Daily Archives: Sunday 20 January 2008

The Bish needs a lesson in logical consequences

The Anglican Archbishop in New Zealand says that the law forcing shops to remain closed on Easter Sunday should be retained. Easter Sunday should be respected. Why?

Archbishop Moxon says the 2006 Census showed more than half the population consider themselves Christian and the Easter festival must be respected.

Bad argument. He makes a leap in the opening premise, from people saying consider themselves to be Christian, to thinking that means that people really are Christian – that is, committed followers of Christ. I’m guessing that plenty of those saying that they are Christian are cultural Christians, with a vague affiliation to the church, because their parents were Christian, and their grandparents were Christian, and the country seems to be vaguely Christian. Out of a population of 4,027,947 in New Zealand on census night in 2006, there were 4,167,684 responses to the religion question. You could give more than one response, and “non-responses” were counted as responses (who knows why – ask a statistician). 2,130,315 people described themselves as Christian of some sort of other – 51%. But of those, 186,234 were just plain “Christian – nfd”. NFD means, “not further defined”. If say, half of those are cultural Christians, as opposed to true believers, then only 49% of the country is truly Christian. Of course, who knows what percentage of “Christian – nfd” are cultural Christians? On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that plenty of the people who call themselves “Catholic” are cultural Catholics – not church goers or believers, but having been brought up in a Catholic home, still regarding themselves as Catholics.

But massage the numbers as you will. It doesn’t really matter. The Bishop has laid himself open to a much more troubling counter argument by basing his claim on numbers in the first place. By his logic, the moment the number of people who call themselves Christian drops below 50% of the population, we would be justified in removing support for Christian festivals. Easter Sunday and Christmas Day would no longer deserve special treatment.

I’m perfectly happy to support having days where shops just aren’t open. One of the interesting things about South Australia is that shops close on public holidays. That is, virtually all shops – supermarkets, liquor stores, malls, the works. A few places remain open – you can still buy milk and bread and vegies, but otherwise, it’s a shopping free zone. So retail workers get a holiday just like everyone else. Fantastic.

If the Bishop really wants to ensure that Christians are able to do their god-thingies on their festivals, he ought to be looking for universal arguments in favour of having the day off work, rather than arguments based on the number of people who call themselves Christian. A social justice based argument based on workers needing to be free from the pressure to work on holidays might just do the trick.