Mormon Doctrine: Face Cards

gamblingI’ve never been much of a gambler; my dad loves to play Solitaire (with real or computer cards), and it was a fun game.  We were taught that gambling was bad, and growing up thought it was a sin.  We played Uno, Crazy-Eights, and many card games with or without face cards.  With the Wheatmeister poll this weekend, it reminded me that a few months ago, my wife was concerned that my dad taught my son how to play Solitaire with face cards.  My reaction was “Are you serious?  This is a problem?”

The funny thing is that my sister likes to play Nertz, a game similar to Solitaire played with a deck of cards per person.  My wife has played without calling the face cards into question.  I’ve also played Rummy and Canasta on my mission.  I had heard that some Mormons thought face cards were evil, but I never understood why.  Hmmm, I wonder if this has something to do with the book Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie.  I looked under “face cards” but found nothing.  However, under “Card playing”, I found the following in all 3 editions (1958, 1966, 1979.)

Card Playing

See Apostasy, Gambling, Recreation.

President Joseph F. Smith has stated the position of the Church with reference to card playing in these words:  “Card playing is an excessive pleasure; it is intoxicating and, therefore, in the nature of vice.  It is generally the companion of the cigaret and the wine glass, and the latter lead to the poolroom and the gambling hall….Few indulge frequently in card playing in whose lives it does not become a ruling passion….A deck of cards in the hands of a faithful servant of God is a satire upon religion….Those who thus indulge are not fit to administer in sacred ordinances….The bishops are charged with the responsibility for the evil, and it is their duty to see that it is abolished….No man who is addicted to card playing should be called to act as a ward teacher; such men cannot be consistent advocates of that which they do not themselves practice.

“The card table has been the scene of too many quarrels, the birthplace of too many hatreds, the occasion of too many murders to admit one word of justification for the lying, cheating spirit which it too often engenders in the hears of its devotees….

“Card playing is a game of chance, and because it is a game of change it has its tricks.  It encourages tricks; its devotees measure their success at the table by their ability through devious and dark ways to win.  It creates a spirit of cunning and devises hidden and secret means, and cheating at cards is almost synonymous with playing at cards.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 328-332)

Members of the Church should not belong to bridge or other type of card clubs, and they should neither play cards not have them in their homes.  By cards I meant, of course, the spotted face cards used by gamblers.  To the extent that church members play cards they are in apostasy and rebellion.  Innocent non-gambling games played with other types of cards, except for the waste of time in many instances, are not objectionable.

The funny thing about face cards and gambling is that when I teach probability in my statistics classes, I teach that probability was discovered by mathematician Blaise Pascal because some gamblers came to him wanting to understand the math behind gambling better.  Gambling is one of the best ways to teach probability, and I know that statistics classes at BYU and BYU-Idaho use gambling problems to help students understand the concept.  (I’ve also heard that at BYU-Idaho, they have students write a paper on why gambling is bad.)

Some other quotes that I use in class:

  • “Las Vegas was built for people who are really bad at math….” Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller)
  • There are no casino games or bets where the house does not have a clear advantage. The odds either favor the house …or they get a commission. And if you are not familiar with basic information about the games you play or bets you make, you are just about a guaranteed loser. In short, casino owners are in business to make a profit. They did not build all those gorgeous hotels by giving away money.
  • In State Lottos, the payoff amount is determined after the state takes a cut.  “Some say instead that it’s a tax on people bad at math or statistics.”  In horse racing, the win is based on the amount bet on each horse.

I even teach that it may be easier to get struck by lightning than to win the lottery.  This article has been removed, but the headline remains:  Man struck by lightning buying lottery ticket.  I also note that casinos give patrons free alcohol to keep them gambling and make stupid decisions.  Those casinos know what they’re doing.

Lest anyone think I am encouraging vice and gambling, let me state clearly that gambling is dumb.  Having said that, I don’t think it’s quite the bogeyman that Smith and McConkie stated.  Apostasy and Rebellion?  Come on.  Church members  “should neither play cards not have them in their homes.”  Do you find this outdated, or do you think having face cards in the home is apostasy?  So is Canasta, Rummy, Nertz and Solitaire grounds for stopping you from being a “ward teacher” (now known as a “home teacher”)?  If so, I think many men would confess to using face cards in order to be released from home teaching…..


