Friday, September 21, 2007

Blue Laws

When I was a kid, there was something called the blue laws. Maybe you're old enough to remember them, too. Blue laws, in essence, made it illegal for stores to open before noon, or in some cases to open at all on Sunday.

Why did we have these laws? Because scripture said so. In fact, scripture spends more time on observing the Sabbath than on any other moral/ethical law. It has the most severe punishment attached to it – death – and this punishment is reiterated throughout the Old Testament for violation of the Sabbath more often than for any other sin.

I think religious crusaders who want to go after irreligious behavior that threatens the family as well as the rest of society should go on a campaign to restore blue laws. If you want to look at any single cause for degradation of society, the loss of these laws is as good a place to look as any, and far better than most.

Now, you may wonder why anyone would do something so crazy. Think about it. The Sabbath, which is the fourth commandment, by the way, requires that we neither work nor travel nor cause anyone else to work. Many Christians think Jesus did away with the Sabbath because a) his disciples broke some of the Sabbath rules and he himself healed on the Sabbath, and b) he was raised on Sunday rather than the Jewish Sabbath which is Saturday.

However, Jesus did not do away with the Sabbath. He restored it to its original purpose: rest. The Hebrew word Shabbat means "stop". It means to rest from work, the way God rested on the seventh day. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath – meaning that Jews of his day had created such a web of legalistic exceptions (for example, the laws allowed people to go only about 3,000 feet from their homes, so a lot of Jews proclaimed for the day that their home was a tent, then carried it with them so that they were never more than a few feet from their homes) as to make the true Sabbath meaningless. Jesus wanted us to embrace the real sense of ceasing work in order to rest. Why do you think he rested on the Sabbath Day after the crucifixion?

Now, I know the blue laws were done away with because we are, after all, in an officially secular society – people are allowed to practice their faith freely, but government can't force its religion on the people. Having said that, the government certainly does still enforce some rules that have nothing to do with secular society and exist only because of religion (and are often far less supported by scripture). Besides, requiring a day of rest – not just for individuals but for the entire community as a whole – is restorative. It gives the entire community an opportunity to take a deep breath and pause.

But no. The truth is, we did not get rid of the blue laws because we are a secular government. We got rid of the blue laws because they interfered with profits. Businesses knew they could make more money if they had that extra day. Over the last twenty-five years, workers rights to a day of rest have dwindled to become nearly nonexistent.

I remember going into a North Carolina store some years ago and chatting with a cashier. When the subject of a day off came up she laughed. "Honey, I ain't had a day off in three years." She meant a single day off. This lady had been working seven days a week. I told her the law guaranteed her a day off, especially since she was a Christian and could claim it as her religious right to observe the Sabbath. She laughed again and said, "Yeah, and after that, you can find me a new job, 'cause nobody's gonna back me up on that."

The loss of blue laws makes us look worse than Jerusalem in Jesus' day. At least they paid lip service to the idea of rest. We don't even do that. Now, we push people to work until they break. We push ourselves to be busy all the time even when it's supposed to be leisure. My kids love sports, but when they started playing on travel teams, we had to draw the line on Sunday games. Some of those games took place during church hours. I confess, we cracked a little and allowed a few afternoon games, but I confess to being relieved when the kids chose to give up travel sports because it was too crazy – now their only games are on Saturday. Our lives are much more relaxed for it.

But we drive ourselves crazy with it – we feel like we have to "use" the weekend, so we travel incessantly. We feel like we can't waste our time staying at home, so we go out to the mall even when there's nothing we need. Families have no time together because they're going in 20 different directions, and while it's profitable for businesses to have everyone out doing things, it isn't healthy and it isn't in keeping with God's word.

So why aren't the churches going after the Sabbath breakers? Well, unlike going after gays – which is fun and easy since they make up only 10% of the population at most –being forced to observe the Sabbath would affect 100% of the population. Being forced to observe the Sabbath would affect profits. And being forced to observe the Sabbath would force us to sit still and face ourselves – which may be the scariest thing of all. We are a society that does not reflect, that does not know itself (we as individuals often don't know ourselves because of our incessant activity), and we are poorer and meaner for it.

So, conservatives, here's a call to arms! If you want a worthy crusade, take up blue laws. It's biblical. It promotes family values. It makes for a more decent society. What's not to love?