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Secularists & Sundays

In deference to Christian religious custom, most businesses in England were legally prohibited from trading on Sundays until only a couple of decades ago. When the the law was relaxed, the predictable lobbying by religious activists resulted in an uneasy compromise whereby opening hours were tightly restricted. Now, with the Olympic Games looming large, the British government have announced emergency legislation in order to temporarily suspend those restrictions. Ministers appear to have decided that God will, for once, be taking an unusually chilled-out attitude to such willful trashing of His Sabbath.

The matter would seem simple enough for secularists: Sunday is just another day of the week, so why should it receive differential legal status because of Christian tradition? However, when I read some of the comments on that BBC article - and on other news websites - I couldn't help but feel that we might well be throwing the cultural baby out with the religious bathwater.

Richard Dawkins famously describes himself as a 'cultural Christian', a notion which I'm sure chimes with most atheists who grew up in such a society. For me, Sundays are associated with relaxing pub lunches, long walks along the canal (if fine) and intermittent snoozing over a newspaper with a glass or three of beer (if drizzle). It's the only day of the week when one can be reasonably confident that friends and family will all simultaneously be at leisure and able to get together. The more you think about it, the more likely it seems that - like Christmas and Easter - Sunday was hijacked by Christianity, and that primitive human tribes would have quite naturally allocated a day for game-playing and bond-developing amongst members. A society needs to socialise.

Like a lot of atheists, I continue to celebrate Christmas each year. I ignore the religious connotations and treat it as a festival of food, friendship and slighty-less-crap-than-usual television. Is it possible for secularists to support a 'Keep Sunday Special' campaign? Or does the Sabbath and all the cultural traits that go with it belong in the dustbin of history?



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