Sunday sport – the Sabbath was made for man
From the Jubilee Centre blog it appears that a girls' football team from Back, near Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, reached their national final which is due to be played in Edinburgh on Sunday 25th May. But a number of parents have withdrawn their children, citing ‘religious observance on the isles’.
This has caused Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, to assert that ‘sports should be open to all, regardless of race or religion’, and so he has called on the organisers ‘to avert a situation in which a team in the final would be disqualified simply because of the religious traditions of the families from which they come’.
And Dr John Hayward, the author of the blog, concludes ‘the Western Isles MSP (is) correct to defend the right of his constituents who choose to enjoy their Sundays at church, with immediate family and relatives, for the needy, and for personal rest and relaxation’.
As much as Cranmer’s heart is with the good doctor, and as much as he is a great admirer of Eric Liddell (and indeed of the remarkable film ‘Chariots of Fire’), and as much as his spirit is in sympathy with the well-meaning parents from Back, he feels compelled to state quite unequivocally that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. These are young children who have worked hard to reach the finals, and it seems somewhat mean-spirited to assert a legalistic observance of a Sabbath which, after all, only transmuted to a Sunday after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine when worship of the Son supplanted that of the sun. In any case, the Sabbath stipulations were concerned with labour: one can hardly equate playing football with labour, since none of these children earn their living by it, and if children are not permitted to play on the Sabbath, one had better hide the lego.
And Alasdair Allan MSP is opening a veritable can of worms by demanding that sport be accessible to all ‘regardless of race or religion’. It would be of little consequence in a mono-faith culture in which there is broad consensus of a Sabbath day, but he is demanding in a legislative chamber that sporting bodies ensure that their fixtures are ‘inclusive’. This could potentially halt all games played on Sundays (for the Christians), but also calls into question those held on Saturdays (for the Jews) and those on Fridays (for the Muslims). And since there is no agreed governmental definition of ‘religion’, Cranmer foresees demands to recognise the appointed Sabbath day of the Jedi Knight fraternity, whatever day that be.
The decision to play football on the Sabbath must remain a matter for the individual conscience, and even (for these children) one exercised by their parents, but in a multi-faith context subject to EU supremacy and breathed over by notions of anti-discrimination and individual ‘human rights’, it can no longer be a matter for a legislation. Unless, that is, one is prepared to accept that entire sporting tournaments must be organised around the observance sensitivities of every religious minority.