Are Faith and Las Vegas incompatable?

Self-indulgence before Lent

  • February 7, 2012

Faith and Las Vegas are an oxymoron. But these two seemingly paradoxical thoughts rattled around in my head as we walked down the busy, glittery Las Vegas strip the other day for the first time.

Sure, Sin City has different types of temples filled with moneychangers of a modern ilk. These temples are named Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, the Venetian, Bellagio and a host of others. And, sure, churches are hidden so far out of sight that you’d think illusionist David Copperfield made them disappear.

But faith, it’s there. All those players at the blackjack and craps tables and at the slot machines and in the sports books, all had faith; some sort of faith.

It was one year, almost to the day, that I was in the Holy Land for the first time and the juxtaposition of walking where Jesus had walked to now treading where high rollers, movie stars and mobsters trod was too delicious not to get a chuckle.

Then, I started thinking about the so-called Occupy Movement and the injustices between rich and poor. With so many trappings around you in Vegas, how can one not think of such things?

Not to belittle the Occupiers, but the wide gap between rich and poor has been ever thus. It was around in Roman times when Jesus walked the Earth and it has been around every century since. Some think it is a new phenomenon, but sadly it’s not. Maybe we’ve been spoiled in Western society because the gap between rich and poor closed tightest after World War II until the last decade or so.

Over the centuries, there are so many lurid examples to cite of social inequality. Since we’re talking about Vegas, let’s pick one involving an entertainer; this one from London, only about 100 years ago. One day, there was a luncheon at the posh Savoy Hotel for opera diva Nellie Melba where guests enjoyed a dessert of fresh peaches, quite a treat in Victorian England and unattainable for any but the rich. As historian Barbara Tuchman portrays in The Proud Tower, the guests then “made a game of throwing them at passers-by beneath the windows.” Talk about flagrant flaunting of their supposed superiority.

Today, I think many of us feel we’ve been hit in the face with a peach when we read about the tens of millions of dollars paid annually to moneychangers and other corporate titans as our retirement savings shrink, our taxes go up and our jobs are at risk. Then there are the “white collar” dandies, like the former Nortel executives, before the courts and we shake our heads even more.

What does this all have to do with Vegas?

Las Vegas is all about wants, not needs. And frankly, I witnessed people from all levels of society in Vegas feeding their wants, including us. There were obviously many people with a lot of money, but North America’s working class was also well represented along the Vegas strip. By and large, Las Vegas is a mirage; a place to escape for a few days, forget about our day-to-day lives, suspend worrying about work and what not.

At first, I felt guilty being there with all the glitz and over-the-top self-indulgences, particularly with Lent approaching. Pretty much everyone working in Vegas has one thing in mind: separate the money from visitors’ pockets as quickly as possible and the more that is extracted the better.

Then we had a good meal, went to a show and any guilt feelings vanished because it hit me that a little self-indulgence isn’t such a bad thing. I wouldn’t want to be trapped in Vegas (or any other place of pure self-indulgence) for too long but we all need to kick off our shoes, let our hair down and party every once in a while. Heck, even Jesus enjoyed the wedding in Cana.

In fact, in John’s Gospel account, Jesus is not only invited to a party, but He uses His divine power to save the celebrations from disaster and I think this is evidence of His approval for marriage and earthly celebrations. Of course, life cannot be a party at all times and our wallets often make sure of that, especially in a place like Las Vegas

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