10 comments on “Mormon Doctrine: Face Cards

  1. My father, who was an LDS bishop, stake mission president, and later a patriarch, wouldn’t allow a deck of face cards in the house. He never said why. I was told by a mission president (from Utah) serving in the area where I lived, that on each face card was the devil’s signature. On the other hand, I knew and saw a man who was once a bishop play solitaire on a plane flight. He was from California. Now that we know McKonkie’s form of Mormonism as per his ‘Mormon Doctrine’ has fallen from grace quite a bit (besides the fact that I personally think McKonkie was real tool), I would have thought that card playing is no longer the issue as it once was.

    As for your wife, it may be all about how deep her Mormon family roots go. If indeed she does come from a long line of TBMs, then her position is not surprising to me. And not meaning to offend in any way, but to jest a bit, as soon as I read the part about your wife, the thought came immediately to mind, “Get another wife.” That just illustrates how jaded I am as a result of my strict Mormon upbringing, which looking back at now, was not only ridiculous, but even harmful in some ways. So, I’ll tone my comment down a bit and say to your wife, “Lady, get a life (or ‘get real’)!” In other words, the type of sanctimonious Mormons who make a big about some minor mote in someone’s eye, but don’t recognize the beam in their own in so many other ways, is something I have very little tolerance for. And as if being a worthy Christian has anything to do with playing a game of ‘crazy eights’ with a deck of face cards, anyway! Or that playing with face cards has this enormous risk factor that will end up leading a person down the road to some sort of gambling habit. And don’t even get me started on the issue of ‘wasting time’.

    I have a six letter word for this; it begins with the consonant blend ‘st’ and ends with the letter ‘d’.

  2. I wasn’t raised in the Church and grew up on poker. My Dad once told me, “Poker is LIFE”. And he wasn’t someone with a gambling problem. Or as Captain Kirk explained his strategy to Spock when dealing with Belisarius of the First Federation: “Not Chess, Mr. Spock….Poker.” (Maybe in a later episode when Spock declared firmly that “Vulcans never bluff” he was alluding to their cultural incapability of dealing in deception, a notion blown away in subsequent parts of the Star Trek franchise). In fact, when on my mission I had a few decks of cards and some poker chips, and got in trouble for organizing a poker party in my district! (I really didn’t know any better).
    Methinks it’s like much else: we’re counseled to avoid activities which either waste time, money, or put us in situations that are non-conducive to the Gospel. Like other things I’ve blogged on: don’t ask what’s bad about something, but what’s good about it.

  3. Vikingz, I appreciate your comments. My wife’s family hails from the Joseph Smith era, so her roots do run deep. I appreciate your attempts to be sensitive. I wish you didn’t have such a visceral reaction–it seems not emotionally healthy to me.

    I have played computer poker (with no money on the line), as well as Blackjack. I think if you have a budget, it can be viewed as entertainment. People blow $100 on a concert for a few hours. If you want to spend that kind of money on gambling for a few hours with the understanding that you’ll probably lose it (or quit when you’re bored), it’s not that different.

  4. “I wish you didn’t have such a visceral reaction–it seems not emotionally healthy to me.”

    Yeah, I hear you, and you may be right about the correlation between ‘visceral reaction’ and ‘health’ — especially spiritual health, or well being. I hope you didn’t take this as an attack on your wife, but issues like this can, like you said, evoke a “visceral reaction” within me. However, it just drives me up the wall sometimes when I come across Mormon behaviorisms with regard to stuff like this. Nevertheless, my apologies to your wife (and to you).

    True story:

    My wife and I were driving back east from CA where we live, and when we pretty much got passed the Mojave Desert on Route 15 towards Vegas, we stopped for gas in Jean, NV. When I pulled up to the gas station I saw a pretty nice looking casino just off to the side, and so rather than use an ordinary (and probably scuzzy) public restroom in the gas station, I thought, “Why not use a no doubt way better one in the Casino?”

