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Overcoming an Attachment to Gambling

One of my readers asked me to write an article on The Courage to Stop Gambling.  He worried that we’ve become obsessed with winning raffles and lotteries; playing games of chance; casinos and online gambling has become a big part of our consumer-driven, materialistic society. Entertainment is so embedded in our psyche that life without it seems dull or boring.

Another reader wrote:

I know it is forbidden and that The Universal House of Justice has decided that for the present time it is the responsibility of each individual to decide for themselves what constitutes gambling.

I was wondering four things:

1) What do the Baha’i writings say should be the legal consequence?

2) According to the Baha’i writings why is it forbidden?

3) Does the Baha’i Faith say anything positive about gambling?*

4) To the best of our knowledge, did Bahá’u’lláh permit any forms of gambling?

So I thought it was time to turn to the Baha’i Writings to see if I could find some answers.

Some shocking statistics to consider:

  • about 80 percent of North American adults gamble on a yearly basis
  • approximately 6 million American adults are addicted to gambling
  • an estimated 50 percent of those affected by gambling problems commit crimes in order to support their addiction (primarily by writing bad cheques or embezzling money from their employers)
  • youth between the ages of 20-30 have the highest rates of problem gambling.
  • gambling addictions are about a prevalent as those who abuse cocaine or amphetamines.
  • families of problem gamblers are more likely to experience child abuse or other forms of domestic violence.
  • early onset of problem gambling increases the lifetime risk of suicide
  • the most common gaming activities among Canadian adults are lotteries and instant-win tickets

The DSM-5 has re-classified the condition as an addictive disorder, despite the fact that  pathological gambling has long been considered by the American Psychiatric Association to be an impulse control disorder rather than an addiction.

I think it’s no surprise that gambling is prohibited.  It’s interesting to me that it’s combined with the use of opium, in light of the comments above.

Gambling and the use of opium have been forbidden unto you.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 75)

What is prohibited?

In response to questions about whether lotteries, betting on such things as horse races and football games, bingo, and the like, are included under the prohibition of gambling.  (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 238-239)

Are all games prohibited?

Asked whether the Bahá’í prohibition of gambling applies to game of every description, ‘Abdu’l-Baha replied: —No, some games are innocent, and if pursued for pastime there is no harm. But there is danger that pastime may degenerate into waste of time. Waste of time is not acceptable in the Cause of God. But recreation which may improve the bodily powers, as exercise, is desirable.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 103)

Is anything NOT prohibited?

As far as individuals are concerned, we have carefully studied the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi on this point and it is apparent that such subsidiary matters are not recorded in the Holy Texts. The Universal House of Justice is not prepared to decide at this time whether the purchase of lottery tickets should be permitted or prohibited.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

When and how is it enforced?

The Universal House of Justice has indicated that this is a matter that will be considered in detail in the future. In the meantime, the Assemblies and individuals are counselled not to make an issue of these matters and to leave it to the conscience of the individual believers.  (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 238-239)

Raising Money for the Funds

The House of Justice has ruled that it is not appropriate for funds for the Faith to be raised through lotteries, raffles, and games of chance.  (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 238-239)

As to participation in Bingo games by a Local Spiritual Assembly with the intention of contributing to the Fund, we do not feel it is appropriate for funds for the Faith to be raised through games of chance or raffles.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

In reviewing your Minutes for 15 March 1967, we note Item 25-8 in which the Treasurer suggests a lottery as means of disposing of a Persian carpet which has been given to you by one of the believers. We do not feel this is an appropriate way in which to raise funds.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

Reasons for the Injunction

Betting on horse racing is a pernicious disease. It hath been seen in Europe what distress this hath caused. Thousands have become afflicted and distraught. The friends of God must engage in work which is lawful and attracted blessings, so that God’s aid and bounty may always surround them.’ (Translated from the Persian) (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

The trials of man are of two kinds. (a) The consequences of his own actions. If a man eats too much, he ruins his digestion; if he takes poison he becomes ill or dies. If a person gambles he will lose his money; if he drinks too much he will lose his equilibrium. All these sufferings are caused by the man himself, it is quite clear therefore that certain sorrows are the result of our own deeds. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 49)

The world’s wealth is, by contrast, the stuff of illusion. Those who lust after it are the followers of evil and, erelong, they shall be plunged into confusion and despair.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 343)

The problem seems to be our materialistic world, where we’re taught to want more and more “things” and even to see consumption as normal.

