Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Face Cards: Yea or Nay?

My husband was doing a search on tonight and happened across this article that my grandfather wrote for the New Era in 1984. My grandfather was a great man but I hardly new him because he had severe Parkinson's disease for most of my life. He died when I was nine. It was a really sweet treat to stumble across these words of wisdom from him.

It was also nice to discover the reason why my parents never allowed us to have face cards in our home. My family are BIG game players (it is our love language) and so it always seemed a bit strange to me that face cards were off limits. I have carried over the tradition of not having face cards in our home with my little family, but until I read this I didn't really know why.

I don't think there is anything inherently evil in face cards, but I do think my Grandpa has some good points.

“How should I feel about playing cards?”

Answer/Brother Boyd R. Thomas 

This question is really a double one. It may be asked either as “How should I feel about playing games with cards?” or “How should I feel about playing cards?” There is a substantial difference between playing games which use cards to give directions and instructions and playing games which use the ancient, double-faced cards, sometimes called “playing cards.” The nature of the cards used is an important distinction.

The playing of games in the family setting—both the active, outdoor type and the more sedentary, indoor kind—I view as great teaching aids. By this means personality traits may be developed and children learn acceptable ways to interact with others. For example, it has been important to me to teach my children how to handle defeat or disappointment. Games have been invaluable for this.

The two most common criticisms of card playing have been, first, that it is a waste of time, and second, that it tends to end in gambling. Both criticisms are valid because, while extremes, they too often occur. Writing at a time before the advent of excessive TV viewing, which is the modern time waster, and before the coming of extensive state-sponsored lotteries, which today enhance the tendency to gamble, some of our General Authorities have spoken out against card playing. Let us consider what President Joseph F. Smith said:

“While a simple game of cards in itself may be harmless, it is a fact that by immoderate repetition it ends in an infatuation for chance schemes, in habits of excess, in waste of precious time, in dulling and stupor of the mind, and in the complete destruction of religious feeling. … There is the grave danger that lurks in persistent card playing, which begets the spirit of gambling, of speculation and that awakens the dangerous desire to get something for nothing.

“One’s character may be determined in some measure by the quality of one’s amusements. Men and women of industrious business-like, and thoughtful habits care little for frivolous pastimes, for pleasures that are sought for their own sake. It is not easy to imagine that leading men in the Church would find any pleasure that was either inspiring or helpful at the card table” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 329).

Elder John A. Widtsoe has given a useful perspective:
“It must be added that relaxation from the regular duties of the day is desirable and necessary for human well-being. Wholesome games of recreation are advocated by all right-minded people. Moreover, the … objections [to card playing] are not directed against the many and various card games on the market not employing the usual ‘playing cards.’ Most of these furnish innocent and wholesome recreation, and many are really instructive. It is true that they may be played to excess, but in fact it seldom happens. This is true even when such cards are used in games imitating those with ‘playing cards.’ It is true that such cards may be used for gambling purposes, but in fact it is almost never done. The pall of evil seems to rest upon the ‘playing cards’ handed down to us from antiquity” (Evidences and Reconciliations, Murray & Gee, 1943, pp. 218–19).
While it is best to avoid the use of “playing cards,” my personal experiences indicate that our family has enjoyed many benefits from playing games with cards. At a time when amusements are generally enjoyed alone, for example TV viewing and video game playing, we in our family like to play card games together. It has been both unifying and has provided the arena for much give and take. All in all, playing card games has given us many delightful moments.

Yes it has.

Especially Rook

Oh, we play mean games of Rook. 

You'd be proud Grandpa.

Okay,  now let the debate begin! 
How do you feel about face cards? Do you allow them in your home?


  1. I find it really interesting if you substitute "card playing" with "video games" and re-read Joseph Smith's quote. Although the entertainment is different, the rest of the quote, especially the phrase "dangerous desire to get something for nothing" really applies. I know this is a struggle for many of our children, but also adults, today.

    1. Chris, this was the EXACT same thought that I had.

      At the time (1939) 'habits of excess', 'waste of precious time', 'dulling and stupor of the mind', 'frivolous pastimes', 'pleasures that are sought for their own sake' applied to gambling. Today...well I think today many-many things could fit this definition including video games, online gaming, and I'll throw out my time wasters--Pinterest and Facebook...

      That being said, we had face cards growing up and in our current home. My children are still young so they play Old Maid, Go Fish and such, while the face cards are reserved for the occasional Rummy game my husband and I play after the kids go to bed. I have very fond memories of playing Rummy with my Grandparents before my Grandpa died, and even with my Great-grandparents before they died. In terms of the list above from President Joseph F. Smith, I think my Pinterest and FB habits are far more applicable than the family gaming I grew up with.

    2. I agree too! Face cards being a vice almost seems minuscule next to all the VERY many addictive past times that we now have. Yet, I think that it is enlightening if we do apply this same counsel to things like internet use and video games.

      Also, for what it is worth even though we didn't have face cards at home. i still played them at school. I remember starting out playing hearts in 7th grade and by high school we were playing poker instead. None of us ever became addicted or anything but it was interesting to see that progression happen. Like I said before, I don't think there is anything innately wrong with facecards but I do think that sometimes they can be a slippery slope for some people.

