Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Exod. 20. 8-11.
THE MARTIAN STUDENT, swooping dangerously low over the United States in his flying saucer, scribbled furiously with his writing tentacle. He had chosen an ideal morning for taking notes-a fine summer Sunday, with all the natives coming out of their houses and obligingly spreading themselves around for his observation. But he was in a desperate hurry. Only one more week till his thesis was due, and without it he hadn't an earthman's chance of passing his comparative anthropology course.
As it turned out, though, he needn't have worried. The report he wrote was brilliant, comparing favourably for accuracy and insight with the best work of our earthly anthropologists. In several Martian colleges professors have read it aloud as a shining example of what modem scientific methods can do.
"Like so many primitive life forms [thus went the Martian's report] the creatures of the third planet are sun worshippers. One day in every seven is set apart for the adoration of their deity, weather permitting. Their rituals vary, and each apparently involves a special form of dress; but all are conducted in the open air, and most seem to require the collection of enormous crowds. Some creatures gather in vast arenas, to watch strangely garbed priests perform elaborate ceremonies involving a ball and variously shaped instruments of wood. [The significance of the ball as a solar symbol, of course, is known to every Martian schoolboy.] Others, no doubt the mystics and solitaries of their religion, prefer to address the ball themselves with long clubs, singly, or in groups of two or four, wandering in green fields. Some, stripping themselves almost naked in their ecstasy, go down to the seashore in great throngs and there perform their rites, often hurling themselves into the waves with frenzied cries. [This practice is unmistakably based on the dogma, found also among the semi-intelligent crustaceans of Venus, that the sun is a sea-god born anew each morning from the ocean; the use of large brightly coloured balls in these seaside rituals is confirmatory evidence.] After the ceremonial immersion, devotees have been observed to anoint themselves with holy oils and stretch themselves out full length with eyes closed, in order to surrender themselves entirely to silent communion with the deity.
"Human sacrifice, sad to say, is also practised, the instrument of death being a four-wheeled metal car which may be employed in various ways. Often a chosen victim is run down and crushed. Even more frequently the sacrifice is voluntary; devotees enter the cars, and either work themselves into a frenzy by travelling at high speeds until they dash themselves to bits against other cars or stationary objects-or else congregate in vast throngs, too closely packed to move, and allow the sun's rays beating upon the hot metal to cook them slowly to death.
"There exists, however, a small sect of recalcitrants or heretics that does not practise sun worship. These may be identified by their habit of clothing themselves more soberly and completely than the sun worshippers. They too gather in groups, but only to hide from the sun in certain buildings of doubtful use, usually with windows of glass coloured to keep out the light. It is not clear whether these creatures are simply unbelievers or whether they are excommunicated from sun worship for some offence -we have not been able to discover what goes on within their buildings, which may perhaps be places of punishment. But it is noteworthy that their faces and gestures show none of the almost orgiastic religious frenzy with which the sun worshippers pursue their devotions. In fact, they usually appear relaxed and even placid, thus indicating minds blank of thought or emotion; in this connection, see Dr. Duerf's monumental study, Totem and Taboo Among the Giant Centipedes of Mercury.
Was the Martian wildly wrong, or fantastically right?
Sunday is still a holiday to all of us, but for many it has long since ceased to be a holy day. Violation of the Sabbath is one of the great sorrows of the modern churchman. Half the churches are empty, while all the popular places of entertainment are crowded. True, men seldom work on the Sabbath if they can help it; but how passionately, how unscrupulously, they play on it ! Nor can we force them to stop playing. Our old prohibitive laws have rightly fallen into disuse; they are an outrage against the conscience of a country built on the Christian religion and on its inescapable corollary, the principle of religious freedom. When a man contemplates forcing his own convictions down another man's throat, he is contemplating both an unchristian act and an act of treason to the United States.
