Gods Playing Poker

by Clyde Lewis

"A gambler is nothing but a man who makes his living out of hope." –William Bolitho

While traveling to Los Angeles recently, I sought out some good reading material to pass the time during the long layovers. I wound up in San Francisco waiting for connecting flight to Hollywood. As I walked through the spacious San Francisco airport, I noticed a trend in both gifts and reading material.

In the gift shops there seemed to be an abundance of books on poker playing, and, next to them, displays of poker accessories available to buy as gifts. For a moment I thought that I was at the Las Vegas airport, because of all of the poker books and gifts that were available for sale.

On one screen in the video section of the gift shop, I saw The Passion of the Christ playing; on another, a poker tournament. In the lobby near my gate, the airport showed a special Larry King interview on CNN with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There was something odd about seeing a poker tournament on TV alongside the bleeding Christ. Watching a bunch of old smoking guys playing cards had replaced winter football and basketball games as a spectator sport.

The Passion of Christ, of course, was the movie promoted as the closest thing to the "real" experience of the crucifixion. Many people who lacked faith were suddenly born again after watching the counterfeit Christ suffering on the big screen. Arnold was the actor turned governor of California, another man of counterfeit, playacted power, masquerading as a quick fix to California's looming problem of corruption and eventual bankruptcy.

For the first time in a long time, I was disappointed in the choices of reading material. I settled for a copy of Mad Magazine whose theme was "Why the Bush Administration is like a Dr. Seuss Book." I read it on the plane to Burbank.

It appeared to me that, as usual, you could not escape religion or politics and now, not gambling either. The books on gambling and poker had replaced many of the other types of books that I am used to seeing at an airport gift shop.

It was surreal.

When my plane landed in Burbank, and I was waiting to be escorted to the Beverly Garland Hotel, there, right at the gate, was another reading stand and small gift shop. Near the register was a small book about poker and another about winning the slot machines.

The moment took another familiar turn when I perused the offerings further and found that Newsweek had a headline about "The Mysteries of the Bible." There was a scientific rag asking, "Was Darwin Wrong?" A political review pondered whether George W. Bush was "God’s President", and a rack of books offered "inspirational reading about the power of prayer and the divinity of Jesus Christ."

Religion and politics, and gambling were certainly hot topics for reading! They seemed to be the biggest sellers as well. I marveled at how all three topics seem to have the same underlying connection.

I already knew why religion is popular. Jesus is a great moneymaker. He always has been, and the cash cow never ceases to please. When you give your hard–earned money to the Lord Jesus Christ, you do so with the faith that, in return, Jesus will save you from the horrible fate of hell.

These days I think many people are wondering if their apathy and self–destructive behaviors are going to give them a ticket on the southbound train to Hades.

Since poker was the newest arrival to the canon, I decided that perhaps I should buy a book about it and find out what the excitement was all about.

According to the book, the new popularity of poker comes from the boost given the game by technology and television. 50 to 80 million Americans now play it, including celebrities like Ben Affleck.

The game is huge on college campuses, and in some cases it has replaced video games as a way for even high–school–aged kids to pass the time and make money.

Steve Lipscomb, the chief executive of World Poker Tour Enterprises Inc., is partly responsible for the televising of poker games. He makes a very ironic claim:

"Poker reveals the human condition as well or better than anything else you'll find. You get the greatest highs and the lowest lows. That's the juice." –– Steve Lipscomb

It may be the juice, but is it worth the squeeze?

Lipscomb is correct about how poker demonstrates the human condition. Like religion and politics, it is a risky endeavor where you have to have faith that somehow you can beat the odds when they are against you. Religion and politics are always a gamble for the long term, but poker is a bigger one, in which you can lose everything in one bad hand.

I read the book in the lobby as I waited for the Town Car to pick me up, and breezed right through it. It was only 150 pages and my connection was late. But in the end, I really didn’t care for the book much, so I decided to return it to the gift shop, which would buy its books back for half price. I got three dollars back and bought myself a nice banana strawberry smoothie.

Before we glamorize poker any more than it already has been, let us tell the truth about why the craze has taken off in the United States.

It has taken off because the economy is going down. As more and more people are becoming poorer, the poker craze is a result of shaky faith in quick fixes, in maximum gain for minimum effort: getting something for nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love playing poker but it is more fun when you play it in secret rather than participating in the country’s newest pastime. People see it as a way out of poverty, just as they Powerball, scratch–it tickets, or the lottery's video alternative to the classic card game.

The United States is now demonstrably on the road to bankruptcy.

Decades ago, if a person in the United States wanted to gamble, they had to go to Nevada. Now all but three states have legalized and promoted gambling.

The people who are spending their money gambling are the same people who can least afford to lose it. Television coverage of poker tournaments and state lottery drawings glamorize and encourage fad gambling. In essence, it exploits the fact that those who are in poverty situations will risk what they don’t have to get a piece of the "good life."

They call gambling the "poor tax" because the poor are usually the first to engage in it.

Poverty can show up in many forms.

Keep in mind that poverty is not necessarily the same as having a low income. While low take–home pay is the most immediate aspect of poverty, we can also look at other factors like inequality of access to full–time employment, affordable housing, good education or adequate health care.

