The Olympics, mammon and God

I’m working for a short while with the Relationships Foundation on the Keep Sunday Special campaign. The following is a post that Theos kindly put up. It can be accessed in its original here.

According to Twitter, Boris Johnson, London’s Conservative mayoral candidate put his foot in his mouth rather badly at the churches’ hustings when he said that you can serve both God and mammon.

Boris’s way of thinking is a great example of the mixed messages our current Government is putting out. On the one hand, Cameron wants to make the UK the most family-friendly country in Europe, even preaching that we are a Christian country. On the other, his Chancellor has introduced legislation that would allow big shops to open around the clock on Sundays during the Olympics, with whispers that this is the precursor to long term legislative change.

Sunday trading is a good example of a shift in late capitalism, when our society takes part in a globalised economy unbound by the natural rhythms of day and night. Leisure has been commodified, something we now pay for rather than something we pursue in relationship with others. In other words, mammon makes the world go round.

The original warning “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” can be found in St. Matthew and St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which the man who claimed to be the Son of God outlines what his kingdom looks like. It’s a vision of care and compassion, of genuine ‘corporate social responsibility’. It’s a much-cherished, though difficult, passage, as it puts forward a vision of life together that if we are honest, we will never be able to fulfil. But that is not to say we should not work to order society in such a way as to make that vision more possible. Indeed, that is what makes good governance.

Here is an opportunity for Cameron to show he is serious about his support for family life, and for the life of those less well off. The claim that we are a Christian country should also in some sense reflect on his vision for the rhythms of our corporate living.

Not that he needs to rely on Christian arguments. There is good empirical evidence to show that deregulation would not lead to growth because we would not spend more than we currently do, or if we did, the costs of staying open for longer would negate the benefit. According to Marks and Spencer’s former chairman, Sir Stuart Rose, we would simply spend the same over more time at greater cost to the industry.

Moreover research from the Relationships Foundation in conjunction with the National Centre for Social Research unsurprisingly found atypical working hours have a detrimental relationship on family and parenting.[1] More broadly, the research shows that “rising work stress is costing employers an estimated £3.76 billion per year, with around 13 million working days lost for this reason,” while “almost 40% of people drawing incapacity benefits have a mental health condition, costing around £12 billion per annum.”[2]

What putting God before mammon means for Sunday trading is simply to recognise that the benefits of properly punctuating the rhythm of life outlast the short term gains of working for more stuff.

Lauri Moyle is Spokesperson for the Keeping Sunday Special campaign and is working with Christian and other faith groups, Trade Unionists, small business owners, and even some “old style” Conservatives to get the Government to drop its plans to extend Sunday trading hours over the Olympics. The campaign website can be found athttp://www.keepsundayspecial.org.uk


[1] Unsocial Hours: Unsocial Families? Working Time and Family Wellbeing, Relationships Foundation, March 2009 (http://www.relationshipsfoundation.org/Web/OnlineStore/Product.aspx?ID=37) p.9

[2] Ibid p.10

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