So the unbelievers must go on with their games. But what of the believers? It is so easy for them to be tempted into joining the games, first now and then, later as a habit; finally, the uneasy sense of something forgotten on Sunday morning gradually fades away entirely, and faith in God perishes not by conviction but by disuse. Even many who do come to church come out of a dull sense of duty rather than a joyous sense of devotion-the life has gone out of their belief. Others, instead of stirring their stumps, listen in comfortable living rooms to a sermon on the radio, arguing that it is "just the same." They have forgotten that one of the first necessities of the Christian life is a congregation, a physical coming together; that the communion is between man and man as well as between man and God; that solitary worship, except for some few specially called to ascetic life, is hardly Christian worship at all.
And it is no use scolding them. In the end, a man will love a scolding church no better than a nagging wife, and may very well desert both. Nor is it much use begging them-saying, in effect, "We know we're a horrible bore, and the golf course is much more fun; still, sacrifice yourselves to us for conscience' sake ! " For the whole essence of a church is that it must not be a horrible bore; it must be love and beauty and delight beyond all other delights, if it is truly to exist in His name. Otherwise it must fail and dwindle into a dead formality, and no threats or pleadings will give it much semblance of life.
How does one keep a day holy? By making it unpleasant, and restrictive, and boring, or by making it joyous? By making it as much as possible like hell, or as much as possible like heaven?
There are two texts in the Bible that may hint at an answer, one in the Old Testament : "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good," and one in the New "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."
One cannot escape the conviction that certain elements in the churches have themselves unintentionally done much to make the Sabbath unholy. It took the strict Puritans of England only ten years-from 1650 to 166o-so to disgust the people with legislated piety that they reacted into a licence undreamed of before. Perhaps the wilful licence of our own Sundays originated partly in a kind of bravado, a resentment of legislated controls and negative virtues. When bigots interpreted the Fourth
Commandment to mean Thou shalt not enjoy life on Sunday, did not all Pandemonium raise a howl of triumph? The Puritan tradition has given the world great things-education and freedom and a concept of ethics in government; yet alas, for many people today the name "Puritan" has become a scoffing and a byword, synonymous with kill-joy. Not that the Puritans were really foes to all joy. But they did think a purely intellectual and spiritual concentration on God was the only religious experience worth seeking. They did smash stained-glass windows in Old England, and frown on children at play in New England -see their school advertisements. And, like all who lack charity, they preferred negative methods; they believed you could make people enjoy God by forbidding them to enjoy anything else.
Question a dozen modem infidels about their childhood, and half of them will trace their atheism to endless dull, bleak Sundays in a negatively "Christian" household which made a child's life seem hardly worth living. The football matches, the dances, the speeding cars, the crowded beaches of today's Sabbath-they are fugitive and inadequate pleasures, no doubt. Yet for many they may be an attempt, however fumbling, to restore to the Sabbath some of that holy gladness which it had before over-zealous reformers turned the Fourth Commandment's "thou shalt" into a "thou shalt not."
Cast back into history, and the true meaning of the Sabbath is easy enough to find. "Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates." On this one day, man returned to Eden. The curse of Adam was lifted, the primal Fall undone somewhat, and all creatures caught a glimmering of the paradisal state in which everything God had made was very good. On this one day a man was commanded to enjoy himself.
In the early years of Israel men celebrated the Sabbath as a feast, in just this spirit. With the rise of an organized and legalistic priesthood, however, the day of gladness and rejoicing soon gave way to a day of discipline. The prohibition of work was interpreted with an awful literalness : one might not light a fire, cook a dinner, or use one's false teeth. In Christ's time, there were 1,521 things one could not do on the Sabbath including rescuing a drowning man. Until the resolute Maccabees taught them better, Jewish armies would let themselves be slaughtered on the Sabbath rather than perform the "work" of self-defence. The first taboo, among others, is still in force: orthodox Jews may neither kindle nor quench a flame on Saturday. A group of them recently stoned a fire engine in Jerusalem for putting out a fire on the Sabbath. And in New York's East Side the "shabbas goy" is a traditional institution -the Sabbath Gentile, usually a needy drunk or an underfed child, who earns a few cents by turning on the Jewish stoves which the pious, bound by letter rather than spirit, dare not light for themselves.
