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Why is American Politics Based on Religion? (Part 2)...By Hartley Henderson

Part 1 of this article caused quite a bit of controversy. Many thought the article was spot on, while others, including the couple who sent me hate mail, saw it differently. In generating the controversy the article did exactly as was intended. The main purpose of the article was to demonstrate that religion is a very personal issue and hence one specific belief system can not be mandated for all. Many feel God is in charge of all decisions in the world, while others feel there is no God. Some believe in Christ as saviour and are rejoicing this month, while others believe the messiah is yet to come. And most in the world today actually pray to Buddha. There is no right or wrong answer to the issue of religion. That is the primary reason why politicians must make decisions that are in the best interest of the country, not what adheres to their own personal conviction. As was shown in part 1 of this article, America was founded on the premise that there must be a separation of church and state. It was necessary to bring up topics such as abortion, stem cell research, and prayer in school, not because they are paramount issues in determining one's religiousness (belief in the right to abortion alone clearly has no reflection on one's religion), but rather to demonstrate how the politicians who voted to ban online gambling had a pattern of voting their religious convictions on almost every issue.

Religion is hardly bi-partisan. While so many people influencing the Republicans in congress today are religious activists, that was not always the case. In fact, Dwight Eisenhower was a very religious man, but did not let his religion get in the way of what was best for the country, nor did Republican senators and congressmen at that time. While there was a push to have schools kept segregated for blacks and whites, as was once the case for different religions, it was Eisenhower who made sure the policy of segregation was eliminated, garnering the ire of many people at that time. But he believed that doing what was right for the country was more important than doing what was popular. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger also ensured that religion was valued as a basic freedom, but was not a factor in public policy. It was only from the days of Ronald Reagan that the Republican trend turned from voters and representatives who were mostly concerned about low taxes and little government interference to what we have today, a government ruled by a desire to bring back "family values" via Christian ideals put forward by the various churches and upstanding citizens like Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Go to any of the above mentioned folks' websites and you'll see the rants against all the same issues that Frist, Kyl, Goodlatte and Bush all are opposing. The belief of many of these activists is that there is only one proper way to live, and that is through their view of Christian ideals. And if the American public isn't willing to accept these views voluntarily then they will be implemented by law. This, of course, is not only undemocratic, but is also unethical. The anti gambling crusade is clearly a Protestant ideal brought forward by these same activists, regardless of the fact that many of them gamble. Pat Robertson owns race horses, but he justifies that fact by claiming that he owns them for the pleasure of racing and he himself doesn't gamble. Besides, hypocrisy is nothing new at any level of government.

With the above in mind, and considering this site is a gambling related site, I want part 2 of the article to focus specifically on the area of gambling. Regardless of one's religious stand it is hard to argue that congress today is determined to eliminate gambling in America where there isn't much opposition. Lotteries, horse tracks and bingos are tougher avenues to tackle, given that States won't readily give up lottery revenues and churches want to run bingo halls, so those gambling avenues can be dealt with later. The main focus of the Republicans (and yes some democrats) in congress today is to do away with the easy targets such as poker rooms and online gambling sites.

The reasons most cited by those who want online gambling sites gone are: lack of regulation, underage betting and concern about the domino effect (i.e. it could lead to something bigger like money laundering). But those arguments fall flat on their faces. While the industry has tried in vain to show that it can be regulated as the government wishes, and that the sites will go through massive expense and effort to ensure that it is more difficult for an underage person to bet online than it is for them to buy a lottery ticket at a supermarket in the U.S., the governments want to hear none of it. As well, online gambling is working quite well in regulated environments in Europe and Australia, but the United States refused to send representatives to a conference dealing with the future of online gambling because it opposed their own viewpoints. If the U.S. government truly was concerned about the issues they stated, they would have at least sent a representative to Europe to hear the discussion. The truth is that the U.S. government wants the gambling sites shut down for 2 reasons: protectionism for the land based casinos and to satisfy the Protestant lobbyists to whom the current Republican Party feels indebted. As such, let's try and play devil's advocate and address the issue of gambling as it pertains to Christian text, namely the bible.

Protestant leaders will always state that the bible says that gambling is wrong. So let's try and find these numerous times where it does demonstrate this in the bible.

