Bishop's Message

A root of evil

Aug 2004    

Church against setting up of casino

CASINO operators are trying to set up shop in Singapore. What should be our response as Christians? Is there anything in the teaching of the Church that can guide us in our response?

The Book of Discipline of The Methodist Church in Singapore has a chapter on our Social Principles. Under the section on “The Stewardship of Wealth” is a statement on gambling:

a) Gambling is an expression of one’s desire to instant wealth. It is a form of bondage and a social sickness motivated by greed and covetousness. It is also a menace to society as it compromises the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life of the community.

b) We do not subscribe to any form of gambling.

The Church is against any form of gambling for two reasons. Firstly, it is a spiritual sickness. Gambling creates greed in the gambler, the kind of greed that is identified by the apostle Paul

in Col. 3:5 as a form of idolatry. Gambling is often motivated by an excessive and irrational greed that becomes an uncontrollable psychological and spiritual force within. Hence the Bible calls such greed “idolatry”, and our Church calls it a “form of bondage”.

The way this works is well described by Paul in his first letter to pastor Timothy. “People who want to get rich fall into tempta-tion and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
(1 Tim. 6:9-10).

Notice the details. The basic problem is greed or love of money.

DON’T GAMBLE WITH LIFE

A SPIRITUAL SICKNESS
‘Gambling is a spiritual sickness. It creates greed in the gambler, the kind of greed that is identified by the apostle Paul in Col. 3:5 as a form of idolatry. Gambling is often motivated by an excessive and irrational greed that becomes an uncontrollable psychological and spiritual force within.’

A SOCIAL SICKNESS
‘ Gambling is also a social sickness. It not only brings ruin to the gambler but it can also destroy his family and society. Those trapped in gambling behaviour can throw all caution to the winds, and destroy all the important things in life to feed their insatiable appetite. Their families can experience untold suffering as they get into serious debts, leading to domestic woes and violence.’

A GRAVE DANGER
‘ Large-scale gambling will also affect the health of society. Values such as diligence at work, temperance, honesty and contentment will be eroded. The recent case of a director of a company who is in jail for embezzling huge sums of money to finance his gambling activities should warn us of this danger … A gambling society cannot prosper in the long term, or even in the short term. Widespread gambling behaviour would result in all kinds of social pathologies and evil.’

It begins with a desire to get rich, and in the case of gambling, a desire for instant and big wealth. People with such desires and motives easily fall into temptation. The more easily gambling is available, the stronger the temptation.

Those who give in to the temptation, then, will find themselves in a trap, though they may not acknowledge it. They get trapped in an addictive behaviour that even-tually robs them of life.

In the first place, they will behave fool-ishly. They will throw away common sense and rationalise their behaviour by saying all kinds of foolish things to themselves. “The next one will be a win.” “I know when to stop.” “It is only for fun.”… Besides being foolish, their behaviour will also be harmful. It will hurt them and their loved ones (more on this later).

Such irrational and addictive behaviour in gambling would result in ruin and destruction. It will literally be a “fall” from dignity, well-being, and responsible living.

The description of this process should act as a warning, the way smokers are greeted with increasingly graphic messages that warn of the dangers of smoking; cigarette packets carry such messages. Should not the same thing be done for gambling and for casinos?

(In fact, as it turns out, the very word “casinos” has the word sin in its centre.) Christians are not exempt
from such temptations and destructive processes.

Paul sadly mentions some Christians, who because of such greed, had left the faith and plunged their lives into pathetic ruin. In our own times, we probably know of some miserable person like that. We remain warned about this spiritual sickness.

Secondly, gambling is also a social sickness. It not only brings ruin to the gambler but it can also destroy his family and society. Those trapped in gambling behaviour can throw all caution to the winds, and destroy all the important things in life to feed their insatiable appetite. Their families can experience untold suffering as they get into serious debts, leading to domestic woes and violence.

The recent case in Singapore of a once happy family ending in a tragedy because of the husband’s gambling habits is a fresh reminder to us of this fact. The relation-ship between the man and his wife worsened because of his rising debts, leading to quarrels and domestic violence. He finally killed his wife at her workplace.

Large-scale gambling will also affect the health of society. Values such as diligence at work, temperance, honesty and contentment will be eroded. The recent case of a manager of a company who is in jail for embezzling huge sums of money to finance his gambling activities should warn us of this danger.

What if more people behave similarly? Wealth and education do not provide natural immunity against gambling behaviour. Perhaps, the larger the sums of money involved, the greater the irrationality and bondage. Hence the idea of restricting casinos to only the wealthy will not prevent tragedies.

A gambling society cannot prosper in the long term, or even in the short term. Widespread gambling behaviour would result in all kinds of social pathologies and evil. We are glad that till now, good sense has prevailed in keeping casinos out of Singapore. However, with casino operators wriggling their way in, we must hope that the long-term views based on good principles that have guided our society will continue to be cherished and utilised.

It may be argued that allowing a casino to operate would not cause such harm to our society, or that the majority of our citizens can be shielded from its ill-effects.

However, the opening of a casino will send strong signals to Singaporeans and others about the kind of society we are becoming. The Government is still seen in a parental role. What it allows or disallows sends strong signals. The values that policy decisions convey would be emulated by the community. That is the unique responsibility and burden the Government carries.

Moreover, many casinos have crimi-nal elements muscling into their operations. A casino in Singapore would have great difficulty avoiding this phenomenon. And this would have serious consequences for our tightly knit and densely populated island nation. The social illness would be great indeed.

Gambling is, therefore, both a spiritual and a social illness. Casinos promote gambling behaviour in a big way, and there-fore must not be allowed to take root in our small nation.

We may not be able to eradicate harmful and irrational gambling behaviour altogether but we must do all we can to minimise it – for our own good. Our social well-being and future are too precious to put them at risk by allowing casinos to take root in our soil. We should not gamble them away.

REACH OUT

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