Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shutting up shop on Good Friday

I see the annual chorus of protest about (most) shops having to close on Good Friday has started up again. I'm in some trouble here. I think it's a really good idea to have a few days a year when the shops are shut. In Europe they make no bones about shutting regularly - for two half days a week and all day Sunday, as well as a solid clutch of holidays, sacred and profane.

So what do people do when they can't shop? They visit their families and friends. They go for walks and visit museums and art galleries. Some of them go to church. On Sundays they go out to lunch (it's a big day for restaurants, but they close Sunday evenings and often one other weekday too). New Zealanders used to do all these things too, until shopping took over.

On the other hand, I am so profoundly off the Catholic Church right now that I'd rather the shops stayed closed on secular holidays - Anzac Day, Waitangi Day - instead of religious ones.

Any institution that can proclaim that the man who raped a nine year old girl and got her pregnant with twins was committing a lesser sin than she and her mother did when they obtained an abortion - even though carrying the foetuses to term would have killed her - is unworthy of any sane person's support. To ram its point home, the church excommunicated the mother and girl and their doctor - but not the rapist.

Visiting the USA one Easter, I was amazed to find that Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not officially observed there. On the other hand, they have an impressive line-up of thoroughly civic holidays (though being America, they probably don't close up shop).

In Massey University's latest survey, 40 per cent of respondents say they have no religious affiliation, up from 29 per cent 17 years ago. Just over a third of New Zealanders describe themselves as religious, and although 53 percent say they believe in God, half of those have doubts. So clinging to Christian religious observances as almost our only form of time out from commerce doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. But the time out itself is invaluable, and the clamour of a few self-interested shopkeepers should not be allowed to drive it to extinction.

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