  2. One Grandma, was very opposed, for the whole "you will use them to gamble" reason. The other Grandma was not opposed, because, even though she caught us "playing poker" she knew it was nothing. And by "playing poker" we were just pretending to be cowboys on TV. I don't think they are all that bad, but as with anything, you have to use moderation and be careful. There are many ways to waste time, like your Grandpa said in his article.

  3. I didn't grow up in the church, so facecards were in frequent use in our house, both for card games and for solitaire. None of us turned into gamblers, so I wasn't so much worried about that. We don't play cardgames much now, because my husband isn't a cardplayer. So boardgames substituted.
    It feels that the distraction/timewasting aspect is more of a worry, and that facecards are the least of my worries..... Computergaming and social media take top spot on my worry list.

  4. We love game night at our house. Sometimes we use facecards, I don't see anything wrong with it. I don't see playing with my family as wasting time.

  5. There is a difference in using face cards for games like poker or gambling games and games that families play together. Personally, I think we need more family time interacting and playing together which can come from playing card games, even ones using face cards together. My husbands's family have always had face cards at home and have great traditions of family tournaments. To this day, when they gather, the highlight for my husband is playing cards with his siblings and parents. They laugh and talk and really bond. We play lots of card games and I don't think it is a waste of time at all. Most families don't spend enough time interacting with one another without a screen or device in the middle. In my book, card playing definitely qualifies as a wholesome family recreation activity provided gambling games are not played.

  6. My mom remembers when the church once counseled to not have face cards in the home, and she watched her mom gather them all up right then and throw them away. It was a huge testament of faith to her, and so we grew up following my grandma's example of no face cards in the home. I respect my family for sticking to that commitment. I think it was born from a very righteous choice. We played all our card games with Rook cards.

    When I got married, my husband's family played similar card games except with face cards. IT was just as much part of their family culture as it was for mine to play games with Rook cards. I didn't find it appropriate to fight them on it since it has no real rooting in church doctrine, but rather in church counsel that was appropriate for the time and place the church was in at the time. So for me it was the letter of the law vs the spirit of the law. It was more important to respect the culture of his family than to force my family's traditions on them.

    We have face cards in our home. My new challenge has been to respect the individuality of making this choice: to refrain from making fun of people who stick religiously to no face cards, and yet also refrain from condemning those who see no danger in them. I really try to not see either group as more right or wrong than the other. Each group is making the decision they feel best about making.

    1. Good points. I that mostly what is important is how we play with the cards. If we using them to just play games that bring us together than it probably isn't a bad thing. But if they start getting used in ways that aren't wholesome then it might be a problem. But Certainly not something to judge one another about!

  7. We use them for a few games but to be honest there are SO MANY wonderful games without that most of the time we're playing those instead. Do face cards get banned here? Nope. Does gambling? Yep. Does time wasting? Errr, ummm..... we're working on that.

    In regard to the video games and such being addictive time wasters (plus many being very violent) - we enacted a strict video game policy several years ago. Saturday is video game day and each child can play 20-30 minutes total. In our 'video game' policy are also apps on daddy's phone or the kindle fire, computer games, etc. We just really had kids asking all the time to play and had to put a solid limit on games. The companion rule is that if you whine about game time you lose it for the next week. Now, a few years later, we have eight children, six that are boys. I'm eternally grateful we have those limits already in place.

    1. I LOVE THIS! Thank you Tristan for your comment. As my kids grow and want to get into video games, I think I will take this approach. Thanks again for the idea and sharing how it has worked in your family.

  8. There is nothing wrong with face cards. This was done in an attempt to discourage gambling and time-wasting, but there are so many good games and family bonding moments to be shared over face cards. This is an example of past leaders building fences around fences in a time where extra precautions were needed. It is not the face cards themselves that are bad, but how they could be used. However, anything can be used for evil purposes, like video games, the internet, a sewing machine, etc, but we don't ban them because we allow ourselves to choose to use them correctly: father-daughter bonding over video games, sharing the gospel on Facebook, sewing a temple dress, etc. I have actually made my own set of face cards to help teach my future children their family history (each card has a fact about that relative and they play Go Fish of sorts to collect all 4 facts about an ancestor):

  9. I've always wondered where the whole face card debate came from. I still don't quite understand why they were specifically discouraged as opposed to other games. Like others have said, you can do plenty of evil and time wasting with a variety of things.We played all sorts of games growing up and in my home now.
    But lately I've questioned playing board games and how it makes me feel. My dad has refused for many years to play games and I think it is because he doesn't like the spirit of contention that it can breed. I am beginning to know how he feels. I have to question whether it is wholesome entertainment to be doing all I can to seek advantage over other people, especially when it is my family. And I am a little disturbed by how happy I feel when I win and what a waste of time it feels like when I lose. I remember reading in The Hiding Place about Corrie Ten Boom in the prison cell. She made tiny cards out of an old napkin or something and was so happy to have SOMETHING to pass the time by playing solitaire. However, after a little while, she recognized the negative effect it was having on her spirituality and her ability to cope with her trials the right way (through Christ) instead of the wrong way (through the ups and downs of winning or losing). Anyway, I much prefer cooperative games and wish there were more on the market. Not that I'm going to ban any of the games we own or make any new rules. I have just considered these things lately.

    1. It's for this reason that my family avoids some games, but not others. Monopoly breeds the spirit of contention for some of us, but other stuff, even if we lose, is really fun and we get to know each other and just spend quality time together as we play.