Let’s just suppose that Rip Van Winkle went to sleep in 1978 in Oklahoma and woke up about now. Surely among the first things ol’ Rip would notice is the new feature along all of our major highways…the casino. When Rip took his nap, Oklahomans went to church where they heard about work ethic, honesty, and the evils of drinking, smoking, and gambling. Oklahoma’s new gaming industry would surely be a surprise. How to explain?
This is just the question BRD posed to some ordinary Oklahomans who had several insightful answers to share.
One came from Pastor James Featherweather of Disciples Bible Believers Church of Midwest City. Pastor James explained,
My father’s generation taught about work ethic and faith and preached against gambling, but our members saw everyday life in Oklahoma as a very risky endeavor, a gamble, if you will. We have risky employment, boom and bust industries, and dangerous working conditions at some jobs. So, we’ve made the uneasy accommodation with the popularity of casinos. Besides, casino jobs are more steady than oil company jobs, so casino employees are better able to make a solid pledge to the church budget.
And, he added, “It’s hard to preach against getting something for nothing when CEOs and energy company lobbyists do that most of the time.”
Greg Conway, former petroleum engineer, now an Uber driver and pizza delivery man, had this to say, “A job with an oil company is risky; here today, gone tomorrow; a total gamble. Same as taking your paycheck to a casino.”
Mike Bartleby, a disabled oilfield roughneck, put it this way, “Sure a job can be here today, gone tomorrow, but this can be true of fingers and toes as well. Oklahomans have always been gamblers; we call it freedom.”
Bessie Goodnight, retired energy accountant, acknowledges that freedom can be a euphemism for extreme risk, but says, “Acceptance of risk is the American way–we have to take chances to build character–try to imagine life with stability–that would look like–Finland–or something.”
Rita Mae Dixon, long-time children’s Sunday School teacher, remarked, “We have always taught children about honesty, work ethic, faith, self-reliance, and America; growing up with faith amidst the temptations brought about by risk is what we do, unlike the people of Sweden.”
For an outsider’s perspective, BRD turned to religious studies professor Dietrich Gotlieb of Helsinki University, who argues that it is an oddity when faith morphs into an embrace of extreme risk–even a distaste for stability, to the point of looking down on those who choose to structure a more stable society. “What Oklahomans are telling us is that the well-being of their families is left to the roll of the dice…whether or not the CEO of a certain energy company will wipe out your job on any given day. With the job goes the family’s access to health care, housing, secure food budget…Somehow, they see this as a religious observance or maybe a source of nationalistic pride? By comparison, gambling one’s life savings away at a casino begins to seem pretty tame. I have a Ph.D., but I don’t understand this recklessness, uh, I mean, faith. I guess I’ve been around too many atheists, agnostics, and Lutheran