If we were suddenly transported to North Korea, it's doubtful we would be taken in by the propaganda pumped out on state television.
We'd laugh, perhaps, at some aspects of government ideology – and maybe also be puzzled that some, at least, of the country's inhabitants seemed to genuinely believe what they were told.
And yet it's arguable that we in the UK are routinely being fed a belief system which – while of course not as directly oppressive as the North Korean regime – is equally false, is in some ways more insidious for its subtlety, and which, somehow, also manages to seem highly credible to many.
I'm talking about the National Lottery, which recently announced it is doubling the price of a ticket to £2 – at which point you might be tempted to throw back your head and laugh in disbelief. For surely it is just a bit of fun, isn't it? What's wrong with the occasional flutter? And while you are about it, you might care to point out the many millions of pounds that are raised for good causes.
Well, no doubt there are those who do just enjoy the odd ticket now and again; there are those who derive enjoyment from it. And indeed there have been many worthy charitable beneficiaries. But from a Christian perspective, there are major concerns.
The first is the lie at the heart of the Lottery. Even in purely human terms, there is a real problem with the underlying message. As Terence Blacker has written in The Independent: "The Lottery culture spreads the message every week that instant, lucky money is the answer to life's problems." He adds, eloquently, that it "contains the stupefying, ambition-killing message that it is not through education, or ideas, or endeavour that a person can improve his life; it is by buying a ticket and gazing at a TV screen in desperate, despairing hope twice a week."
From a Christian perspective we would want to go further in our analysis of the Lottery lie. As Paul puts it, "love of money is a root of all kinds of evil". Jesus tells us that money can all too easily become a substitute for God, warning us that we "cannot serve both God and money" – or, as the older translations put it, "God and Mammon." Mammon is a term defined in a dictionary as "the force which makes people try to become as rich as possible and the belief that this is the most important thing in life" – something which, it seems to me, is exactly the ideology of the Lottery.
The second major concern is the effect of the Lottery on the poorest people. Economist Ruth Lea was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: "This is a regressive tax. Lottery players tend to be people on lower incomes who are looking for a bit of glamour and a bit of hope. It is their weekly buzz, and the cost of their weekly buzz is going to double. The Government will benefit, and the less well-off will pay." Treasury duty on the Lottery garnered £423 million in only six months last year.
The gospel inspires us to be radically counter-cultural. As the Apostle Paul encouraged Christians in Corinth to excel in generosity, he wrote: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." The lottery carries a one-in-14 million chance of the top prize; the riches of Christ are free to all.