By Naomi Schaefer Riley
May 9, 2016 | 8:57pm
Naomi Schaefer Riley
The Sabbath is in decline. That’s the unmistakable message from a 1,500-person survey out last week sponsored by the Deseret News. The report compares the way Americans observe (or don’t) the religious day of rest with their counterparts from 30 years ago.
In 1978, almost three-quarters of Americans told Gallup the Sabbath had particular religious or spiritual meaning for them. Today, only half of Americans say that.
Which is unfortunate. Because we may need a day of rest — which is to say, a day with family and friends, a day to give thanks and step back from the day-to-day demands of jobs — now more than ever.
And while 62 percent of Americans agree it’s important for society to set aside a day of spiritual rest, apparently plenty of us don’t follow our own advice, especially among the younger generations. Only 41 percent of millennials consider Sunday (in the case of Jews or Seventh Day Adventists, respondents were asked about Saturday) to have religious meaning, compared with 51 percent of Generation X, 56 percent of baby boomers and 58 percent of the Silent Generation.
Americans often complain they’re busier than ever. While surveys show we don’t actually work more than our parents and grandparents, our multitasking could make it seem that way. Going back and forth between caring for children, running a home and answering to a boss can be exhausting.
It makes taking one day off per week seem both desirable and impossible at the same time. Many Americans do spend their Sabbaths somewhat differently than they spend the rest of the week. Only about 13 percent actually report working at their jobs, a number that has remained virtually unchanged since 1978.
But there are significant changes from then. Only 27 percent say they attend church, compared with 55 percent who said that before. Which is not surprising in an era when religious disaffiliation is on the rise.
But there are other surprises. In 1978, 57 percent reported using their time on the Sabbath to visit friends, family and neighbors. Today, that number is only 40 percent. Perhaps they’re connecting on Facebook instead?
At least some people seem to be taking the Sabbath more for actual rest and relaxation. That number went from 63 percent to 73 percent. Whether that means they took a nap or went for a massage we don’t know.
Meanwhile, the percentage of people participating in outdoor activities or sports declined, while the percentage who went shopping rose. This hardly sounds like a recipe for greater rest or fulfillment.
Laura Vanderkam, author of “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time,” says she’s “not surprised that fewer people are observing a day of rest each week. It’s generally not practical with the way many modern families spend their weekends, catching up with whatever wasn’t done during the week, and shuttling kids to sports and other activities.”
But Vanderkam says that “Even if you have no religious reason to observe a Sabbath, there’s a lot of wisdom in the concept of taking at least some time out from the usual routine.” Spiritual activities, physical activities and seeing friends and family are all the kinds of things that make us happier people.
Shopping usually doesn’t. And neither does answering emails.
Last month, thousands of people took part in the National Day of Unplugging. Since 2010, a group called Reboot, a hip Jewish nonprofit, has encouraged Jews to unplug from their devices each Sabbath.
Observant Jews don’t use electricity on the Sabbath and so generally don’t use their phones or computers. But even less traditionally minded Jews have started to adopt this practice (plenty of non-Jews have also stumbled onto this idea). While they may not go to synagogue or refrain from other activities prohibited by Jewish law, they’ll gladly turn off their phones for a day.
But it takes some willpower. It’s extraordinarily difficult for many of us to put away our devices for an hour, let alone a day. Indeed, one advantage of a religious Sabbath over a self-imposed one is that a higher power is holding you to it.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.