Shopping on Public Holidays

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
18th March 2009

Tagged: community family gambling government materialism

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Should shops remain closed on Easter and Boxing Day? Should the TAB open for bets on Good Friday?

Are these steps another slap in the face of Australia's Christian heritage and one more step in de-Christianizing society?

If you expect me as a Christian leader to react with horror and self-interest, blind to the privileged place that Christianity holds in our society—I am sorry to disappoint you.

Christianity is not about observing “days and months and seasons and years” (Galatians 4:10). I personally do not believe one day is more important than another but that all days are the same. I appreciate that others count one day as special and respect them for their beliefs (Romans 14:5-7). But I do not find days and seasons necessary for Christian belief.

However, as a Christian citizen I am both saddened and alarmed at the direction our elected leaders are being pushed to take us. The problem is not the departure from the formal ritual of Christianity but the abandonment of the moral and social good that Christianity has brought to society.

There is no religious reason to maintain Boxing Day as a public holiday. Hardly anybody remembers it is St Stephen's Day and few Christians celebrate it. But as a Christian citizen I am opposed to the community forgoing the benefits of a well-established public holiday. All citizens, Christian or not, should resist the pressure of commercial self-interest that would deny us the benefits of an extended break.

You would think that the Global Financial Crisis would have made materialistic greed the new taboo. Even the movie that gave us the motto “Greed is Good” exposed its fallacy. But the total lack of morality, or even basic humanity, in raising executive salaries while retrenching hundreds of workers, speaks otherwise. The hypocrisy of the free enterprise giants, arriving in their private jets to get Government bail outs for their failing enterprises has been exposed for all to see. If ever there was a time for our commercial leadership to walk quietly with a modicum of humility, it should be now. For them, of all people, to be pushing the Government to change society's pattern of holidays is an appalling cheek.

The Christian concern over shopping days and gambling is not about conflict with religious observances but the kind of society we are becoming. At first sight it is strange to see a Labor government working collaboratively with Capitalists to remove weekends and Public holidays from workers' entitlements. But the thing that unites capitalists and socialists is a common commitment to materialism and greed. And this raises the Christian citizens' concern. We think that there is more to life than materialism and want to express that by occasionally stopping commerce, especially retail shopping.

It is argued that this is an individual choice. “There is nothing forcing Christians to shop on Boxing Day or any other public holiday. They should not impose their non-materialistic views on society.” This argument is not surprising as the selfish deifying of my personal choice, freedom and individualism, are all of a piece with materialism. This is what the Christian citizen opposes, for the philosophy and religion of materialism is not good for individuals, families or society.

Materialism fails to grapple with the nature of community or humanity. Society cannot be based on individualism and remain a community. Society cannot be based on materialism without ‘selling out’ to one of the most unattractive and self destructive of human frailties: greed.

Materialism claims to provide individual freedom and personal choice but it imposes its lifestyle on others. Often it is forced on the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. My freedom to shop is their obligation to serve me by working. It is not the CEOs skiing in Aspen, or the senior management lying with their families on Avoca Beach or the share holders watching their wealth, who are forced to work. It is Mr. Rudd's “working families” who miss out on time together as the bread winner(s) is forced to miss recreational time with friends and family.

The short-term bribe of double pay only undermines decent pay rates and the freedom to work a “normal” week. Work on weekends, public holidays, and at inconvenient hours has become part of the employment package. The people who have the least bargaining power have this life pattern imposed upon them in order to have a job.

It is incredible to read the retailers' “spin” that opening shops on one or two extra days a year will provide time for “families to shop together”. Already twenty percent of retail shopping happens on Sundays. There surely is more than enough opportunity for “families” (i.e. those not involved in retail industries) to shop together.

As each step of the retail world opens up on Sundays and public holidays, so more people are forced to work. It is not just those in retail industries but also transport workers, security services, the banking sector and others. Gradually we remove the very day that gave families the opportunity to shop together—for we are removing the opportunity of having a day off together.

To start gambling on overseas horse races on Good Friday is symptomatic of the addictive disease of materialism. Our society is saturated with the problems of gambling. We cannot conceivably need another opportunity to gamble. Such a government-backed action raises the much more profound question: “What kind of society do we want to be?”

The question is inscribed on the Federation Pavilion in Centennial Park. It marks the spot of the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The one time theosophist, and then rationalist, Bernard O'Dowd posed the question in his poem “Australia”. It is the simple question of our future. Only two options are inscribed: “Mammon or millennial Eden”.

The answer our leaders are giving is clear: Australia is “a new demesne for Mammon to infest”.

We do not have to be Christian to want some values beyond commercialism. But it is Christianity that has framed our culture, heritage and civilization to celebrate more to life than material acquisition and profit making. It is Christian to be concerned that not just the idle rich but also the working poor can enjoy time together in relaxation and recreation.