Lotteries and state-sponsored materialism

by Nick Eicher

Posted on Friday, January 15, 2016, at 2:40 pm

Each week, The World and Everything in It features a “Culture Friday” segment, in which Executive Producer Nick Eicher discusses the latest cultural news with John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Here is a summary of this week’s conversation.

A Tennessee couple has come forward to claim their share of the $1.5 billion Powerball lottery winnings. There were three winning tickets Wednesday night in the record-breaking drawing. 

John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, Tenn., appeared on the Today show this morning and showed off a ticket with the winning numbers. They planned to hand it in to the Tennessee Lottery today.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” John Robinson said, conceding he is “really nervous.” Robinson has reason to be nervous, based on stories about others who have won big payments from the lottery.

Documentaries about people who have won previous lotteries show their poverty is not financial, said John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

“Many of them, because of the brokenness in their lives, the poverty in their lives reveals itself at a much greater level after they become wealthy,” he said. “The vast majority of them end up in broken lives, broken homes, some of them even bankrupt all over again.”

Stonestreet and I talked this week about how the lottery creates more problems than it solves. While Stonestreet said he does not believe every individual who plays the lottery is sinning, “the question is, should the government be involved in this? And is the lottery something that is about the public good? And I think the answer is, flat-out, it’s not.”

The lottery is basically a tax by another name, he said, “to accomplish the objectives of people who aren’t going to pay for it by manipulating the people who are.”

 It also sends Americans the wrong message about how to measure success.

“It’s essentially communicating the worldview that we are material beings and so what will materially meet our needs is more stuff,” Stonestreet said. “It’s kind of like a government-sponsored message that reframes René Descartes’ famous saying, ‘I think; therefore, I am,’ to make it, ‘I shop; therefore, I am. What makes my life meaningful are the things that I can buy.’”

Listen to “Culture Friday” on The World and Everything in It.

Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

Read more from this writer