Absurd? But remember that the distinction between act and intention, letter and spirit, hardly existed at all before Christ made it for us: nor can it be preserved without the constant guidance of Christ. The modern world makes it imperfectly, the ancient world seldom dreamed of it. In the old days, work was work and sin was sin. Was picking an apple work, by ordinary definition? Then work it remained, though you did it in sheer playfulness. Did killing a man make you guilty of blood? Then you were blood guilty even if he killed himself purposely by throwing himself before your chariot. Thus Oedipus in the Greek play must beat the full shame of parricide and incest, though it is by a quite innocent mistake that he has killed his father and married his mother. And thus the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for Sabbath-breaking when he healed the sick. The answer was a flash of that divine common sense of which the human race is commonly incapable-"The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."
The words shattered, for a time, the whole iron prison of prohibitions which had turned a day of joy and love into a day of sullenness and fear. The Christian Sabbath was a feast indeed -the love feast, the communal meal or worship. No one thought of it as renunciation of pleasure; it was every man's pleasure and supreme delight. The ancient Romans, their own religion long since dwindled to spiritless and sceptical routine, suspected the Christians of perpetrating obscene orgies on their Sabbath-on the ground that Christians obviously enjoyed the Sabbath so much !
On this groundwork of joy the medieval church built the great festivals of the Christian Year. Not for those days the modem distinction between the religious and the secular; they had grasped the truth that all of life is holy. The earth turned round its eternal wheel in heaven, the seasons changed. Midwinter brought the birth of the new year and the birth of God; after a season of darkness spring came with the resurrection of Christ among the reborn flowers. And all glad things of the seasons-flower and fruit, the stars in their courses and the pleasant doings of men-all testified to the Glory. A house was built, a child begotten, a bridge thrown across an abyss, a cathedral aimed at the sky-in God's name, every one. A multitude danced in the streets, or paraded in beautiful and fantastic costumes, or sang songs, or put on amateur theatricalsand God was the theme of dance and song and parade and play. Of course men fell short; of course, day after day, the Middle Ages slipped back into the usual human cruelties and lusts, greeds and fears. Yet still they believed. To them there was no such thing as a secular matter, a part of man's life that wasn't God's business. A man could not so much as put on his shoes of a morning without God helping him to tie the laces aright, and the devil trying to muddle his fingers and make him lose his temper. Medieval thought reached its height in the feast of Corpus Christi-the festival of the body of the man Jesus, the celebration of the Word made flesh, the solemn affirmation that this life, for all its corruption and betrayals, is nevertheless the work of God-twisted by Satan, yes, but never altogether stripped of glory, and in the end redeemed into the eternal splendour of heaven. Out of this view of life grew the Christian Sabbath, in which man, like God rested from his labours and saw that the world was good.
Unfortunately, man cannot for long endure the common sense of God.
Side by side with Christianity, and often mistaken for it, there has always existed a dark Eastern religion of despair. Perhaps it first came out of exhausted and overpopulated India, where the Lord Buddha decided long ago that life was a mess. The religion of despair often achieves a stoical and ascetic nobility, very impressive to those who are impressed by dramatic gestures. Yet it is the very opposite of the true gospel. The Christian gives up his own desires for the love of others; the Eastern ascetic renounces the world because he thinks it not worth desiring.
Pride aping love-it is the devil's best trick. Self-mutilation has masqueraded as Christianity; Manichaeism (the notion that the devil created matter) has masqueraded as Christianity: neurotic hatred of life has masqueraded as Christianity. To this day we find men who call themselves Christians maintaining that anything a human being enjoys by nature must be labelled evil.
Why do we so make war upon the gifts of God? We may guess at our own motives : the despair that hates other men's hope, the lovelessness that would deny other men love, the plain vulgar envy and malice that can't bear to see other men happy. For self-denial, there is a philosophical justification-only when duty is unpleasant can we be sure that we're doing it for its own sake and not out of selfishness. Yet to this chilly righteousness the Christian may answer in the words of Augustine: "Have charity and do what you like." And for "others-denial" -for robbing other people of harmless pleasures-there is no justification at all. One fact must be faced honestly by all true Christians : an impulse to spoil others' fun comes straight from the devil.