Baha’u’llah has a different thought about wealth.  In the Hidden Words He states:

Thou dost wish for gold and I desire thy freedom from it. Thou thinkest thyself rich in its possession, and I recognize thy wealth in thy sanctity therefrom. By My life! This is My knowledge, and that is thy fancy; how can My way accord with thine?  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 56)

The problem with this is that it causes us to turn away from God:

All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

When we gamble, we put all our affairs in someone else’s hands.  Since our entire purpose in life is to “know and worship God”, every time we fail to turn to God for our needs, we fail to achieve our purpose.

In God’s eyes, our wealth lies in our love for Him:

The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 156)

Everything we want from life – happiness, status, pleasure and peace can never be found in material wealth:

The happiness and greatness, the rank and station, the pleasure and peace, of an individual have never consisted in his personal wealth, but rather in his excellent character, his high resolve, the breadth of his learning, and his ability to solve difficult problems.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 23)

Many people see lotteries as a way to improve the lives of their families and friends, but in this new world order we’re creating, the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor.

Good God! is it possible that, seeing one of his fellow-creatures starving, destitute of everything, a man can rest and live comfortably in his luxurious mansion? He who meets another in the greatest misery, can he enjoy his fortune? That is why, in the religion of God, it is prescribed and established that wealthy men each year give over a certain part of their fortune for the maintenance of the poor and unfortunate. That is the foundation of the religion of God, and the most essential of the commandments.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 283-284)

And contributions made to the Right of God are used for charitable purposes:

Furthermore the Huquq will be used for charitable purposes.  (Compilations, Huququ’llah 62)

Many people look at quick-fix winning as some magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it comes with a high price.  If you’re unhappy, bad with money and surrounded by people you don’t trust, money will make those problems worse.  About 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, either to their own greed or the greed of those around them, all with their hands out looking to share the wealth.  Many declare bankruptcy, become divorced and even commit suicide.

Even this earth’s happiness does not depend upon wealth. You will find many of the wealthy exposed to dangers and troubled by difficulties, and in their last moments upon the bed of death there remains the regret that they must be separated from that to which their hearts are so attached. They come into this world naked, and they must go from it naked. All they possess they must leave behind and pass away solitary, alone. Often at the time of death their souls are filled with remorse; and worst of all, their hope in the mercy of God is less than ours.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

God wants us to achieve our wealth through making efforts in our crafts and professions:

Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 437)

The legitimacy of wealth depends, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has indicated, on how it is acquired and on how it is expended. In this connection, He has stated that “wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, crafts and industry”.  (Universal House of Justice message to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith, 1 April 2010)

The members of the younger generation would do well to ponder the above statement
of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in which He conditions the acquisition of wealth on diligent work and the grace of God. Let them weigh carefully in their hearts and minds the difference between gaining wealth through earnest effort in fields such as agriculture, commerce, the arts, and industry, on the one hand, and, on the other, obtaining it without exertion or through dishonourable means. Let them consider the consequences of each for the spiritual development of the individual, as well as the progress of society, and ask themselves what possibilities exist for generating income and acquiring wealth that will draw down confirmations from on high. It will surely become evident, as they do so, that what will attract God’s blessings and ensure true happiness both in this world and in the next is the development of spiritual qualities, such as honesty, trustworthiness, generosity, justice, and consideration for others, and the recognition that material means are to be expended for the betterment of the world.
(Universal House of Justice, [Authorized Translation from Persian], 2 April 2010, to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith)

In 2006, Americans lost nearly $91 billion on all forms of gambling combined.  According to some economists, the total cost per year to end extreme poverty worldwide in 20 years, would be about $175 billion.  So if everyone just stopped gambling and applied that money to eliminating poverty, we’d be half way there!

