By Paul Ainsworth

D ID you know that if you buy a copy of a Sunday newspaper, you’re going to hell? I should add that I’m well aware the News of the World is dead – I’m not referring to that particular sin. Yes, visit a shop on a Sunday and you’re eternally bound to damnation with Beelzebub himself personally poking you with his pitchfork because you dared to breach the sacred laws of the Sabbath.

That is if you subscribe to certain aspects of Christianity, whose foreboding father state your Sundays should consist of nothing but prayer, fasting, and self-flagellation. Some churches are a bit more lenient with their spiritual punishments, and have kindly decreed that shopping on a Sunday is ok, so long as you do it for a few hours between morning mass and Songs of Praise in the evening. How kind of them.

This appears to be the religious tyranny facing many shopkeepers in the North today, who are allowed a window of trading between 1pm and 6pm on God’s Day Off.  Currently, there’s a debate around whether shops here should be allowed to forego these rules during 2012, to cash in on tourism, but fears abound that the biblical types in Stormont might have a thing or so to say about this, which for some appears to be the equivalent of head-butting Jesus in terms of its wickedness.

I’m too young and fresh-faced to remember the days when swings were chained up in parks in case the sound of children’s innocent carefree laughter offended our rather touchy Lord Above, but I do remember travelling through the city centre on a Sunday in days gone by, when you could have organised a football game on Royal Avenue without hindrance, such was the lack of people and cars in the eerily deserted area. Thank God (or maybe not) that those days are gone, and we are allowed to spend some cash on a Sunday. Now all that’s left is to scrap any law regarding trading that is in any way based on religious belief.

Try telling a struggling, recession hit shopkeeper in South Belfast that it’s God’s will his business should go belly-up because he can’t cater fully to a weekend trade. Myself, meanwhile, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve driven to Tesco on a Sunday evening, looking to do my shopping on one of my days off only to curse audibly when I remember it closed at six. Hell, I might have even taken the Lord’s name in vain!

Put simply, we are in the middle of a crushing recession, and as any readers of this very paper will know, hardly a week goes by without another story of financial gloom affecting our put-upon traders.

Why then, are some of our shops forced to close on a Sunday, the one day which for many people is the only real time they have free to do things like get the bread and milk in. If some Christians wish to keep the Sabbath holy, by all means, lock yourself in at home, switch off that Eastenders omnibus, crack the New Testament open and rattle those beads to your fingers bleed.

Just please don’t be the sort who condemn others as Hades-bound sinners because we need to top up our electricity on a Sunday evening. A small victory for common sense has occurred right here in recent years, with the Sunday opening of St George’s Market becoming a success in spite of protests in the beginning by placard-draped God-botherers. One of these holiest-of-men once furiously waved his Bible at me as I emerged sipping a freshly-brewed filter from one of the stalls within. Rather than toss the scalding contents over his red, vein-riddled angry face, I asked him if he considered what he was doing to be ‘working’, as if so, he was incurring the very wrath of the deity whose dignity he was trying to preserve by destroying a tourism success story. So never mind about church bells ringing on a Sunday…we’re on our knees economically so let the sound of tills ring out across the land.

 

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