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When I was a child I remember hearing that some Christians strongly opposed the use of playing cards. If I remember correctly, it wasn't just for gambling games such as Poker, but even for children's games such as Go Fish. I have always assumed that this prohibition was linked to a particular denomination(s), but I have not personally encountered anyone since then that has held this view.

Are there any Christian groups that prohibit the use of playing cards, and what is their basis for doing so?

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Many (most?) Christian groups prohibit gambling. And I think many view any form of card-playing as either a form of gambling, or so closely related that it should be avoided... avoiding "appearances of evil" or "slippery slope", etc. –  Flimzy Sep 5 '13 at 6:55
    
@Flimzy Interesting...I wonder if those groups really see "Go Fish" as a potential slippery slope toward gambling? Hard for me to see, but I'd need to hear it from their perspective, I suppose, before really being able to make a fair assessment –  RSW Sep 5 '13 at 7:14
    
The slippery slope is part of it. It has to do with kids getting used to playing cards and seeing the example of gambling with cards and falling into sin. The other part is that someone might see a Christian playing cards and assume that they're gambling and then go commit sin. @Flimzy It's neither many nor most. It's extremely conservative groups and most of those have gotten off of cards and onto games like D&D. –  crownjewel82 Sep 5 '13 at 14:46
    
@crownjewel82: I think most Christian groups do indeed, prohibit gambling--at least in word. That doesn't mean there aren't Christians who gamble, to varying degrees (I myself, have played the occasional game of Texas Hold'em for a $10 buy-in, among friends) –  Flimzy Sep 5 '13 at 16:16
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@Flimzy I have one word that can disprove the hypothesis that most Christians prohibit gambling. Are you thinking it too? Bingo! –  Yuletide Geek Sep 6 '13 at 0:49

5 Answers 5

  • Wikipedia offers some reasons why cards, specifically of the "French Design" (that is, a "standard" 52-card deck) might be prohibited, especially by sects which take a fairly strict anti-pagan, or anti-astrological stands:

    Popular legend holds that the composition of a deck of cards has religious, mystical, or astrological significance.[citation needed]

    Thus each suit of 13 cards represents the 13 lunar months of the Earth year. Since the sidereal lunar month may be approximated to 28 days, each deck is equal to 364 days of the year.

    Similarly, the whole deck of 52 cards represents the 52 weeks of the year. Therefore, the whole deck is also equal to 364 days of the year (the positivist calendar) with the four suits corresponding to the four seasons.

    The ace is symbolically “alpha and omega” or “the beginning and end.”

  • Apparently official Mormon doctrine does (or did?) prohibit playing card games with a standard 52-card deck (Rook is permitted):

    Growing up, conventional playing cards were banned in my home. We only used Rook. One only had to open up “Mormon Doctrine” to see why my parents banned the cards. It reads, “Members of the Church should not belong to bridge or other type of card clubs, and they should neither play cards nor have them in their homes. By cards is meant, of course, the spotted face cards used by gamblers. To the extent that church members play cards they are out of harmony with their inspired leaders. Innocent non-gambling games played with other types of cards, except for the waste of time in many instances, are not objectionable.”

  • This history of playing cards makes references to several places where card games were prohibited in or near churches--I see no reference to church members being prohibited from playing in other locations.

Summary

It's a common rule among certain, generally more conservative Christian groups, that card games should not be played, and the rule varies a lot in how strictly it is interpreted. It is also a rule which, like many such rules, has almost certainly been observed more strictly in the past than in the present.

Some groups may go so far as to prohibit all playing cards.

More common is prohibiting the standard 52-card deck. Either because of its association with gambling, or the occult/astrology, apparently.

More common these days is a simple prohibition of gambling games--possibly even when money isn't used.

Anecdote

My parents both grew up in the Nazarene church, my dad the son of a Nazarene pastor. They were forbidden to drink, dance, and attend movie theaters. I'm pretty sure I remember my mother telling me she also wasn't allowed to play card games as a child. The reason, as I understood it, is that cards are used for gambling, so they carry the "appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

I believe my mother played Dutch Blitz as a child, which uses a different deck design.

NOTE: I'm pretty sure the card prohibition is not a Nazarene doctrine; perhaps just her specific church. Google shows multiple references to Nazarene-church-sponsored events where participants are encouraged to bring card games!

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My suspicion is that your grandfather was influenced by Billy Sunday (see below). Am I correct in getting his time period to be the early 1900s? –  Yuletide Geek Sep 5 '13 at 19:52

As a general rule, if you look hard enough, it's usually possible to find a Christian group opposed to just about anything you can think of. That doesn't mean that mainstream Christianity is opposed. Sometimes it's a fringe group, sometimes it's a vast majority of Christians. Playing cards is no exception to that general rule.

This group believes that your standard deck of playing cards is "The Devil's Bible".

A small excerpt:

The king represents Satan, Prince of Darkness, usurper and foe of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ten card is for the Spirit of lawlessness, in opposition to the moral law in the Word of God. In 1300, clubs were the chief weapons used by murderers, therefore this suit represents the Spirit of Murder and death by violence. The jack represents the lustful libertine, from pimp to adulterer and whoremonger, a moral leper whose chief ambition is to gratify sensual fleshly lusts. The queen represents Mary, Mother of Jesus, but in the card language she is called Mother of Harlots. The joker represents Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Joker means fool and therefore Jesus is held up to ridicule. The joker is said to be the offspring of licentious jack and the queen, Mother of Harlots.

In this case, it's not a denomination per-se, it's one of the "fringe groups" I mentioned above. I'm not aware of any denomination that takes this stance as a whole. It usually seems to be individuals with personal convictions and beliefs within various denominations that adheres to such fringe beliefs.

