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Quakerism and Poker

What would happen if Mrs. Bush became a peace-nik while George sent more and more $$ to Halliburton?  Or Mrs. Bill Gates started doing commercials for the Mac?  Well, my husband, who posts here, has become nearly addicted to online poker this spring, while I have become more involved in The Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, finally joining last month.  Let me share why this is ironic.

The Quaker religion, started in England by George Fox in the 1600’s, came to America as part of the wave looking for religious freedom.  Common beliefs of Quakers include that God is in every person, that God is actively available to guide your life, and a commitment to peace and simplicity.

What Quakers don’t do is gamble.  100% honesty in communication between people and in business transactions is the goal for Friends.  In early America, Quaker businesses were known as stores where every person got the same price for goods – no haggling, or charging more to someone who could afford it – famous for the fact that people could even send their kids, who would be sent home bearing correct change.  No lying, no deceit, no trying to get the better of anyone else.

An intrinsic part of poker is deception.  And the whole idea of gambling – lotteries, raffles – is to get something “for nothing.”  A $1 ticket for the chance to win a car or $100 million is thought to be an unfair exchange.

As well, gambling is thought to take focus away from the spiritual life.  Quakers believe that simplicity in life activities, possessions, etc., gives a person time for a spiritual life.

Do you meditate or pray or help the less fortunate for as many hours as you play poker??

Please don’t read that question as judgmental!!  Read it as what Quakers call a query – an invitation to consider an issue.

11 thoughts on “Quakerism and Poker

  1. Do Quaker’s think that all games with hidden information are deceptive?

    Like Clue or rummy for example.

  2. Cowboy asks if Quakers think all games with hidden information are deceptive. I’d answer ‘no’. Also, I don’t think that hidden info is the problematic part, but the being deceptive. Think of charades, to use a non-card game as an example. The goal of charades is to work together with your team to solve something, even thought initially there is hidden info.

    The combo of being deceptive while trying to separate your opponents from their $$ is one of the primary problems.

  3. I don’t think deception is the problem either. In basketball and football, players fake going one way before going the other. These are not morally problematic actions.

    I think the second to last paragraph makes an important statement phrased as a question. Poker is a diversion. It’s not unlike chess or crossword puzzles or some other game of intellect. There’s nothing wrong with that but it must be balanced with the rest of your life. Given the addictive nature of the game, that is not always easy and explains the religious prohibitions placed upon it and other gambling.

  4. I like the example QuietStorm gives above – you fake, or deceive, in basketball, and that’s not a moral problem. Perhaps it’s gambling, specifically for money, that raises the problem, (even if you don’t become addicted.)

    Would you play online poker for free??

  5. Would you play online poker for free??

    I would not.

    I still suspect that addictiveness explains the aversion to poker by the Quakers and some other religions.

  6. I’m not convinced that addictiveness is the whole issue here. Lots of things can become addictive.

    Even Aristotle’s moral philosophy took note of how most things can be done in excess, and that excess can become habituated.

    I’d argue that my father watching sports every evening and becoming grumpy if he misses a game is a sign of addictiveness. I’d also be willing to bet that sports addiction is just as pervasive as poker addiction.

    But watching sports is a passive activity whereas playing poker is an active activity. Playing poker might habituate an individual into certain deceptive mindsets that could carry over into real life.

    So the real question right now surrounds the main moral dispute with Poker;

    1. Addictiveness
    2. Deceptiveness
    3. Wagering commodities
    4. Some emergent combination

    My bet is that moral concern is primarily rooted in simple, commmon sense empirical observation: certain activites result in higher than normal destructive behaviors in their participants, for whatever reason.

  7. Check out the “Pssst….Wanna Buy Some Poker Chips???” post to see if YOU’RE heading down the addiction path…

  8. I’m a quaker, have been for years, and have no problem with poker. Everyone playing poker knows that deception is either part of the game, or all of the game depending on how you’re looking at it. Nobody’s being deceived here, it’s just part of the game.

  9. Dave, thanks for commenting as another Quaker. What is your view about the issue of gambling, as Quakers see it?

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