The Hansard recently reported an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the subject of planning and betting shops in Haringay, where there is concern at the proliferation of betting shops. Haringay apparently has 39 bookmakers but no bookshops! The suggestion is that the position has deteriorated since the Gambling Act 2005.
This is not a political blog, so I’ll make no comment on the pros/cons of the Gambling Act. But when it comes to the competition between books and bookies, I will say that a particular example of the former trumped the latter in my experience. I was healed of a gambling addiction in my twenties by reading a book and practising its ideas.
The book in question – Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” – packs a powerful metaphysical punch. However, in relieving me of my obsessive gambling habit its healing touch was as gentle as the appearing of dewdrops. The ideas in the book didn’t tell me I am a sinner and then shout at me to repent. It used the word “sin” in order to help me understand that I am actually a sinless child of God and then to tenderly persuade me that by adopting the implications of that in my lifestyle choices I would rediscover the deep satisfaction of experiencing what could be called man’s original (spiritual) innocence. And, in practice, it helped me to see that there are far more enjoyable things to do with my life than fritter away my available funds – things like loving God with all my heart and my neighbour as myself, which Jesus urged upon one and all as the best life model.
So was I a sinner for gambling? Well, sin has become a loaded word in this modern age, generally associated with the public promotion of a killjoy attitude. So let’s put it this way, I eventually realised I was letting myself (and others) down by accepting a very limited and vacillating sense of what constitutes joy. Through understanding Christian Science I gained a clearer sense of a God of consistently generous love for me (and all) whose warmth, affection, and care I couldn’t really make out too clearly through a haze of self-centred activity…such as gambling for the buzz of it and/or for the (vainly!) hoped-for profitability of it. Making a choice for self-indulgence turned out to be cutting off my nose to spite my face…to use an ungracious but appropriately evocative expression!
I haven’t missed gambling once since Christian Science healed me of the impulse to partake in it. And contrary to the common belief that an addiction is forever – even if you manage to “manage it” somehow – I have been totally free of it for over 20 years. I recently road-tested myself by going to a Casino and listening appreciatively to a musician to whom most others seemed oblivious as their attention was absorbed in zombiesque manner by the one-armed bandits at which they were staring. I didn’t feel the least bit tempted to join in the gambling, despite the fact that these kinds of fruit machines had previously held that same kind of spell-binding attraction to me. I did, however, wish I could somehow help free others there who might be as hooked on them as I had once been.
The word “sin” might well be out of fashion, but the challenge of being restricted by limiting character traits or by self-destructive choices can tempt us all. Many people want to know there is a way to be rid of such albatrosses around their necks…
So, yes, Christian Science cares deeply about the issue of “sin” because it cares deeply about people’s right to find a genuine freedom and happiness on an enduring spiritual basis of loving and serving God and one’s fellow men and women.
Sometimes, admittedly, it can take a short, sharp, shock or two to awaken us to cherish, claim and prove this original God-given freedom. But I have found it encouraging to conclude that Christianity is not so much a hammer with which to hit us over the head by persuading us we are miserable sinners. Its profounder ability to liberate us from unhelpful thoughts and poor choices is more like being a (powerful) pair of Tweezers with which we can usefully remove what is truly just a splinter, trying to cause great discomfort by wedging itself into a place where it just doesn’t belong. It does this by telling us, as Jesus told a woman “caught in the act” of cheating on a marriage partner, “Neither do I condemn you…” but”…go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11).
Here is a smashing video re-telling of the story that elicited this two-part guideline from Jesus.