The negative Sabbath of modern times seems to have originated in the bitter religious strife of the seventeenth century. In Scotland, at that time, one poor wretch was haled into court for smiling on the Sabbath; considering the state of Scotland in his day, he should have been congratulated for managing to smile at all. And when the Pilgrims founded their theocratic colony, it seemed quite natural to them to enforce piety by every possible means. Poor people were punished both for not going to church and for going anywhere else. To this day, one sometimes finds the unthinkingly devout extolling the sort of "religion" produced by such methods.
Every church, always, must wrestle with the temptation of forcing people to come to God. Force is such an easy and obvious means ! As long as one can use force, one need not interest men, need not inspire them, need not humble oneself to be amiable and cajoling-the poor wretches have no escape. They are in the truest sense a "captive audience." The trouble is that a captive audience is a very different thing from a church.
In other words, churches that use force destroy themselves and their goal. During our early history non-attendance at church was punishable by law. When the public conscience revolted at this, some churchmen resorted to indirect force; they no longer insisted that men attend-but they saw to it that all other places a man could go were closed. If this seems a justifiable expedient, let us remember that in the early days of industrialism working people had hardly any free time except on Sunday; when nineteenth-century Sabbatarians denied men recreation on the Lord's Day, they came close to denying it altogether.
No doubt their intentions were good. Yet what has the end been? A materialist generation and a secularized Sabbath. Whenever churchmen ruled out one of mankind's earthly joys as unholy, they narrowed the scope of holiness. It was inevitable that ultimately everything worth doing should be regarded as purely secular; and that God himself, by fugitives from negative religion, should be conceived, not as the Source of joy, but as a foe of all joy.
How, then, may the churches recapture Sunday?
They will never recapture it, if they think of churchgoing itself as the goal. God is the goal. If we believe in him at all, we must believe that every man wants God in his heart far more than he can ever want anything else; for every man wants peace and love, answers to his questions, and the keys of heaven. When a church gives these, its doors overflow. When it does not -well, though it speak with the tongues of popular psychologists and radio commentators, though it make donations to hospitals and conduct political forums, it avails nothing.
How do you make a day holy? By stopping work-that is, by stopping all the pursuits we engage in for necessity not for pleasure, all our struggles with the world conceived as an enemy that is trying to starve us to death. By looking at that world and seeing that it is good. By entering into all its good and friendly and loving activities, and rejoicing in them. And, above all, by looking beyond the world to the Love that sustains it.
It is very hard, all the same, to tell the churches what to do with the Sabbath; much easier to tell them what not to do. It is easy to say : "Stop kicking against the pricks. Stop making a fuss over this or that bit of Sunday levity. Stop trying to force or terrify or bribe men into attendance. A forced churchgoer has no religion, a terrified churchgoer has no Christianity, a bribed churchgoer has no morals. We don't want men who come to church because the golf course is closed, but men who prefer God to golf."
All this is very true, but not very constructive. Similarly, there is not much value in drawing up a point-to-point programme for spending the Sabbath devoutly. A formal service in the morning, informal prayer meetings or question-answering sessions or church outings later, would no doubt make a good day. But we have all these things already, often very well organized, and yet they don't seem to draw the crowd. It might help if we thought less of the dignity of divine worship, and more of the sheer fun of it; if we took over all God's pleasures of body and mind and showed how, rightly used, they are faint foreshadowings of the supreme pleasure. Perhaps what we need, in this connection, is to revive the ancient concepts of sacred dances and sacred games. A well-organized church festival of sport and music and theatricals would certainly be more attractive to many people than the disorganized and murderous traffic of our Sunday highways.
But in the end the church must stand or fall by the churchmen.
Most of the ordinary people who lose their faith are not overthrown by philosophical argument; they lose faith because they Are disillusioned by the churchmen they meet. One sanctimonious hypocrite makes a hundred unbelievers. One little knot of gossips tearing a neighbour's reputation apart on the church steps smashes the Sabbath to splinters. If we are to put it together again, we must be Christians indeed-must show the rest of the world that a Christian gets something worth having out of his worship. It is not much use asking others to turn to God unless we set them the example. Let the church members behave like Christians seven days a week, and it is likely that the Sabbath will take care of itself. For how do you make a day holy? By seeing that it is holy already: and behaving accordingly.
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