A report published by the National Gambling Impact Commission reported that 5 million Americans are pathological or problem gamblers, and another 15 million are at risk. A second report, published by the National Research Council, a part of the National Academy of Science, reported that pathological gamblers are far more likely to commit crimes, run up large debts, damage relationships and kill themselves.

It looks as if the craze is here because people just can’t get enough money to satisfy their needs. Gambling, when abused and exploited as a "challenging" sport, is misleading. It only accentuates the inequality in society.

It all goes back to the "haves" and the "have–nots." No one wants to be a "have–not", and so with what little they do have –– and often some they don't have yet –– they attempt to become one of the "haves."

Once again, we are witnessing the culture–molding of a reckless society. We are seeing faith being placed in something that always ends up disappointing those who participate in it.

In the process of the "quick fix" stimulation, Americans become more and more like drug addicts who have surrendered to the reptilian mind. They end up succumbing to greed and indifference. Poker is a game in which duplicity and lying or "bluffing" is encouraged in order to win.

Isn’t it interesting to note that politics seems to be the only other place where these skills need to be honed and perfected in order to gain a seat in a place of power?

Perhaps this is why politics have become a spectator sport like poker. People in the last election seemed to have this idea that a "quick fix" would change the way we as a people are acting.

There is always a slim chance of a victory; perhaps the odds and the gods can tip it in your favor. However, the truth is that politics never offers to you anything of value, yet people still believe it is truly beneficial to participate in them. There are all types of liars and thugs in poker rooms, and many liars and thugs holding political office.

As the old axiom goes, "politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

If it is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then what is the first?

While poker playing is not the greatest evil in the world, it is an indicator of how the country seems to be desperate to obtain relief from their troubles, a role usually filled by religion

I offer to you that religion is the first refuge of a scoundrel. Because a scoundrel knows that he is unworthy, he either changes his ways and finds God, or, more than likely, continues in his rogue habits while professing to be a prayerful and caring human being.

Combine politics and religion, and the fix is in.

Many people found their faith shattered when the election became like a poker game where all was being anted up and there were no winnings because the house held all of the cards.

Many have been under the mistaken assumption that political figures who lean on religion are above suspicion. It is assumed that these men are acting on a passionate belief in a creator, that a deity of some sort inspires their actions.

Throughout history we have seen that most fascist orders manifest themselves through some superficial adherence to religious tenets. It is within this refuge that crimes can be committed with the hope that religious persons or officials will win out on the side of the people's compassion and forgiveness.

This is what makes religion so vulnerable today. It has become a huge "gamble" and it a means of leverage for the Christian right. It is unfortunate that most so–called Christians are unaware that these powerful leaders and career political evangelists are violating the very commandment that was engraved on tablets and given to Moses in the book of Exodus.

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain."

Taking God’s name and using it to endorse acts of murder and criminal misconduct literally makes God a co–signer to the act. A blood covenant made by the leader of an army declared as divine is an abomination.

In Moses’ time George W. Bush would have been stoned to death.

However, there is now a dangerous implication that anyone who opposes the actions of George W. Bush is literally opposing the will of God. This is why what is happening here is a grievous sin. If God is not to be mocked, then the future of Christianity, as it is practiced amongst the militant networks of evangelical power grabbers, is going to be met with doom and great wrath.

Religion, like politics and gambling, provides a safe haven for duplicity, lying, and physical bankruptcy. Many powerful, covetous, and superficially religious people are taking advantage of those who sincerely believe that they are doing what God wants. They are taking advantage of people who are developing a needy faith that they can fix horrible messes in their lives by surrendering their common sense.

I believe that it is now time to reveal that the acts of the political religious right are nothing more than apostasy.

You may step back and decide that apostasy is a harsh term to use. But it seems to me that it took no effort on the part of our political leaders and their militant Christian supporters to use the God endorsement to render a population submissive and cowardly ambivalent to mass murder and divisive behavior.

It is remarkable to witness how the use of God and the superficial behaviors of the power elite can create self–destructive apathy towards pain and suffering of human beings.

This is a classic work, with a deceiver as its composer. It is a scheme that is so perfect that even the elect can fall for it and support it because it pays to do so.

The fabled Beast, the false prophet of the Apocalypse, has taken on form. Its spirit continues to invade those who decide that it is right to follow because of their guilt and fear.

In the wake of fear, it is easy to become convinced that those who were once friends can be enemies, but that enemies of the past can be trusted because they have now become a part of the clan that is bluffing that it has the best hand at the table.

In the end, when the chips are down and the cards are thrown, we have to admit to ourselves that we have placed faith in three things that are unseen and that never materialize when you want them to.

Religion, politics and gambling are all connected by faith.

As the powerful continue to twist the meaning of everything, you have to pay close attention to what you are investing your time, money and spirituality into.

It is vital to understand that those things that we have counted on in the past are no longer reliable and that we run more risk today because we have allowed for divisiveness and corruption to sneak in and thwart the game of life.

If it continues to be ignored and denial continues to keep its grip on the majority, hope will be lost. And when you lose hope, there is nothing more to lose.

In a world where everything has turned upside down, one thing seems to be your best bet. When you put your faith and hope as a wager in a gamble with religion, political elections or poker, you always end up getting nothing for something.