Several years ago, a family member was attending Scout Camp with an LDS troop. They had a rather “orthodox” member of the bishopric go up to scout camp for a few days. As happens with LDS troops, a few non-member boys were along for the trip, and one of them had brought face cards (there had been no nention of not bringing them in the pre-camp meetings). One night the boys were playing a non-gambling type card game, and this leader saw what they were doing, and said something along the lines of “Boys, face cards are a tool of the devil!”. He then picked up the cards on the table and tossed them into the fire. From what I heard, he single handedly negated any goodwill the non-member boys had developed towards the church.
This past week, I chaparoned our own ward’s boys at Scout Camp, and made sure to bring along a couple decks of playing cards. We spent a lot of time playing all sorts of non-gambling games, and it made me think about this odd artifact of LDS culture. It seems some LDS families are rabidly “anti-playing cards”, while others have no problem busting out a deck of Hoyle’s for a game of Hearts or Spoons.
Obviously, I have no problem with it, because I find the three reasons usually given are rather easily shown to be inconsistently applied, or spurious to begin with.
Argument 1 They waste time. Seriously, who are we kidding? They don’t waste anymore time than video game playing, Monopoly playing, ping-pong playing, or countless other recreational activities. And playing cards with friends and family is a much healthier, positive activity than most television and movies these days. And it’s very economical. Arguments about “time wasting” are usually rooted in comments from early 20th century Church leaders, when there was apparently a much higher premium on free time, and much less variety for recreation.
Argument 2 They promote/ lead to gambling, or hanging out in dens of iniquity. I would find this argument to be more persuasive were it consistently applied. But it isn’t. After all, this would also be true for pool tables, which are common in the houses of many members of the stake leadership where I live. Dart boards. Pinball machines. Even slot machines are becoming more “video game-like”. Not to mention there are so many card games that don’t involve gambling, I can’t believe anyone would argue this.
Instead of saying “do not ever use playing cards”, it would be more effective to say “do not ever wager on games of chance”. It’s been my experience that people who have a “gambling mentality” will find ways to risk wagers over anything, no matter how stupid it seems, as was philosophically dramatized in the motion picture “Dumb and Dumber”:
Harry: I think you’re wrong Lloyd.
Lloyd: How much you want to bet?
Harry: I don’t bet.
Lloyd: What do you mean you don’t bet?
Harry: I mean I don’t bet.
Lloyd: Yeah, right. I bet you 20 bucks I can get you gambling before the end of the day.
Harry: No way.
Lloyd: I’ll give you 3 to 1 odds.
Lloyd: 5 to 1.
Lloyd: 10 to 1.
Harry: You’re on.
Lloyd: I’m gonna get ya. I don’t know how, but I’m gonna get ya.
And those (like me) who have no propensity to gamble, could play recreational poker or blackjack for days, and never feel the desire to involve risk or money.
Argument 3 They derive from Tarot cards. If you research this issue, you’ll find there is some merit to this claim. But the fact that modern playing cards may have derived from ancient tarot cards doesn’t really mean anything. Again, it’s not so much the nature of the argument, but instead how consistently it is applied. How many ancient objects have been used to “divine” the future or used for occult-seeming purposes? Are all such objects to be verboten in LDS homes? Tea leaves, palms, crystal balls, dice, water, salt… Does this mean I should never allow any sort of leaf on my property? Must I chop off my hands? Must I rid my house of all basketballs or other spherical objects that resemble ancient fortune telling mediums? Do I have to get rid of games involving dice (Risk, Monopoly, Clue)? And water and salt?!
It would be odd that the Church leaders could overlook so many other common household items of the occult. I have no problem with outlawing Ouija Boards, since they really don’t have any legitimate uses anyway (not to mention that they’re bunk and nonsense, as are the other fortune telling mediums previously mentioned).
It is my impression that the opposition to playing cards is becoming more limited to smaller segments of LDS culture, and I hope this trend continues. While I support the counsel against poker and other gambling, a general antipathy to “playing cards” is neither logical nor doctrinal.