Faith & Reason: Who wins on the Di Wheel of Fortune?

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The Independent Online
What do we learn about ourselves from scratch cards bearing the name of Diana, Princess of Wales? asks Paul Handley, Editor of the Church Times

I want to buy a casino. I'd like to name it the Princess Diana Wheel of Fortune. You want to play roulette? Place your Di-tokens here and spin the wheel. I'm not in this for myself, you understand: 20p in every pound will go to charity. I shall apply to the Princess Diana Memorial Fund for permission to use her name. And I'll get it.

Last week I had just finished a leader for my own paper praising the fund for its efforts to keep the name of the Princess pure (though I questioned this business of trademarking the Princess's image). Walking past a newsagent the following morning, I spotted a poster in the window for the Diana lottery scratch-card. I went in and bought one. It was true:

The monies generated for the fund by this lottery will go to the charities and charitable causes which were close to the Princess's heart. . .

Promoter: Michael Gibbins, Kensington Palace, London W8 4PU.

It lies on my desk as I write this. It might be squeamishness, but I can't bring myself to scratch it. What if I win the pounds 25,000? We could use a new bathroom downstairs. The Di loo, perhaps? More likely, my usual luck will prevail: Di, you've let me down.

In what conceivable way does this scratch-card preserve the Princess's good name? People buy lottery cards and tickets because they want to gamble, or, more accurately, win; if they wanted to give to charity they would give. So it's a deal that's being offered by the fund: you support Diana's favourite charities and we'll give you the chance to win pounds 25,000. When she was alive, the Princess of Wales was not insusceptible to the deals required by fame and fortune. She danced at charity galas in the US; she had her photograph taken with landmine victims. But such a scheme as this would not have been countenanced by even the Duchess of York. In death the Princess ought to have been allowed to rest in peace.

The moral high ground on this issue is, admittedly, not very high, and those who attempt to stand there find it pretty swampy. The leprosy sufferers who will benefit from the first pay-outs from the fund, announced last Monday, won't care particularly how the money was raised. And there is little to choose between the different forms of gambling, from village- fete raffles to City investments. Church leaders, in the main, declined to criticise the National Lottery when it was launched, and besides, the days when the Church might have kept itself untainted are long gone. Even those churches which abjure gambling for money have somehow to explain away a faith that seems to offer a similar sort of deal: "Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." As a result, the gospel of prosperity has taken hold in many places around the world, most particularly in South America and parts of Africa.

The most recent example to come my way was a set of photocopied pages from Miracle Money, an American Pentecostalist tract. "John", the author, was visited one night by a disconsolate Jesus:

"John, I usually cannot multiply back to my children the money they give me."

I asked, "Why not, Lord? Your Word says you will."

"My children usually make two mistakes when they give to me. First, they seldom give

the exact amount I tell them to give. . . Second, they usually give without expecting anything specific back in return. John, the multiplication of money back to the giver is a miracle, and my miracles operate by faith. When my people give without expecting anything back, they have not given in faith."

Like all heretical nonsense, this approaches the truth then distorts it grotesquely. Yes, there are demands for payment in most of the world faiths, in the currency of prayer, devotion, and alms-giving (and support of the priesthood); and there are offers of a reward, in terms not only of eternal life but often some sort of help and support in this world. But the idea of our doing a deal with God is illusory: in a relationship with an almighty creator, we can only receive. The divine call, though, is not to passive acceptance but to partnership. As a consequence, Christians use this season of Lent to reflect on how they can emulate God's complete and unconditional giving of himself on the cross.

But sacrifice, one suspects, is a concept "John" is unfamiliar with. This is where the Memorial Fund has got it so wrong. Princess Diana's memory should inspire us to acts of selfless generosity, not grasping transactions among the cheap sweets and the cigarettes.