First, Proverbs 28:22 which states:

"He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye and considereth not that poverty shall come on him"

Well actually that's not so much a condemnation of gambling as it is one's desire to gain wealth. A more quoted verse of the same idea from the New Testament is: "the love of money is the root of all evil." Even religious scholars will suggest that the problem isn't money per se, but the love of money itself. In better words, not being content with what you have is the root of all evil. With that in mind, religious leaders make the quantum leap that people only gamble because they aren't satisfied with what they have in life and that will invariably lead to evil. So instead of pointing to the tens of millions around the world who gamble for pleasure, do not take food off the table and are law abiding citizens, they point to the far more rare case of a gambler who will steal, commit suicide or even murder to feed a bad gambling habit. Of course gambling can be addictive and often does lead to tragic events, but that can be true of many things. Enron, whose fraud cost many investors their life savings and countless workers their jobs, was a far more compelling argument for the love of money causing evil, but you don't hear the U.S. government crying for the elimination of the stock markets. Instead, the government spent millions trying to convince Americans that investing was good for society. But as all of us know who dabbled in tech stocks in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the stock market can be more of a gamble than a bet against the Tampa Bay Bucanneers. As well, alcohol can be very addictive and lead to evil, but don't suggest banning alcohol to George W Bush. Besides, the U.S. already went that route in the 1930s because of activism at that time and it was a dismal failure.

The second quoted verse was when Jesus was crucified in John 19 when the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus' seamless robe. The thinking here was that the Romans were evil and were gambling to get a perfect robe. Since the Romans were evil this concludes that gambling is evil. This, of course, is equivalent to the old symbolic philosophy argument that Socrates is a Man, All men are mortal, therefore Socrates is Mortal. Only in this case, it is All Romans are Evil, the Romans were gambling therefore gambling is evil. Of course any philosophy student can tell you that argument is false since the premises don't necessarily lead to the conclusion. But why let that small fact stand in the way of ideology.

Now let's look at the third instance. Nope. Actually that's it. You now can be totally convinced that the bible suggests that gambling is evil and must be stopped. There's no need to look at the other side where gambling was seen as a noble way to settle arguments. For example, in Joshua 18:6 Joshua stated to his followers:

"Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me that I may cast lots for you here before the Lord our God."

So Joshua is also going to cast lots (I have no idea what lots are, although I have an idea it is probably some sort of dice or similar) at the commandment of God. Being the Old Testament, this is the same God that the Jews, Muslims, and yes, Christians believe in, and God commanded Joshua to cast lots to decide how land should be given out. They also cast lots in Joshua 21:8, Chronicles 1 26:13-14, Nehemiah 10:34 and Acts 1:23-26. In fact, casting lots occurs 70 times in the Old Testament and 5 times in the new testament - and only twice is it seen as evil.

The conclusion is simple: this anti gambling crusade by the Protestant religions in America is not biblically based, although they want you to believe it is. But why cloud a crusade against something with the truth? If the government tells the U.S. public something over and over with the help of the churches, the public won't question it. After all, who is the public to challenge its church in the area of religion? In fact, even in the Christian faith there isn't a consensus about gambling. The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches make up about 28% of the United States religious demographic per the 2001 census, whereas Protestant churches make up over 50%. In Canada approximately ½ the population is Catholic and in the UK the majority are Catholic and Anglican. So what does the Catholic church say about gambling? This is from its website:

The Catholic position (Gambling) Games of chance or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter [i.e., they can be mortal sin], unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.

Bingo! (Pardon the pun). Gambling is not wrong, never was wrong and never will be wrong. What is a problem is when gambling gets so out of control that the person starts taking food off their table, starts cheating to win or when someone commits crimes to fund gambling. No one is arguing those points - not the online operators, not the owners of this site and not me. That is the reason why gambler's anonymous links are posted on almost every online gambling website. People with severe gambling problems are not good for the industry. However, the same cannot be said for local lottery retailers or horse race tracks. Lotteries rely on the poorest of the poor trying to win that impossible dream and gambler's anonymous posters are rarely seen at lottery booths or in racetracks.

So to sum up, let's look at the points in the article one by one:

- The Senators, representatives and the President who pushed through the anti gambling bill were staunch, religious Protestants who tended to vote on almost every issue in manners that supported the Protestant churches in America, including condemning gambling.

- Gambling goes against the views of the Protestant churches and apologists like Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson. Hence, Frist, Goodlatte and Kyl decided it was necessary to try and reel in at least some forms of gambling, such as the easy online target and pushed through an anti online gambling bill via attaching it to a totally unrelated bill.

- Gambling is not condemned in the bible, nor is it condemned by the largest Christian sect in the world.

- Online gambling is currently regulated and operating successfully in Australia and the UK (which Bush, as you recall, named as America's closest ally when he launched the attack on Iraq ), but the United States refuses to hear how and why regulation can work.

Every few decades the United States public gets panicked by some demagogues who convince them that the country is going through hell in a hand basket and can only be cured by accepting the party's ideology. Consequently the country loses its direction and no one seems to know what is real and what is not. But in the end, the U.S. always seems to come to its senses and decides it will not be ruled by an authoritarian. Bush's presidency will end in 2008 and there are many Republican candidates who do not share his puritan ideals that are ready to take the helm. The country will once again get back to rule by what is best for the majority of the American public, not what religious activists command. You can bet on that.

Hartley Henderson

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