I’ve been wondering for some time now about this whole gambling reform legislation. No, I haven’t been wondering if it’s a good idea – it is. We have massive problems in Australia with problem gambling. Figures that suggest that less than 1% of the population are genuine addicts miss that for every addict there is a damaged support system, there are damaged families. The only reason it seems the governments of Australia have dragged their feet is that they themselves are profiteers, with the steady increases in poker machine revenues meaning they don’t have to do anything unpleasant like increasing taxes to pay for essential services.
No what I’ve been wondering about is whether our worldview can handle it. Since it’s inception as a British colony Australia has been a nation of liberals. I don’t mean the party here, I mean that for over 200 years our society has been based on the idea that the greatest good is the freedom of the individual. The catch cries of the French Revolution which were then appropriated by the market economy mean that we believe that our own individual liberty is a moral absolute. When we see it being encroached on by others or our governments we baulk and use phrases like “nanny-state”. In this sense Australia has two “liberal” parties, they just focus on the liberty of different groups of people.
But every now and again evils pop up that our moral absolute has no way of fighting against. Addiction is one of the most obvious examples of this. Addiction involves someone compulsively causing harm to themselves and, in-turn, others around them. Liberalism has no workable solutions to this. Any attempts to curb an addict’s self-harming behaviour, while at the same time defending their liberty are doomed to failure. This is why the alternative voluntary pre-commitment legislation proposed by the clubs and the Coalition is so amusing. Truth be told, Labor is only really dealing with this problem because their hand has been forced by independent MP Andrew Wilkie. It’s because of the strange time in political history that we live in that this little anti-liberalism experiment gets a guernsey.
What are Christians to make of this? One of the best things about Christianity is that it invites us to see the world differently to modern liberalism. Christians, at their best, are meant to be the exact opposite of rank-individualists. Not communists, but communitarians. Because our God is Triune, a complex three-in-one, he is anything but concerned for his own liberty. God is wholly other-person-centred. When he made the world he made us as relational beings. From the moment we are conceived, we never know life separate from our connectedness with others. This isn’t something to forlornly accept, it’s something to celebrate. Knowing and being known by others is the thickest and most delectable aspect of what it is to be human. This is also why the brokenness we experience in all our relationships, with God and with other people, is such a tragedy. It’s why when we see others compulsively destroying their relationships it grieves us. We see something of them in ourselves as we compulsively, addictively rebel against God, the life giver. It’s why Jesus, being the wholly other-person-centred guy he is, forfeited his life to reconcile us to himself and renew us so that we don’t have to experience this brokenness forever.
When Christians reflect on this self-giving of their God, they can’t help but want to emulate it. It means we willingly burden ourselves with the brokenness of others, knowing that we are no better than they. We joyfully inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others. It means we ought not to complain if our taxes go up as a result of a smaller state government pokie income. It means we ought to write letters of support to Labor MPs in marginal seats where the clubs industry is running an insidious ad. campaign.
Can the liberal worldview support genuine gambling reform? Nup. But Christians can. As we value others higher than ourselves we can’t help but be supportive of plans to serve those trapped by addiction.