Protesting against Sunday cinema-going is anathema to some. But in some places, it makes perfect sense
Sat 3 Feb 2018 19.05 EST
It was fitting that the latest golden egg in the Star Wars franchise was the movie chosen to break another social curfew on the island of Lewis last week. Until Star Wars: The Last Jedi no film had ever been screened on a Sunday owing to strict observance of The Lord’s Day on this island. Each of the Star Wars films has a preamble that starts with the words: “In a galaxy, far, far away…” For the rest of Scotland and the world beyond, the customs and practices of the Western Isles and the craggy old faith that binds them have always seemed like a distant galaxy.
The usual lazy tropes were trotted out by soi-disant commentators to deride those who sought to defend the ban on Sunday entertainment in this part of Scotland. The Free Church of Scotland was once more condemned for its adherence to medieval values and for standing in the way of progress. Those cultural dissidents who refused to bow down to the idols of progress and enlightenment by supporting Sunday observance were jeered.
More than 180 people turned up at An Lanntair arts centre to watch the movie. Outside stood two protesters with placards bearing the legend: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”
One of them, the Rev MacIver, said: “People are forgetting about higher things and going against the Christian tradition of our island heritage and culture. There should be freedom of choice within the limits of respect of the religion and culture here.
“We are making our convictions clear – we are not trying to block people going in but making clear what we believe in and that they should be seeking their own salvation and God’s ways. Spending Sunday in a cinema is not God’s way.”
Some of the prophets of the new age borrowed the words painted on a placard from a memorable episode of Father Ted: “Down with this sort of thing”. This was once very funny. It is much less so when it’s excavated by smartarses years later in a way that makes them think they’re being all witty and urbane. They are about as urbane as a ragman’s trumpet.
The Rev MacIver’s protest was respectful and dignified. He knew he was going against the grain and that he would be mocked for doing so but he stood his ground, didn’t threaten anyone and spoke with sound, good reason. You don’t need to be a Christian or to belong to the Free Church of Scotland to agree with him. Freedom of choice does not mean freedom to trample on a tradition that has served a community well and that has not impinged on the rights of others.
Let’s put it another way: there are seven days in the week and each of the other six is replete with entertainment in every minute of every hour. To sacrifice one day of endless gratification is no sacrifice at all. For those, though, who hold dear to the old ways of God and their saviour, Sunday is the most hallowed day of the week. It is at the centre of the way they live their lives.
What point, other than to knock down an old custom in these parts, was being achieved here? It certainly isn’t an economic one, as some have averred, or even one about freedom of choice. When you have all the choices in the world at your disposal but refuse to cede one of them out of respect for the beliefs of another then that isn’t choice – it’s intolerance and betrays an absence of common humanity.
In the age of the gig economy, of low wages, of in-work poverty where workers are treated like serfs in honour to maximise the profits of retail giants that then hide them in offshore havens, the right to a day of rest is vital. These firms, not content with their price-fixing and exploitation six days of the week, started pressing to make it the whole seven. When our governments caved in and let them do so they removed one of the few protections and social privileges left to those on the bottom rung of society: the right to be civilised, to relax and to enjoy your family, protected from the predations of the market.
On Harris and Lewis and in the other regions of the Western Isles and the Highlands, where the Free Church of Scotland retains an influence, they maintain a healthy lifestyle balance. In some dispatches chronicling the events of last week on Lewis, it was reported with a measure of disdain that the swimming pool, sports centre and golf club all remain shut on the island on Sundays. What isn’t reported when this is trotted out once more is that the employees who would otherwise be asked to work in these places are granted a day of respite. In these reports, there was barely concealed contempt for a way of life and a church that the modern and oh-so-liberal elite deem to be an embarrassment to Scotland.
Compared with this lot, who affect progressiveness and enlightenment but move quickly to shut down all who hold opposing views on life, faith and family, the Free Church of Scotland is a beacon of good sense and reasonableness. I sincerely hope that the swimming pool, sports centre and golf club remain closed on Lewis for the foreseeable future. On these islands, which are among the most beautiful treasures of God’s Earth, it’s not as if there aren’t many other worthwhile things to see and do.