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Issues of Life and Death

Sort 299 puts the Pope in the dead pool.

by Dear Jon
March 1, 2005

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Dear Jon,

You keep on asking for questions, but how will we know when you have run out of answers?

Only Human
Dear Only,
I figured it would take AT LEAST 300 advice columns before readers ran out of questions, and I still have LOTS of answers left over. For example, I have never been asked if it was possible for a woman to be impressed by a man’s use of a blender. You won’t know the answer until you ask, which is kind of the point in a column that answers letters. The next letter is a great example.


Dear Jon,

Is it okay for a Catholic to have the Pope in his dead pool?

Just Asking
Dear King,
It is as okay as any evangelical putting ten dollars down for the date the pearly gates open for Billy Graham.
Of course, being a religious person myself, I have a hard time betting on death dates. You see, I am the kind of guy who really needs the money. This places me in the theologically awkward position of praying that somebody bites the big one on a particular day.
So I tend not to gamble anyway. Betting on sports, elections, and the Academy Awards, adds more stress to my life then the thrill of winning can compensate. When I think about gambling as a religious person, I think of it in terms of “stewardship.”
This places me clearly in Protestant religious and life-style categories. Based on personal experience (having no time to look up actual demographics), I have discovered that the city of Chicago is approximately 65% Catholic, 25% Jewish, 5% Mainline Protestant Advocates of Gay Mariage, and the remaining 5% are evangelicals, Bush voters, and miscellaneous adherents to massive global religions like Islam, the Eastern Orthodox, Hinduism, and some overlap between the Mainline Protestants, atheists and Buddhists.
In Chicago’s suburbs, the picture changes dramatically. There the population is 70% Willow Creek Community Church (evangelical) with its various franchises and copy-cats, 10% Catholic, 10% Jewish, and 10% everything else, except that the Mainline Protestants in the suburbs voted for Bush and want to expel from their denominations the Mainline Gay-marrying clergy in the city.
Now, it is only my impression. I have no statistics at all to back up any of this. But my impression is that if one were to survey the religious composition on the average night at Empress Casino, a riverboat in Joliet, Illinois, one would find 80% Catholics. These Catholics are not lapsed from the Church, not at all. In fact, they are at their most fervently religious while playing the slots, keeping one hand free to pray the rosary, or to grip crucifixes in pockets or dangling from necklaces. A casino is filled with hails to Mary, full of grace, every time the cards are dealt, and many benedictions blessed upon roulette wheels, and many exorcisms performed on dice.  
15% of the customers are lapsed Protestants and Jews who are formally and avidly secular and agnostic. The remaining 5% are evangelicals who are fervently praying that the college research assistants wandering around with the religious survey will take their clipboards someplace else.
When you boil it down, only a Catholic could ask the question about betting on the Pope’s expiration. Many Protestants who gamble would be ashamed to gamble on anything religious; it would upset the conscience too much. Evangelicals who bet on the death date of a famous preacher would be seen as traitors to their cause, like a Philadelphia Eagles fan taking the spread on the Patriots. Like me, the ones who need the money cannot quite stomach actually praying that somebody dies.
For many Catholics, this would be a line they would not want to cross either. I would think most Catholics would feel squeamish about praying for a Pope’s death in order to win a bet. How does some one word that during confession? “Father, forgive me, I want the Pope to die on March 7. I’ve got $75 dollars riding on it, and I could make over $1000 at the office.” “My child, you must repent of your sins and pray five rosaries a day until Saturday, when you must pray 10 rosaries, because the rectory has a three hundred dollar kitty and I drew March Fifth”.
On the whole, however, it is more a matter of taste than of conscience. I would think the line would be crossed if a priest signed people up for the Pope’s Dead Pool at the Church’s Bingo Night. I can imagine the kindly, elderly Irish matron gently scolding the young priest from Staten Island: “It’s all very well to work the angles, but really, Father….”
All right, all right. No angry letters please. No, Dead Pools are never okay. Good Cathlics who are regulars at Bingo night would find the whole concept unthinkable. So pray for the Pope’s recovery and mercy upon his soul, and Billy Graham’s too. Amen.

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