What Is the View of the Different Religions?
Let’s first clarify what sin is. According to the dictionary, it is a moral evil, a deliberative violation of the will of God. So, it’s not your standpoint regarding ethics and morality. It’s a set of rules existing in each religion that are considered mandatory. These rules are written in spiritual books that are transmitted through the ages. In all religions there are some common basic rules against killing, lying, greed etc., but what do religions think of gambling? According to our research, it seems that gambling tends to be disapproved of by religions that are monotheistic, or those believing that there is only one God, that rely on written sources believed to contain the word of God, that have developed a strict set of rules, and that are intolerant of deviations from the true faith. However, the relationship between gambling and religion is more complicated and we will discuss this further down in the article. Let’s explore first the attitude to gambling of the world’s five main religions starting with the largest one in terms of the number of adherents.
Gambling and Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion that is based on the teachings of Jesus and has its roots in Hellenistic Judaism and Jewish messianism of the 1st century A.D. Although the Bible says nothing about gambling, and Jesus has never spoken about gambling in his speeches, Christianity has always been critical of the games of chance. Early Church councils prohibited gambling and until the Reformation, the Church had an unfavourable view towards gambling considering it as sinful and reprehensible. The very nature of gambling as winning money at the expense of others was seen in contradiction with the Bible’s warning to ‘guard against every sort of greed’.
After the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church gradually adopted a more liberal attitude towards gambling, which continues today. Games of chance are not considered as sinful in themselves, but only when they become addictive and when ‘deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others’, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So, you can play for fun, but be warned not to play in excess! To sum up, the current stand of the Catholic Church is that there is no moral impediment to gambling as long as it is fair, all bettors have the same chance of winning, there is no fraud, and the parties involved don’t know the outcome of the bet. Also, the Catholic Church often uses mild forms of gambling such as lotteries and bingo to raise funds for charity.
With its emergence, the Protestantism opposed gambling stressing arguments related to the work ethic. Lutheran churches harshly condemned gambling until the 1950s, when many of them adopted a more permissive view on the games of chance. However, there are still many Lutherans who firmly oppose all forms of gambling, including raffles and bingo aimed at a charity.
The Orthodox Church has not changed much its attitude to gambling and still considers that it is the complete opposition to God’s love. According to the teachings of Jesus, people should love and respect each other and help each other in difficult situations, while gambling pushes people far from love and respect. The Orthodox Church says that gambling propagates greed for money and selfishness. Besides, gambling is risky as it often leads to addiction. Even gambling for fun is not acceptable. Fortunately, the Orthodox Church doesn’t blame the players.
Gambling and Islam
Islam is a religion with a strong emphasis on monotheism teaching that there is only one God, and that Prophet Muhammad is his messenger. It is the second-largest religion in the world with over 1.8 billion followers. At the same time, it is the youngest religion of the world’s major religions, which officially started in 610 A.D. when Prophet Muhammad received revelation from God which was later written in the Quran. Islam harshly condemns gambling. Games of chance are either entirely prohibited or very restricted. In Islam, there are two types of deeds, including the ‘haram’, which is sinful, and the ‘halal’, which is lawful. Gambling is seen as haram and is punished severely under Islamic law. Yet, Prophet Muhammad and his followers opposed all forms of gambling. On the other hand, Muhammad mentioned in the Sunan Abu Dawud that there were two acceptable forms of gambling.
‘Wagers are allowed only for racing camels or horses, or shooting arrows.’ Muhammad
Muhammad was tolerant of these forms of gambling because they helped Muslim armies improve their strength.
Islam condemns gambling as it’s an easy way to take the money of somebody else, so it’s dishonourable to win money through gambling. To sum up, we can say that Islam is the less tolerable religion regarding gambling. Still, you can enjoy impeccable service in an online casino in Pakistan, so as we like to say, in ever wall there is a door after all.
Gambling and Hinduism
Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion which formally started sometime between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. in the Indus Valley, near nowadays Pakistan. Today, with some 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is unique as it’s not a single religion but a compilation of many religions and philosophies. As a result, its attitude towards games of chance is complicated. Ancient Hindu poems like the Gambler’s Lament and the Mahabharata show that online gambling among Indian players was popular. On the other hand, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft from 4th century B.C., the Arthashastra, recommends taxation and control of gambling. The Manusmriti, an ancient legal text that discusses Hinduism, lists gambling as one of the worse sins a person can commit.
‘Drinking, gambling, women (not lawfully wedded wives), and hunting, in that order, he should know to be the very worst four in the group of (vices) born of desire.’ the Manusmriti
The concept of sin in Hinduism is closely related to the idea of karma. This is the spiritual principle of cause and effect. Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and future sufferings. So, Hinduists believe that if you’re winning at a casino, it is the result of your good deeds either in this life or in the previous. And the contrary, if you lose, this may be the consequence of bad deeds. To summarise, gambling has long been practised in India, but religious authorities firmly condemn it, and most forms of gambling today are illegal in India.
