Friday, June 15, 2007

The Decline of the Sabbath

Less praying, more working and playing.

From the Wall Street Journal:

For many Americans, Sunday is unlike any other day of the week. They spend its luxurious hours curled up in bed with the paper, meeting friends for brunch, working off hangovers, watching golf, running errands and preparing themselves for the workweek ahead. But Sunday is also, for many, the Sabbath--a special day for religious reasons. Not that you would notice.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," we are told in Exodus. Of all the gifts Jews gave the world, that of a weekly day of rest is certainly one to be cherished. And yet the Sabbath is now marked more by its neglect than its keeping. Or so says Christopher Ringwald in his new book "A Day Apart."

Mr. Ringwald notes that in the late 18th century, states banned entertainment, hunting or unnecessary travel on Sundays. The Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s spread Sabbath-keeping to the frontiers. Church membership doubled, Sunday schools proliferated and long sermons dominated the morning. It was unthinkable that the general store would remain open on the Sabbath. "Nothing strikes a foreigner on his arrival in America more forcibly than the regard paid to the Sabbath," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1840. "Not only have all ceased to work, but they appear to have ceased to exist." The so-called blue laws that were a part of American culture--closing down bars and preventing the sale of liquor on Sunday--were commonplace well into the 20th century.

But the Sabbath today is at odds with commercial culture. To generalize shamelessly from personal experience: My brother-in-law, who manages a national retail store in Colorado, works on Sundays, following church. He was shocked recently to find out he is now required to open the store on Easter Sunday. Easter used to be the one Sunday each year when retail stores closed. No longer.

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