaction – a sure and certain hope – rather than the result of a randomly generated number.

Mark Woods is editor of The Baptist Times.