Last weekend, my family and I were on a holiday family retreat in the southern Missouri Ozarks. While our multi-generational clan did a little Christmas shopping in the nearby small town, lunchtime hunger set upon us. Thing is, nearly half the restaurants in the downtown area were closed on Sunday.
Visiting a conservative Bible-belt community, I was not shocked. But it did get us nostalgic about a bygone era when most types of business establishments were banned from operating on Sundays.
Motivated by religious influences that considered Sunday to be the holy day of worship, so-called blue laws were also historically supported by labor unions to give workers a day off. It was also a leftover of the Prohibition era to restrict the sale of alcohol.
The rationale was twofold: people off from work would be available to attend church and would be protected from exploitation by commercial interests.
So neither do work yourself, nor engage in activities that prompt others to service you with their labor.
They said blue laws would advance the general welfare, protect labor and promote the moral and physical well-being of society.
These laws eventually faded, either by being struck down in court or from culture changes. Missouri has remnant blue laws that restrict the sale of alcohol to certain times of day, and stores are required to get an supplemental liquor license to sell it at all on Sunday.
But there is a case for a day of rest. Tangibly, it is a mere one day out of seven where we, as individuals, families and a community at large, all take 24 hours off from the daily grind.
Anybody suffering from nighttime insomnia will tell you a lack of sleep is no fun.
Likewise, running full-tilt day after day endlessly tends to lead to fatigue of a physical, cognitive, emotional and even spiritual manner. By getting refreshed and recharged, we could likely be more “with it” the other six days of the week.
Particularly in the heat of Christmas shopping season, perhaps there is an acute need for a day off from commercial activity.
By going to the store, restaurant, or calling an 800 number for some service request on our day off, we are essentially demanding some laborer not have a day off. The modern ethics of this might seem complicated, though: What if one’s work is not physically strenuous? Does shopping online, or from a vending machine count? What about watching a ball game on TV? Driving a car? Exercising?
Sometimes there are emergencies, but with just a little forethought, most economic activities could be diverted to either the day before or after.
The Mormons are big on offering philosophic and practical guidelines within their subculture about how to realize the full benefits of the sabbath — like not shopping on Sundays.
At the same time, the radical anti-capitalist group Adbusters, annually promote the day after Thanksgiving not as Black Friday but as “Buy Nothing Day.”
For the sake of society’s morals and health, authoritarian blue laws were supported by both puritanical and progressive political forces using the political system to put limits on society.
Even in today’s world, with or without such legal requirements, we are still free to carry out our personal values through self-imposed boycotts, for whatever reason motivates us.
If a mass of people trend such a way, stores will take note; they won’t find it profitable to open their doors at days and times when few customers tend to show up.
If it’s not too early to consider New Year’s resolutions, I resolve that for 2018 to refrain from shopping on Sundays.
Not to change the world, but for my own benefit.
Sure, it will be inconvenient at times, and certainly countercultural. I expect some odd looks when I say no to certain group outings, but I look forward to it being a conversation starter.
Six days a week ought to be ample opportunity for the economic side of life.
Columnist Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” on 89.5 KOPN at 5 p.m. every Tuesday.