So what does all of this have to do with overcoming an attachment to gambling?

To stop, we must provide education and training, (which I hope to have done above).

If a soul be ailing and infirm, we must produce remedies; if ignorant, we must provide education; if defective, we must train and perfect that which is lacking; if immature and undeveloped, we must supply the means of attainment to maturity.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 315)

For remedies, many countries have now got helplines available to help people stop.  Some of them are listed here

Online programs are available through Gambling Therapy

12 Step programs are often successful and “approved”:

A variety of self-help groups, in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, may be available in different areas and, as long as they are reasonably in keeping with the principles of the Faith, believers should feel free to use them as needed. One such organization is the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addiction and Abuse (BNASAA), sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada. The BNASAA website is www.bnasaa.org (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 6)

In regard to your question about the fifth step in the “A.A. 12-Step Programme”, we have been asked to share with you the following extract from a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice on 26 August 1986 to an individual believer: …there is no objection to Bahá’í being members of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is an association that does a great deal of good in assisting alcoholics to overcome their lamentable condition. The sharing of experience which the members undertake does not conflict with the Bahá’í prohibition on the confession of sins; it is more in the nature of the therapeutic relationship between a patient and a psychiatrist.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Feb 7, Issues concerning community functioning)

The Bahá’í community should feel free to call upon such agencies as Alcoholics Anonymous for assistance and upon public agencies who work with the problem, but must realize that the greatest healing of this social and individual disease is God’s Cause which in its fullness will eliminate the causes of alcoholism.  (Universal House of Justice, dated August 8, 1979, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

For more on this topic:

Gambling: To Wager or to Work

Baha’i Law on Gambling

Dealing with Addictions

What has been your experience with gambling and how has this helped you understand the issues?  Post your comments below.

Spiritual Causes of Disease

This is part four of an eleven part series on the Baha’i Perspective on Disease.   In Part 1,  we looked at how I got interested in this topic and looked at some quotes on prevention of disease.  In Part 2, we looked at the reasons for disease.  In Part 3, we looked at the physical cause of diseas, and in this part we look at the spiritual causes of disease.

God’s will:

For these thy prevailing diseases are not on account of sins, but they are to make thee detest this world and know that there is no rest and composure in this temporal life.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 185)

Whatever hath befallen you, hath been for the sake of God. This is the truth, and in this there is no doubt. You should, therefore, leave all your affairs in His Hands, place your trust in Him, and rely upon Him. He will assuredly not forsake you. In this, likewise, there is no doubt.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)

There have been many men who have died at last of the very disease of which they have made a special study. Aristotle, for instance, who made a special study of the digestion, died of a gastronomic malady. Aviseu was a specialist of the heart, but he died of heart disease.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 19)

Human Condition:

Suffering, of one kind or another, seems to be the portion of man in this world . . . poverty, disease, bereavement – they seem to be part of the polish God employs to make us finer, and enable us to reflect more of His attributes!  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 603)

See how dark and narrow is the physical world of man’s body, and what a prey it is to diseases and ills.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 192)

Think how narrow and dark is the material world of man, how afflicted with disease and maladies; but how bright and spacious is his Spiritual World!  (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 459)

Disobedience to God:

According to the teaching of the Prophets, disease and all other forms of calamity are due to disobedience to the Divine Commands.      (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 95)

We live in a world, however, where from time immemorial obedience to the commands of the Prophets has been the exception rather than the rule; where love of self has been a more prevalent motive than love of God; where limited and party interests have taken precedence of the interests of humanity as a whole; where material possessions and sensual pleasures have been preferred to the social and spiritual welfare of mankind. Hence have arisen fierce competition and conflict, oppression and tyranny, extremes of wealth and poverty — all those conditions which breed disease, mental and physical. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 105)

Turning away from God:

Know thou verily the Divine Food is descending from heaven, but only those taste thereof who are directed to the light of guidance, and only those can enjoy it who are endowed with a sound taste. Otherwise every diseased soul disliketh the delicious and merciful food and this is because of the sickness which hath seized him, whereby the El-Zekkum is sweet (to his taste) while he fleeth from the ripe fruit of the Tree of the Living and Pre-existent God — and there is no wonder in that.  (El-Zekkum — a thorny tree so called, which bears fruit like an almond, but extremely bitter. Therefore the tree symbolizes a very severe punishment and bitter remorse for the unbelievers).  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 130)