As to why they believe this? They don't really say. They make some vague claims that this is a historical stance of the Church, but with no references to back it up. Other possible reasons: Personal interpretation, they heard it from someone and believed it and are now passing it along, they are just the type to see Satan in anything, they're right? Who knows? It could be any of those or something else entirely.

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Indeed. Surely one could just as well say that the King is the Father, the Queen Mary, the Jack the Son, the 10 represents the Ten Commandments... hearts represent the love we are supposed to show one another; clubs the weapons in the spiritual fight against evil... (And that analysis doesn't really hold together either.) –  Andrew Leach Sep 5 '13 at 6:18
    
@AndrewLeach: But that would only be relevant to a question about Christian groups who require playing card games :P –  Flimzy Sep 5 '13 at 6:57
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@Flimzy Yes. Any group can be arbitrary in the meanings they assign to things. –  Andrew Leach Sep 5 '13 at 7:12
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@AndrewLeach You aren't far off the mark. jacksjoint.com/deck_of_cards_bible.htm –  Mark Anthony Songer Sep 5 '13 at 15:00
    
@AndrewLeach When numbers are involved it could be anything. I made a similar connection for this question. –  fredsbend the Grinch Sep 5 '13 at 18:47

Here's an excerpt from an academic journal, concerning the morality of playing cards in Christianity. Note that it mentions Evangelicalism - the type of Christianity that was influential in the Victorian era according to the author.

When Great Expectations appears three years later, games, particularly card games, are associated with the physically and morally decayed gentility of Satis House and the corrupt legality of Mr. Jaggers. Even gentlemanliness comes to seem nothing but an empty game. We can only speculate at the reasons for this change in Dickens’s portrayal. For one thing, the rising middle class and the influence of evangelicalism, among other social developments, precipitated a Victorian earnestness in which game-playing – especially cards, which were associated with gambling – was not always seen as respectable.

It may be hinted that card-playing - even among innocent children who have no money - is not considered respectable, because it is associated with gambling. The children were playing Beggar-My-Neighbor.

Source: Parkinson, K. L. (2010). What do you play, boy?": Card Games in "Great Expectations. Dickens Quarterly, 27(2), 119-138.

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While not exactly a denomination, the famous baseball-player-turned-pastor, Billy Sunday, is probably most associated with the evils of "theater, cards, and dance." His influence on Fundamentalists, Baptists, and Evangelicals of all stripes is legendary.

Sunday's popularity influenced thousands (if not millions) in the United States in the early 1900s. His brand of fundamentalism led directly to many of the beliefs you see. Early in the Century, this type of preaching was de riguer. Its influence, however shall we say, has since waned. (I for one, do not mourn its passing.) That said, for those who grew up in it, the tenants still hold.

In his estimation, the primary issue with cards is that they do lead to gambling. His takes inspriation from Galatians, in which it says "Do not be decieved, God is not mocked - for that which a man soweth, so shall he reap."

He preaches as follows: (The full text is here)

You sow bridge whist and auction pitch and five hundred in the home and you reap a crop of gamblers. You sow the dance and the ballroom and you reap a crop of brothels. You sow saloons and you reap a harvest of drunkards.

You must want a lot of prostitutes or you wouldn't sow dances; you must want a lot of vomiting, puking drunkards or you wouldn't sow saloons, and you must want a bunch of gamblers or you wouldn't play cards in your homes.

If you have any cards in your home, you had better throw them in the furnace when you get back there or else throw your Bibles in the furnace. The two won't mix. Oh, you need not gasp! I am handing it to you straight! There is no use having Bibles around your house if you are going to make a joke of His Word by playing bridge.

(As you can tell, he gets emotional about it.) Perhaps his most damning indictment is this:

Many a boy is inveigled into a gambling room and listens to the roulette wheel ¥ the faro bank and keno and listens to the ribaldry and the jest and the blasphemy, and he is reminded of home. What a wonderful heritage to bequeath to a boy! To have him go into a hellhole like that and have it remind him of home! Men who have been spending their funds and lives to ferret those things out tell us that nine-tenths of the gamblers are taught in their homes by their mothers, or eighty per cent of them first learned gambling in the homes of professing Christian people.

When I talk to you about card playing in your home, I am trying to pound through your head that every pack of cards is but another steppingstone to Hell. I think the old painted hag or the broken down roue, hanging around the tables at Monte Carlo, or a down-and-out card shark bucking a crooked game in a gambling joint at three o'clock in the morning a sight more respectable than the church people or the professed Christian who permits card playing in his home.

"You take that picture back and give it to my mother, and tell her 'Damn her!' I never want to see her. She taught me to play cards and I killed a man at a gambling table and am serving fifteen years to pay for it. Now she has the audacity to send me her picture after she pushed me behind the prison bars," so said a condemned boy.

I say it may not injure you, but it is damning others. Many a boy leaves home and goes to board in some miserable, no-account church-member family. The first night they draw out a card table and take out a deck of cards and say: "Won't you play a game with us?"

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I know that one explanation I had heard from a Christian that was opposed to gambling was that it was due to Jesus' possessions being divided by casting lots. It also may be kind of similar to prohibitions against alcohol where the fear is that it will lead to a problem, so why not avoid it entirely.

Certainly drinking and gambling could lead to sin in the extreme, but most churches don't have a problem with either in moderation, though many avoid them on the church grounds or at church functions. The reason for this is generally that while it may not be sinful to participate in moderation, it can be a stumbling point for those who are weak in those areas and the church doesn't want to cause problems for someone who has an actual problem. (Not causing your brother to stumble, as it were.)

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