Leisure centres on the Western Isles may be forced to open on Sundays under new equality legislation, according to a recent article in The Guardian.
“The islands of Lewis, Harris and North Uist,” the article explained “are the last places in the UK where publicly owned and lottery-funded facilities such as leisure centres, golf courses, school grounds and community halls are closed because of sabbatarianism, which bans work and play on Sundays on religious grounds.”
This is a perfect example of a clash of worldviews in which the language of rights and fairness is being used to infringe people’s rights and freedom.
Leisure centres, golf courses and the like are perfectly at liberty to open and close whenever they choose. Should the council on the Western Isles decide on a whim that all facilities will be closed on Tuesday afternoons there may be some grumbling and concern at the inconvenience, but no-one will claim it is an infringement of their rights not to be able to go swimming between those particular hours. Why should Sunday closing be any different?
The difference is that the Sunday closures are maintained on a principle – and not just that, a religious principle.
The Sabbatarians believe that it is good and healthy for a community to set aside one day each week in which the normal hustle and bustle of activity stops and time is taken to relax at home with one’s family and/or to worship God. They came to this belief through Biblical teaching, but have also seen it to be viable, and even beneficial in practice.
Yet they have come up against a worldview that is founded on unfettered freedom of the individual. If Sunday afternoon is the time I want to go swimming or to play golf, then I have the right to do that. You can stop me by saying ‘Sorry, we just don’t open then’, but if you say ‘We don’t open then because we consider it wrong to,’ or worse, ‘We consider it bad for you if we do’, then I have every right to take deep umbrage at your audacity. How dare you claim to know what’s right for me, or to impose your vision of human flourishing onto me?
One of the dirtiest words in the post-modern West is ‘paternalism’; the worst crime you can commit against humanity is to think you have the answer and to try to impose that answer – however harmlessly – on others. And this is only exacerbated when your answer is informed by your religious faith.
There are two ironies here – the first is that the purpose of equality legislation is to protect individuals or groups from being discriminated against on the basis of physical features, sexual orientation or religious belief. To use a law of protection against the very people it is designed to protect makes a mockery of its spirit.
The second irony concerns our antipathy towards paternalism. It is widely acknowledged that many of Western society’s social problems are caused by family breakdown and, in particular, by the absenteeism of so many fathers. If the lack of a paternal influence in the family unit can cause so much chaos and distress, why would that not be true at a national level?
This isn’t a demand for benevolent dictatorship. Rather, it is a call to acknowledge that authority and experience aren’t inherently bad things. Teenagers reject their parents’ advice because they think things are different now. Cultures should not make the same mistake.
This article first appeared on the Theos website.