Generational “Sins of the Father”:

If a man does a great injustice to another in his life, then, after his death, his son will be despised for having had such a father and in some cases the injury might be so serious that the effect would reach to the grandson, etc., or a man may, by wrong living, fall into consumption and give that disease to his children unto the third or fourth generation.  “Both physically and mentally the sins of the fathers may be visited upon the children.”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Daily Lessons Received at ‘Akká 1979 ed., pp. 45-46)

Sin:

It is certainly the case that sins are a potent cause of physical ailments. If humankind were free from the defilements of sin and waywardness, and lived according to a natural, inborn equilibrium, without following wherever their passions led, it is undeniable that diseases would no longer take the ascendant, nor diversify with such intensity.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 152)

Gambling:

Betting on horse racing is a pernicious disease. It hath been seen in Europe what distress this hath caused. Thousands have become afflicted and distraught  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

Fear, Anger, Worry and Sorrow:

Sometimes if the nervous system is paralyzed through fear, a spiritual remedy is necessary . . . It often happens that sorrow makes one ill, this can be cured by spiritual means.      (Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 65)

Fear, anger, worry, et cetera, are very prejudicial to health  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 107)

Before she became a Bahá’í she had been a Christian Scientist, and now she brought up the question of mental suggestion as a cure for physical disease. The Master replied that some illnesses, such as consumption and insanity, developed from spiritual causes — grief, for example — and that these could be healed by the spirit.     (Misc Baha’i, The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

Jealousy:

Jealousy is a gnawing disease, as testified by Bahá’u’lláh. It destroys the one who harbours it.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 55)

Lack of Love and Hatred:

The disease which afflicts the body politic is lack of love and absence of altruism. In the hearts of men no real love is found, and the condition is such that, unless their susceptibilities are quickened by some power so that unity, love and accord may develop within them, there can be no healing   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 171)

The disease of sectarian hatreds, if not decisively checked, threatens harrowing consequences that will leave few areas of the world unaffected.  (Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith)

Individualism:

No aspect of contemporary civilization is more directly challenged by Bahá’u’lláh’s conception of the future than is the prevailing cult of individualism, which has spread to most parts of the world. Nurtured by such cultural forces as political ideology, academic elitism, and a consumer economy, the “pursuit of happiness” has given rise to an aggressive and almost boundless sense of personal entitlement. The moral consequences have been corrosive for the individual and society alike – and devastating in terms of disease, drug addiction and other all-too- familiar blights of century’s end.  (Baha’i International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)

Disunity:

As long as the various members and parts of that organism are coordinated and cooperating in harmony, we have as a result the expression of life in its fullest degree. When these members lack coordination and harmony, we have the reverse, which in the human organism is disease, dissolution, death.     (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 98)

The primary disease that afflicts society and generates the ills that cripple it, he says, is the disunity of a human race . . . (Baha’i International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)

Few will disagree that the universal disease sapping the health of the body of humankind is that of disunity.  (Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith)

Disparity between rich and poor:

In much of the world, the gap between the “haves”and “have-nots”has widened and is accelerating with the persistent disparity in income levels. Social problems have not subsided. In fact, crime and disease are not just on the rise; they are also becoming endemic and more difficult to combat.      (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Oct, Turning Point For All Nations)

War:

War is disease and dissolution.  (Compilations, Baha’i World Faith, p. 232)

For more in this series:

Part 1: Intro to Disease

Part 2:  Reasons for Disease

Part 3:  Physical Causes of Disease

Part 4:  Spiritual Causes of Disease

Part 5:  Effects of Disease

Part 6:  Attitudes towards Disease

Part 7:  Spiritual Treatment for Disease

Part 8:  Physical Treatment for Disease

Part 9:  Why People Aren’t Getting Better

Part 10:  Advice to Doctors

Part 11:  Prayers for Health