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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: He died for our sins... not for our veges

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Blues fans could watch their rugby at Easter but foodies couldn't get cheese. Photo / Dean Purcell
Blues fans could watch their rugby at Easter but foodies couldn't get cheese. Photo / Dean Purcell

And lo, it came to pass that the ancient festival of Easter rolled around again.

And the malls were empty, and a great silence descended, broken only by the vile imprecations of yuppies who'd run out of coffee beans and the lamentations of those forced to eat bread past its use-by date.

And mightily did they rage but to no avail, for the word came down from on high: "Tough shit, pal, it's Easter. Everything's closed."

Another Easter, another storm in a teacup about a handful of retailers flouting the shop trading hours laws. I know filling a newspaper or news bulletin on a slow news day can be a struggle but, really, the spectacle of a reporter and camera crew ambushing a bewildered Asian who'd opened his business on Easter Sunday sums it up: an irrational anachronism which, like it or not, we're obliged to go along with.

It's undeniable that, historically, this is a Christian country and most of us have grown up with and absorbed the core Christian messages.

For that reason it's appropriate that we as a society mark the most important days in the Christian calendar.

It's equally true that many, perhaps most, New Zealanders now regard organised religion in much the same way as some of us regard golf: a practise we engage in at increasingly irregular intervals and find something of an ordeal.

Look at it from an agnostic or atheist point of view: Because a radical named Jesus Christ got so far up the nose of the Jewish hierarchy that they colluded with the Romans to have him put to death, I must be deprived of access to fresh vegetables for two days of a holiday weekend. (It's perhaps worth noting here that the timing of Easter is determined according to a system devised in 325 by a bunch of bishops who assembled at the behest of the Roman emperor Constantine. It's all to do with the full moon.)

Even if you look at it from the viewpoint of an old-school Christian who believes that on the third day Christ rose from the dead, or a new age Christian who regards the crucifixion and resurrection as metaphors illuminating the ideals of selflessness and salvation, the question remains: What's it got to do with shop trading hours in 2012?

Doesn't it trivialise the Easter story to associate it with something as mundane and bureaucratic as a law which bans most forms of commerce while permitting a select few?

Why is it that we can't get a mango, but can go to the movies? If the idea is that we should acknowledge Christ's sacrifice with small acts of self-denial, shouldn't that apply across the board?

It doesn't seem fair that foodies can't get decent cheese, yet rugby fans can go to a Super 15 game.

You would have thought there was an even stronger case for ensuring that it's the same for everyone when compulsory self-denial takes the form of giving up the chance to make money, whether as a business owner or a worker.

Here we run up against the unholy alliance between the churches and trade unions: even though the union movement has historically been anti-clerical, there's a certain logic in a coalition between two institutions with a fondness for saying, "You can't do that". There are some simple issues here. The first is that, whatever our traditions, we're now a secular society.

If you doubt that, compare our politics to what goes on in America where sanctimonious religiousness is virtually a prerequisite for high office.

Remember the nationwide yawn when Don Brash, as Opposition leader, denounced Helen Clark as an atheist? Or the nationwide unease when it emerged that the Exclusive Brethren were covertly disseminating anti-Labour and anti-Greens material during an election campaign?

Secondly, ours is a tolerant society, a wide tent that provides shelter to all regardless of race, creed or colour, unless anti-social tendencies and intolerance of contending belief systems are central to the particular group's identity.

Thirdly, we're a free society. Christians can mark their sacred days with solemnity and quiet contemplation, and others can do their own thing. Why should respectfulness be imposed in the form of a suspension of normality?

This isn't a sinister infringement of individual choice, but it's one we could do without. Those who support this prohibition, whether on the basis that it's appropriate or no big deal, should bear in mind that if you've got a compelling message, you shouldn't have to keep telling the audience to shut up and pay attention.

- NZ Herald

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