I first went to a casino when I was visiting Detroit on a speaking engagement. A guy named Bob was my host. He said, “Where do you want to go for lunch Father?”
So Bob took me to the casino. On the way over I said, “Bob. I have a confession to make.”
“I’m a casino virgin.”
“I’ve never been to a casino before.”
“You’re kiddin me.”
So I told Catholic Bob about my evangelical upbringing and how we didn’t go to movies, smoke, drink or even play cards. We sure didn’t go to casinos.”
So we went to the casino and had lunch and Bob taught me how to play craps.
I’ve thought a lot about casinos and gambling since then, and it seems to me on the one hand, gambling is just a bit of fun. It’s a game and the money involved adds some risk and adventure to the game.
But all of us know that for a huge number of people it’s much more than a game. It’s an addiction and I reckon it’s also a false religion.
Think about it. If you believe in a loving God who watches over the world and who guides and directs your life if you walk in his ways, then this is your world view. There is a plan and there is a planner. There is a design and a purpose. Your task is to find that design and find your place within it, and there you will find peace. To live that way requires faith. It is not easy, but it is possible.
If, however, you do not believe in an all loving, all powerful God who directs the universe and directs you, then what do you have? You have a random universe governed only by natural forces. You are a cog in a machine or an animal in the jungle. This is the “ism” called fatalism.
You are subject to fate. Karma. The great wheel that turns and you will be either crushed by it or lifted up by it.
But of course, human beings aren’t wired like that. We instinctively believe in a greater force behind it all. We instinctively rebel against the idea that we are no more than a bundle of chemical reactions at the mercy of natural forces. Without divine providence we are left to mercy of the brute forces of nature…but we don’t like that.
“There must be more” we tell ourselves. So we devise a goddess for ourselves. She is called Lady Luck. Luck is that extra dimension to the fatalistic world of natural forces and random chance. Lady Luck is that mysterious power that can grant us our desires. Like a fairy godmother or a fearsome witch she smiles on some and curses others.
This is the worldview of the ancient pagans. The gods are mercurial and unpredictable. They may bless you or curse you. Who can say? So the pagans offered them sacrifices. If the gods–the personification of the natural forces– could be appeased they might just bless you with good crops, a fertile wife, prosperity, peace and protection.
I was not surprised to learn, therefore, that in Roman times gambling was everywhere. The Romans would gamble on anything. Without providence, chance. Without Our Lady–Lady Luck.
A grim symbol os this contrast is the image of the Roman soldiers gambling for Our Lord’s seamless garment. The garment was a symbol of his humanity-he was clothed in our flesh. They grab at it and gamble for it with the throw of dice.
It’s God or Gambling and it is no surprise therefore in our own decadent society to see the proliferation of gambling. Instead of relying on God’s providence….a throw of the dice, a flip of the cards, the whirr of the slot machine, and the spin of the wheel of fortune.
As true religion withers false religion thrives, and one of the false religions thriving in America today is the religion of fatalism and it’s manifestation is gambling. Casinos are the new cathedrals. Croupiers the clergy. Mafia mobsters the hierarchy and the rubes at the tables the faithful devotees. There they worship their gods: The Almighty Dollar, Chancey his Son and Lady Luck the blessed mother.
But just like the pagan gods of old, beneath the glamor and the glitz, beneath the ritual and the razzmatazz, these are cruel and heartless gods. They will demand everything and give nothing. They will suck you dry and leave you high and dry. They are merciless and mighty and all who serve them should tremble.
The Christian, on the other hand, walks by faith, not by sight. He does not know what the future holds, but he knows who holds it. In simple trust he steps out and follows the Master on the adventure of faith. This is not the throw of the dice, but throwing oneself on the Divine Mercy, and it is there that all the benefits will be found: prosperity, plenitude, power and peace at the last.