Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
Value system out of whack
Gov't emphasis on gambling erodes the fabric of society
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
One night some vandals broke into a department store. As a prank, the intruders changed the price tags and stickers on merchandise in every department. The situation was only discovered sometime well after the store opened the next morning when a clerk rang up a vacuum cleaner for $5.
A quick check showed that several items had been mis-tagged: candles for $100 each, leather luggage for $10 and so on. The store had to close for a full day to recheck all the merchandise and re-assign the correct prices.
Our value system, while we aren't looking, can get all out of whack. Every now and then, we need a "price check" - to close the shop for awhile and take a hard look at the values on which we actually live and centre our lives. Price checks are often followed by "price adjustments."
When the Calgary Interfaith Coalition issued its recent Statement on Gambling Issues in the Province of Alberta, it was basically calling for a price check. The coalition took a principled stand, asserting the priority of ethics over technology, the primacy of persons over machines and money, and the superiority of spirit over matter.
In the Scriptures, from the preaching of the prophets to John the Baptist and through Jesus to the first Apostles, there is a consistent call for conversion, to make an about face and take a new path.
People are never called to conversion in an historical vacuum. They turn to God in the midst of concrete historical events, dilemmas and choices. That turning is always deeply personal, but it is never private.
It is never an abstract or theoretical concern; conversion is always a practical issue. Any idea of conversion that is removed from the social and political realities of the day is simply not biblical.
As a matter of fact, the religious leaders name the idols. They don't just call for righteousness and justice in general; they were specific and named names: "It is you O King." They do not simply denounce and indict, but call the people to the Lord by restoring the collective memory of the people. Hence, the call: "Repent and believe, the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
The coalition leaders readily identify with this religious tradition, and so, without hesitation or apology, proclaim that they are troubled by the ever-expanding development of an elaborate system of gambling.
Gambling is not simply "gaming."
Given the exceptionally high levels of gambling activity in Alberta; the costs associated with VLT gambling revenues, including addictions, bankruptcies, increased crime, lost productivity and social services, the impact today and in the future on our quality of personal, familial and societal life in Alberta; and the growing dependency of governments and non-profit organizations on gambling revenues; we are witnessing a weakening of our sense of mutual responsibility and a decline in our spirit of solidarity - a crumbling of the cement that binds individuals into a society.
Gambling constitutes an unfair form of taxation in that it is regressive, unrelated to income and property, and drawn disproportionately from low-income people. The use of gambling revenues for government budgets represents an evasion of responsibility to budget for expenditures in an appropriate, responsible manner and to tax society fairly for the services it needs.
Our common life needs rescuing from expediency and the pursuit of self-interest. As a society we must not turn our backs on the vulnerable, the marginalized and the poor. The common good must be made to prevail, even against strong economic forces that would deny it.
Accordingly, it is not surprising that the coalition would call upon our premier and members of the Legislative Assembly to:
Remove all VLTs in view of the extraordinary support of the population for their removal, their addictive nature, and their devastating assault upon the quality of life in our community.
Erect legal "fences" to restrict proliferation and access to all gambling machines and venues.
Disentangle the real and or perceived role-conflict of interest wherein the government is simultaneously a promoter, profiteer and regulator of the gambling industry.
Develop preventive programs to deter addictions and develop/enhance treatment programs for gambling addicts and their families.
Will the coalition be deterred by critics who claim: "The people have spoken on VLTs" and "We've had the VLT vote, and we should now shelve the issue for 10 years"? Not likely, as they maintain that democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality.
Fundamentally, democracy is a "system" and as such is a means and not an end. Its "moral" value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law. A show of hands is not an adequate moral determinant, nor a force that ought to drive all public policy decisions.
In the words of Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech Republic, the coalition would remind our political leaders that: "(They are) also responsible for what we become. Those who find themselves in politics therefore bear a heightened responsibility for the moral state of society, and it is their responsibility to seek out the best in that society and to develop and strengthen it."
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