    Once in the casino and after I used their nice and clean restroom with granite counters, etc, I noticed a black-jack table. There was no one playing so I did something I had never done before: I purchased twenty dollars worth of chips and played black-jack (which is just about the only gambling game I probably know how to play). So, just betting five dollars at a time I wasn’t there more than just a few minutes before I was ‘up’ five bucks. Then immediately I said, ‘thank you’ to the dealer, walked away, and cashed in my chips for *twenty-five* dollars! While walking out of the casino, I turned to my wife and said, “Well, how about that. I got to use a real fancy restroom, and not just for ‘free’, but was actually paid five dollars for using it!”

  5. One part that is overlooked in this discussion is that Spencer W. Kimball, when he was prophet gave a general conference talk entitled “God wiil not be Mocked”. In it he also admonished members to ban facecards from their homes. Peoples reluctance may not be McConkie driven but Prophet driven. It became a big issue in my local area as a kid to obey.

  6. That’s interesting, Carrie. But remember, this was the mindset of Spencer Kimball, the same fellow who wrote ‘The Miracle of Forgiveness,’ aka, ‘It’s a Miracle if You Are Ever Forgiven,’ or “Forgiveness? It would be a miracle!” a book which has been condemned by so many as the cause of more psychological and emotional damage than probably any other book written by an LDS GA (including a president of the church). One reviewer of the book stated, “In my case, I almost lost my soul to the utter hopelessness that this book made me feel. I told my Stake President about this and he immediately told me that he felt that I should read the Book of Mormon instead. He also told me that I wasn’t the first to tell him that and that he had stopped recommending this book to people.” I even heard (but I don’t know for sure) that Kimball himself eventually started to wonder if he should have ever written it. But in the hands of zealot leaders, this book did, and no doubt still does a lot of damage, especially to young people.

    But that was Spencer Kimball; a fellow who was seemingly obsessed about anything that would suggest impurity. And if I recall correctly, I think it was under Kimball’s reign when the practice of oral sex in marriage was proclaimed to be a heinous sin in the sight of the Lord, and that any married couple who practiced it should immediately repent, or otherwise are most certainly not worthy to hold a temple recommend. That edict didn’t last very long, though, as there was such a backlash from the general membership that the First Presidency was forced to rescind it with an alternate proclamation stating that what couples do in their bedrooms is their own buisness. But even then he couldn’t resist inserting the admonition that couples still need to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit with regard to their intimate practices. In other words, reading between the lines it was still anything other than the ‘missionary position’ should be considered a perversion and evil.

    Kimball also once lamented that he couldn’t understand why BYU students were not out-performing students of any other university because of their more chaste attitudes and practices, which would surely endow them with more capacity to perceive ‘light and knowledge’ from the Holy Spirit. Go figure.

    So, playing with face cards was certainly an evil and pernicious practice in the eyes of Spencer Kimball, and in fact it is still considered to be so by some TBMs that I have come to know. And let me state that at one time I was one of them! But in my case (I’ll speak for myself) as I grew older I became more aware and open to other viewpoints and started to perceive the world (and the LDS church) in a different, practical (sane!) way. I became a lot less judgemental of other people’s practices, be them cultural, religious, or personal. I started to realize that there are a lot of things that people do, which does cause harm to other people and the environmental aspects of the earth’s flora and fauna, but all of which have very little if anything to do with a lot of ‘non-approved’ LDS practices (sexual or otherwise), including most certainly, face cards. This is not saying that incest, sexual predation, and all other things sexual that ARE known and considered harmful to individuals and the moral fabric of a functional society is okay by my standards, but rather you have to be aware of the danger of the pendulum swinging too far in either direction — for what is beyond or other than good or evil; for what is beyond or other than godliness or ungodliness. In other words, fanaticism! And playing ‘crazy eights’ in my book, is neither evil nor ungodly. To me (now) considering it so would be just plain ol’ crazy (fanaticism).

    Anyway, to each their own.

