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In the Age of Amazon Sundays Can’t be Sacred

The sight of a US mail truck on Sunday drives me crazy. My mail isn’t delivered on Sunday; but thanks to the miracle of Amazon Prime, the postal service works for them on Sundays. Most of us live by the convenience of Amazon Prime—two, sometimes one day delivery of anything under the sun. Even when the checkout option includes, “Get it by Sunday…”

Sunday isn’t really sacred in our society anymore. Of course, the sacredness I speak of is the setting aside of normal activities for rest and family activities. The foundations for keeping Sunday set apart were eroded long ago.

A World Without Sunday Work

Seeing others have to work on Sunday makes me cringe. I remember observing several workmen nailing a roof on this past Easter, as we dashed off to Church. The workers were definitely Latin American, and most likely, baptized Catholics. Yet there they were, working on Sunday.

Could we live in a world without work, or at least without shopping, on Sundays? Poland seems to think so:

The Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, passed the bill by 254 to 156 to restrict Sunday shopping to the first and last Sunday of the month until the end of 2018, only on the last Sunday in the month in 2019, and to ban it totally starting in 2020. It will still be permitted, however, on the Sundays before major holidays such as Christmas. Some bakeries and online shops will also be exempt.

The simplest solution to the Amazon problem would be for Jeff Bezos simply to give the option to delay my order by a day. As it is, if I don’t want the postal worker to deliver for me, I have to put off placing an order from Friday evening to Saturday morning (so it will arrive on Monday). It’s a simple enough adjustment, sure, and I also realize Jeff doesn’t have much incentive to make it easier for me. Of course, even if he were motivated to make avoiding Sunday delivery simpler (by the few carts actually abandoned), such virtue signaling on my part would do nothing to stop the Sunday mail trucks. Someone else is going to order anyways.

There’s little I can really do about the workers building on Sunday. Sure, I can make sure I don’t call the plumber or handyman on a Sunday. But in our American society, I doubt I can really stand up and say “no” to someone else’s free engagement of labor. Just like Amazon delivering on a Sunday, the market freely breaks down our long-standing customs and important traditions for the sake of efficiency. It makes sense, really. Seeing roofers work on Sunday is a logical consequence of stores and shopping malls becoming meccas for consumption. If people are willing to shop, why wouldn’t they be willing to work?

For my part, I can (and try to) turn email off on a Sunday. But it’s not easy. The messages pile up in my inbox and for as much as I might try to “life hack,” a cluttered inbox on Sunday puts Monday and Tuesday behind the eight ball. What’s really left to make Sunday sacred?

The Other Days

The problem isn’t just Sunday’s fault. It’s the six other days of the week, too. The routines of work usually leave little room to breathe during the week (at least in my life), and a lot of things get “pushed” until the weekend. Of course, Saturday is monopolized by sports and honey-do lists; that leaves one day of the week for everything else. Sunday still retains some small character of restfulness in our society. And that’s precisely why it can now be filled with everything else.

The problem of Sunday work really can’t be solved with just an emphasis on absence, or even with the first step of saying “no” the way Poland is saying “no.” Indeed, I’m sure Jeff will find a way to completely take humans out of the delivery equation: using robots to fulfill in his warehouses, drones to deliver the packages, and AI to handle the complaints and logistics. But that won’t change the fundamental problem you and me have with honoring sunday as a day of rest. The pressure laid by other days of the week—and by our cultural compulsion to consume and engage in commerce—will fill the void. The only way Sunday as sacred will survive is if the whole week is reoriented toward Sunday. In other words, we need to live for Sundays.

Addition, Not Subtraction

This isn’t subscribing to the mantra, “work hard to play hard,” or “live for the weekend.” These create false dichotomies between work and play, or said differently, productive activity and leisure. Work is good for us; it’s one way in which we can collaborate with God in creation and it is a means to our sanctification. Frankly, it’s also necessary.

The better paradigm is that of fasting and feasting. That is, I suspect if the “no shop Sundays” will work in Poland, it is precisely because of the priority the Sunday obligation (i.e., going to Mass) and time spent together with family and friends still has for the culture. Even our secular culture gets it: the alternative to Mass attendance is the ubiquitous “Sunday brunch”—and while this keeps resturants and their workers busy, at least it echos a purpose of Sunday as feast.

To recover the sacredness of Sunday (and to get Amazon to stop delivering) we’ll have to restore the ends of Sunday for worship and family. Until then, the market is going to fill the void the only way it knows, with more consumption.

Author’s Postscript (subsequent to first publication): Thanks to one of our readers who alerted me that buried in the settings of your Amazon account (under your preferred addresses) there is a menu below your address where you can choose to opt out of either Saturday or Sunday (or both) delivery as a due course.

 

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  • SatirevFlesti

    It’s actually quite easy to “avoid” Sunday delivery. Just chose the next slowest delivery option when checking out (or make standard 3-5 business days your default shipping option).

    • Sure. It is easy. But then why pay for Amazon Prime? Often times the shipping options (at least in my area) bump a week out.

      • Alan Beagley

        I have sometimes noticed the option to pass on the free 2-day shipping and get a credit toward Amazon Pantry

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  • Ceh Dee

    “Just like Amazon delivering on a Sunday, the market freely breaks down our long-standing customs and important traditions for the sake of efficiency.”
    I think this point is ABSOLUTELY essential to understanding “modern secularism”, which is just another term for our lives as citizens of developed Western nations. Economics, not academics, is what structures so much of our comportment toward our religious obligations.

    • Yeah. Or put another way, our religious obligations aren’t (or can’t) be strong enough to buck back the almighty market.

  • John Grondelski

    Question is: do we want to encourage (and should society/government provide the legal infrastructure to support) 24/7 life? And is 24/7 HUMAN(E) life?

  • Thomas O’Donnell

    Is shopping on Amazon defensible by any standards of Catholic Social Teaching? It seems it is more than just Amazon’s delivery policies or its labor practices which make it difficult to justify economically supporting the company, but the entire ecosystem around which it is structured … Amazon takes all the tenets of consumerism (immediate satisfaction, cheapest product, zero interaction with a living human being who has had a role in making or delivering the product, etc.) to the highest degree.