The Chancellor of the Exchequer believes one thing about your life. All Tory policy is built around this belief. I’d even go so far as to say that every government in power since Margaret Thatcher has believed this.
You are an economic unit serving UKPLC.
You are a bad citizen if you aren’t productive enough, if you don’t spend enough and worst of all, if you are perceived as a drain on the economy. With this ideology in mind, George Osborne is about to further reform the Sunday trading laws. You can read more about it here.
It would appear that the one day of shorter working and shopping hours is holding back the economy. And for George that needs to change because if it is good for the economy, then George is for it. Whether it is good for people is a secondary issue. People come and go, but the economy soldiers on. People are disposable but economies are forever. If you don’t believe me, read this.
The bible is pretty consistent on describing its abhorrence of Idolatry. Not just a few verses here or there. Scripture is infused with an anger about how idolatry destroys humans and creation. Idolatry take two forms: something which usurps God’s place at the head of creation and therefore retells the master story in its own image or it is something which sits in God’s place and asks people to serve it regardless of the cost. Things like flags, nations, ideologies, doctrines, family, economics, holy books.
George is inviting us to serve the idol and gospel of the thriving economy. Economic growth shall set you free. Work more hours for less pay. Spend more. Cooperate understandingly when the elimination of your job makes the company appear more profitable. If you don’t go along with it, there is something suspect about you because UKPLC needs this to happen and therefore you do too.
In the case of the Sunday trading laws, he wants retail workers, who traditionally have been low paid and who have little job security to exchange a few precious hours of leisure for more hours of toil. He discourages us to think that maybe in the big scheme of things, it would be better to spend a couple of extra hours around a table with friends, in a park or forest or on a game of Scrabble or a good movie or (gasp!) doing nothing but being. Do we all really need more hours to go buy more stuff?
I’ve just read Walter Brueggemann’s “Sabbath as Resistance”. In this book he suggests that when Israel were slaves, Pharoah’s way was more work, more growth. Israel were slaves serving a 24/7 imperial economy which had no place for people and their petty needs. Every moment is about production.
The Sabbath, on the other hand, is about being. To be human is to participate in relationship and neighbourliness. Relationship is with people, creation, with nature, with God, with ourselves and maybe even a relationship with all the stuff we already own. Neighbourliness is about mutual care for each other which no market and no amount of productivity can provide. It is the antithesis to productivity and its demands.
The Sabbath was created as a counter-point to Pharoah.
Increasingly, governments of all stripes see the population as a collective of economic units. Our intrinsic worth is what we can contribute to the economy. That’s why so much of our national debate is focussed on who is creating wealth and who is draining it . It is a debate that encourages us to think about who are the heroes and who are the villains. The villains are the ones who don’t deserve, the ones who have pressing human needs that require precious resources to be diverted from our thriving economy, the ones who seem to want a free hand out. Such myths are built on other myths of self reliance, fear and the concept that wealth is a sign of deserved blessing on those who have it.
Sabbath says no to the idolatrous myth George serves. Sabbath says that here is a different income and expenditure sheet that our national health is judged on. Sabbath says the economy should serve us. There are no “shirkers and workers” but rather stewards who are offered a great gift and are called to share it wisely and generously with each other. Sabbath invites us to rediscover our neighbour, not as a competitor or an asset, but as a fellow person made in the image of God.