  7. I became a lot less judgemental of other people’s practices, be them cultural, religious, or personal.

    I disagree Vikingz. You are just as judgmental, but rather than TBM judgmental, your TB-anti-M judgmental. Why did you feel the need to jump down Carrie’s throat? Seriously, I mean this in a spirit of love, but I really think you need counseling. The visceral reaction is not emotionally healthy. (And I speak this as someone who has benefited from counseling.)

    President Kimball had his flaws, but you seem to have forgotten his greatest accomplishment: the removal of the Priesthood/Temple ban on blacks. Why did you not list that? I’m positive that this was emotionally & spiritually healing to many black church members.

    But let’s get back to the topic at hand. Let’s not forget that this was written in 1958, and Bruce is quoting apostle (and future President) Joseph F. Smith in the first 3 paragraphs. Bruce only added the last paragraph. So let’s not jump on Bruce too hard–Kimball, Smith, and others certainly felt the same way, and I’m sure a lot of non-LDS felt that way too. It’s a little too easy to make Bruce the whipping boy for all things bad about Mormons.

  8. Uh??? “…jump down Carrie’s throat?”

    Mmm…“What I think we have heear, is a failure tuh communicate.”

    Or else what we do have here is someone with a problem accepting another person’s viewpoint to the extent of having to play the ‘anti’ card, among other things as well.

    My friend, you have a blog in which you publish your ideas and I would presume you want people to read AND comment on them in a reasonably civil manner. However, do you require that everyone agree and think exactly as you do? If you don’t, then why do you come across to me as being pretty thin-skinned, and actually quite insulting and rude (to me).

    Try not to confuse judging you with just trying to be frank on account of the fact that I find it quite quizzical that you think I was ‘jumping down Carrie’s throat’. I re-read my comments and I fail to see anything that could be taken as insulting or insensitive towards her. In fact, I once had a conversation with a current (at that time) Mormon bishop who didn’t seem to be bothered by having quite critical things to say about a lot of things ‘Mormon’ (things what seems to be your idea of what is harsh and insulting). And to quote someone while exchanging ideas, “My own journey (in Mormonism) is not going to work for others because my background is philosophy where looking for easy answers is a sure sign that one has not grasped what is at issue and why it is an issue to begin with.” My comments were referencing public figures, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. Unless, of course, you are of the same ilk as Islamic extremists who want to wage holy war and slit the throats of anyone who says anything disparaging (although historically acknowledge as accurate) about Mohammed, or anything else that *they* deem as inappropriate with regard to their oh-so sacrosanct religion. Are you of that mindset? Maybe you are. And if so, then let me know and I‘ll move on so as to not risk bruising your tender sensitivities.

    But again, I take your comment to be rude and insulting. “I mean this in a spirit of love,…”. Oh, please; spare me from the passive aggressive Mormon love bombs. If we were together in your home — you the host and me and others the quests, and we started talking about this subject *exactly* with the same words as all of the first six comments posted, would you really say to me what you just stated in comment number seven? You can certainly start off by saying, “I disagree, Vikingz,” but then continue explaining why you disagree without the ad hominem-like attack.

    Yet, your reaction seems to be so typical of a lot of TBMs with regard to anything expressed that comes across as a differing perspective than general Mormon group think, which usually leaves them chanting the same tired mantra, “Oh they left the church because they were offended.” Well in this case, while just having a conversation about Mormonism and face cards, but out of the blue being accused of having some sort of pathology, well…ya think!

    I would suggest that *both* you and your wife ‘get a life’. And of course I mean this in a spirit of love.

  9. Vikingz, I know you think you’re not judgmental, but you’re very judgmental when it comes to TBMs. If you don’t like love bombs, then I will be direct (and insulting) like you are. Get a new blog. You’re one of only 3 people that I’ve asked to leave in 5 years of blogging, so consider yourself in an exclusive group. It takes a lot for me to ask someone to leave, but you’ve gone and done it.

    There is a saying by Brigham Young that is appropriate in this situation: “He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool. And he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”

  10. My own personal understanding of the reasons why the church is against face cards is because of their origins. The Tarot deck is the origin of our current Face cards. It has just been simplified over the years. its possible that the older brethren were more aware of the link than we are today.

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