Sin and money: In the Deep South, why one state seems more willing to embrace gambling

Sin and money: In the Deep South, why one state seems more willing to embrace gambling

In my time with The Associated Press in Nashville, Tenn., I spent months covering the 2002 battle over a proposed state lottery.

Before Tennessee voters went to the polls that November, I wrote a story explaining why religious opponents had avoided portraying the referendum as a "moral issue."

From that story, which ran on the national political wire:

“To win, we could not make it a preacher issue,” said the Rev. Paul Durham, a Southern Baptist pastor and treasurer for the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance. “We had to make it a truth issue.”

The campaign’s lack of Bible thumping reflects political and theological realities in the battle over lifting a constitutional ban on a lottery. Polls have consistently shown most Tennesseans – those in the pews and otherwise – see no inherent evil in the concept of a lottery.

“Since 47 states have gambling, I would have to think God’s not really against it,” said state Sen. Steve Cohen, a Democrat and the state’s chief lottery proponent.

As it turned out, the lottery proposal passed easily — winning support from 58 percent of the nearly 1.6 million Tennesseans who voted.

I was reminded of the Volunteer State's experience when I read a New York Times piece Sunday making the case that "Alabama's Longtime Hostility to Gambling Shows Signs of Fading." Among those pushing for a lottery vote: both major-party gubernatorial candidates nominated last week.

The Times' lede:

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High Country News ruminates on god, spirituality, wolves, bison and wild morality

High Country News ruminates on god, spirituality, wolves, bison and wild morality

I first heard of High Country News this past year from the copies stacked in the conference room of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks journalism department, which is where I taught this past year. 

For starters I was delighted to find a publication that covered the Rocky Mountain West, in any way, shape or form. It’s based in western Colorado (Paonia, to be exact) and covers environmental, land use and public lands issues.

So I was interested in a recent piece on HCN’s site that is an author interview: “Can studying morality help Yellowstone’s wolves and bison?” There’s a photo of a wolf with the caption: "Majestic spiritual icon, or religious abomination? Depends whom you ask."

Here are some excerpts from a discussion with sociologist Justin Farrell:

HCN: It seems like wolves epitomize the “what is wildlife good for” debate. Some outsiders assume that the people who hate wolves hate them for economic reasons -- they’re ranchers and hunters who are worried about livestock and game. But you say people seem morally opposed to wolves. What’s the source of that opposition? 
JF: One of the primary feelings I heard is that individual rights are being infringed upon by the federal government. The reintroduced wolves came from Canada, so there’s also the fact that people see the wolf as an “immigrant” -- a word that brings up a lot of connotations right now. The wolf links to all sorts of other issues in American politics that go well beyond the Yellowstone area.
HCN: People often oppose wolves in religious terms, too -- it’s an animal that symbolizes man losing dominion over the earth.

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Time magazine claims that Bible-ness is next to Godliness

An old Salvation Army musical production — the kind of church entertainment often aimed at youngsters and teen-agers — had a catchy little chorus about that Christian group’s fabled “slum sisters” of years ago, whose work in tenements was legendary: Those words came to mind as I read a rather astonishing Time magazine online piece that seems to put a whole lot of, well, faith in a survey undertaken by the Barna Group for the American Bible Society:

The two least “Bible-minded” cities in the United States are the adjacent metros of Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass., according to a study out Wednesday from the American Bible Society.

The study defines “Bible-mindedness” as a combination of how often respondents read the Bible and how accurate they think the Bible is. “Respondents who report reading the bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible are classified as ‘Bible Minded,’” says the study’s methodology.

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