Gambling and Buddhism
Buddhism is perhaps the religion that is most tolerant towards gambling. Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, founded Buddhism in ancient India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. At that time gambling was a widely accepted activity in his kingdom and the Buddha did not make a precept against it. The basic Five Precepts, which are commitments to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and support of intoxication, don’t disapprove of gambling. On the other hand, the Buddha, the Enlighted One, expressed disapproval of gambling:
‘There are these six dangers of being addicted to gambling. In winning, one begets hatred; in losing, one mourns the loss of one’s wealth; one’s word is not accepted in court; one is avoided by both friends and officials; one is not sought after for marriage because people say a gambler cannot support a wife.’ the Buddha
The Tripiṭaka, which contains the holy scriptures of Buddhism, divides gambling into three types – recreational, habitual and addictive. Recreational and even habitual gambling is acceptable in the Buddhist philosophy, while addictive gambling is the kind that must be avoided. Although Buddhism allows certain forms of gambling it is not tolerant of the use of it to raise money for religious organisations. In this Buddhism differs from Christianity and Judaism, which use mild forms of gambling such as bingo and lottery to raise funds for communities and churches.
Gambling and Judaism
Judaism is an ancient, monotheistic religion, with the Torah as its foundational text. The Old Testament was composed sometime between 1657 B.C. and 443 B.C. Ancient Jewish authorities disapproved of gambling, even prohibiting professional gamblers to testify in court. The Jewish religious authorities are known as Rabbis. They discussed moral and ethical issues which were collected in the Talmud. According to the Talmud, the Rabbis condemn gambling both as a risky activity and as entertainment that has the potential to become addictive, thus leading people to abandon their responsibilities. Furthermore, the Talmud considers that gambling is a sin because the loser did not expect to lose money, which means that his money was stolen. According to the Talmud, gambling doesn’t contribute value to the community.
On the other hand, Judaism isn’t totally prejudiced against gambling. During the Hanukah celebrations, Jews often play dreidel, a four-sided spinning top that is accompanied by small-stakes gambling. Furthermore, Jews raise money for synagogues with games of chance like raffles, similarly to Christians.
Religious Practices that Incorporate Gambling
So far, we’ve talked about the opposition between religion and gambling, and at the most about acceptance or tolerance, but let’s now discuss another kind of relationship between gambling and religion, that of concord. You cannot believe it, can you? We were surprised to find out that gambling has existed in harmony with some religions. These are polytheistic and animistic religions. The first ones are defined by the belief in multiple deities, while the second ones are defined by the belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Some researchers argue that gambling and religion have some aspects in common such as notions of the unknown, fate, mystery, and imagery that something of great value is suddenly received. This leads to the conclusion that because of the elements they have in common, gambling and religion go well together.
The Zuni Indians
According to some studies, there are many traditional non-Western societies where gamblers pray to the gods in order to gain success and the wins and losses are explained with the divine will. The Zuni Indians from southwestern North America worshipped eight gods of war, who were believed to be great gamblers and each of them was associated with a particular game. When the Zuni were wagering on some of these games, they prayed for success the respective god of war. Specific equipment used in the games was available at the altars of these gods.
We’ve found that in contemporary Taiwan, there is the worship of local deities represented by statues, which are considered to be involved in gambling. Lottery players ask these gods to reveal winning numbers of the next draw. Players give them offerings, such as ‘spirit money’, and interpret the lottery numbers through various divinatory methods, such as drawing bamboo lots and searching for figures in the ashes of incense offerings. It seems that praying to gods of gambling is an old Chinese practice, about which there are also reports from Chinese communities abroad.
In southern Italy, people believed in the past and somewhat today that some saints are able to help lotto players. In many places, San Panteleone has been regarded as the patron saint of lotto players to be invoked by special rites. The Madonna di Piedigrotta and the Madonna del Carmine were asked to reveal winning lotto numbers in Naples, while San Alessio, San Marco and San Giovanni Decollato were the saints asked for lottery numbers in Sicily. In southern Italy, the spirits of the dead in purgatory were asked to reveal winning lotto numbers. This belief was very widespread at least up to the 1950s, while in some places like Naples, it was still common until the end of the 20th century. The Church did not officially support the ideas that saints and the spirits of the dead could help people in lottery gambling.
North American Indians
There are studies about the North American Indians, who have a notion of a ‘gambling power’ or ‘gambling spirit’ that one could acquire or lose. This gambling power helped for success at gambling and was possessed by spiritually-elevated people. The power gained through arduous tests in the wilderness, where spiritual phenomena were encountered. So, gambling was not understood as a game of chance, rather than as games of magical skills. For the North American Indians, gambling was often part of rituals and ceremonies, a kind of pleasing to the gods, with the goal of securing fertility, causing rain, giving and prolonging life or curing illness.
In Greek mythology, the lordship of the sky, the underworld and the sea was decided by a dice game. As a result, Zeus became the lord of the sky, Hades the lord of the underworld, and Poseidon the lord of the sea. This imagery of this cosmic gambling can be interpreted as a way of reconciling the concept of the gods as powerful with the impression that the world to some extent is created randomly. The world is what it is as a result of the gods gambling at its creation. If you’re interested in learning more about the ancient gods of gambling around the world, you can read our blog post here.
As you see, the attitude to gambling of the various religions is different. Generally, the religions defined by the belief that there is only one God have always been severe towards gaming but to some extent, they have become more liberal with time. The spiritual books often don’t feature specific prohibition of gambling, but the churches’ disapproval is related to the nature of gambling that is seen as provoking greed and harm to the others. But let’s think on the statement that when one makes a stake, he or she deprives his neighbour of money. Can this be seen as stealing if all participants voluntarily bet their money?! If we play for fun, respect the rules of fair play and the others, spend our time with friends and families and socialise, perhaps we should not worry we’re sinning too badly.