Gambling, the Military, and Christian Ethics
Aaron Walsh had a bright and promising future. A Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army and a decorated Apache helicopter pilot, he had a lovely wife and two young children. When he joined the Army, however, he developed an addiction to gambling due to the presence of slot machines on overseas military posts. (The Department of Defense uses slot machine revenues to fund military recreation programs). In 2005, he went AWOL, only to be found sitting in front of a video slot machine on a military post in Seoul, South Korea. Unable to break his addiction, young Walsh lost his family and his career in the Army, and spent time homeless on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2006, he returned to Maine in hopes of reconnecting with his wife and children, but his gambling addiction only continued. Sadly, on September 26, 2006, at the age of 34, Walsh went to Baxter State Park and killed himself with a gunshot to the head (Griffin, 2007). “[T]he way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15, ASV).
American civilization has declined to such an extent that most citizens today would be surprised to learn that, from the very beginning of our nation until about 50 years ago, the majority of Americans viewed gambling as immoral. In fact, the Founding Fathers forthrightly addressed the issue of gambling. The Continental Congress passed a resolution on October 12, 1778, declaring their condemnation of gambling:
Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness: Resolved, That it be, and it is hereby earnestly recommended to the several states, to take the most effectual measures for the encouragement thereof, and for the suppressing theatrical entertainments, horse racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners (Journals…, 1823, 3:85, emp. added).
The laws of Connecticut included a prohibition against gambling:
Gaming is an amusement, the propensity of which is deeply implanted in human nature. Mankind in the most unpolished state of barbarism and in the most refined periods of luxury and dissipation, are attached to this practice with an unaccountable ardor and fondness. To describe the pernicious consequences of it, the ruin and desolation of private families, and the promotion of idleness and dissipation, belong to a treatise on ethics (as quoted in Swift, 1796, 2:351).
In a letter to Martha Jefferson in 1787, Thomas Jefferson commented on the degrading influence of gambling:
In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resources of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind (as quoted in Forman, 1900, p. 266).
In his proposal for a revision of the laws in his home state of Virginia, Jefferson offered the following “Bill to Prevent Gaming,” which restricted the holding of public office to non-gamblers:
Any person who shall bet or play for money, or other goods, or who shall bet on the hands or sides of those who play at any game in a tavern, racefield, or other place of public resort, shall be deemed an infamous gambler, and shall not be eligible to any office of trust or honor within this state (1950, 2:306).
Ironically, as Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military forces, George Washington frequently addressed the deleterious effect of gambling on the soldiers of the Continental Army he commanded. In General Orders issued on February 26, 1776, Washington admonished:
All officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers are positively forbid [sic] playing at cards, and other games of chance. At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of their God, and their Country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality (1931, 4:347, emp. added).
The majority view of America and its Founders from day one has been that gambling in its various forms is a vice that is destructive of the moral fabric of society—a view they gleaned from the Bible (see Miller and Butt, 2003). With uncanny anticipation, George Washington declared to his troops on May 8, 1777: “As few vices are attended with more pernicious consequences, in civil life; so there are none more fatal in a military one, than that of Gaming; which often brings disgrace and ruin upon officers, and injury and punishment upon the Soldiery” (8:28, emp. added). The death of Aaron Walsh is a tragic testimony to the truth of Washington’s declaration. If the military’s morality protocol from the beginning of our nation was still in effect, Aaron Walsh likely still would be alive, and his family would still have a father and husband. Even more tragically, if the Continental Congress was correct in its claim that “true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness,” then America is moving swiftly down a road that will result in “a general depravity of principles and manners” and the dissolution of “public liberty and happiness.”
Forman, S.E. (1900), The Life and Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Indianapolis, IN: Bowen-Merrill).
Griffin, Drew (2007), “Bill Would Ban Military Slot Machines,” CNN News, [On-line], URL: http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/15/military.gambling/index.html.
Jefferson, Thomas (1950), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Journals of the American Congress: From 1774 to 1788 (1823), (Washington, D.C.: Way and Gideon).
Miller, Dave and Kyle Butt (2003), “Christians, Gambling, and the Lottery,” [On-line], URL: https://apologeticspress.org/articles/2301.
Swift, Zephaniah (1796), A System of Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham, CT: John Byrne).
Washington, George (1931), The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office).
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