Saturday, July 05, 2008

The practical absurdities of strict Sabbatarianism

I have said this before in the meta somewhere, but I will repeat it again: Strict Sabbatarianism (whether of the SDA kind (Saturday) or the traditional Puritan kind (Sunday)) is practically absurd. I have recently came across an interesting 'book'(?) entitled Sabbath Re-examined by a certain Robert D. Brinsmead which is interesting in its examination of the Sabbath issue. While I d not agree with everything that he says, the part in Chapter 9: Applying the Letter of the Sabbath Law hits the nail on the head on this issue. So let's look at it:

Where does this original seventh day begin on a round world? Where does the sun rise first? Does the seventh day begin in Palestine, in Greenwich or at a place that our modern society calls the International Date Line? How do we know that the international community fixed the date line (which is not even a straight line) where God decreed it should be? The World Book Encyclopedia says that the "International Date Line is an imaginary line which marks the spot on the earth's surface where each new calendar day begins."

Some Sabbatarians argue that since God Himself designated the seventh day in Palestine, we should reckon that each new calendar day begins in the Middle East. Since the earth rotates so that the day moves westward, the Sabbath in Australia would begin six hours after it begins in California, not eighteen hours before. This would make Sunday the seventh day for Australians

A few years ago I met a seventh-day Sabbatarian who had given serious thought to this question. He argued that if we followed the letter of the law, Australians and all others on the same side of the International Date Line would keep the Sabbath after instead of before it is kept in the Western world. According to this reasoning, Sunday would be the Australians' seventh day. The fact is that calling any twenty-four-hour period the seventh day is both arbitrary and imaginary.

There seem to be about four ways to follow the letter of the Sabbath law on a round world. Three have been seriously proposed by groups of Sabbatarians. The first is to keep the Sabbath when those in Jerusalem keep the Sabbath. The second is to begin the Sabbath in the Middle East (assuming that the first day began in Eden and assuming that Eden was somewhere in the Middle East). This would not affect Western Sabbatarians, but it would mean that all Sabbatarians in the Far East would have to move the Sabbath forward one day. The third possibility is to begin the Sabbath at that "imaginary line" called the International Date Line. This would give us an "imaginary" seventh day. The fourth possibility is for the international community to alter the "imaginary line," which would require many Sabbatarians to change their day of worship. And why not, since they gave the international community the right to decide where to put the "imaginary line" in the first place? Would not one "imaginary line" be as good as another?

Determining the time to begin the Sabbath is also a problem. Seventh-day Sabbatarians generally prefer sunset, while first day Sabbatarians generally prefer midnight. The Bible seems to indicate that the Sabbatical period extends from "even to even." But when is "even"? Early Seventh-day Adventists hotly debated whether "even" meant six o'clock in the evening or sunset. Ellen G. White's vision in which she saw that "even" was sunset settled the question. But in recent years some specialists in the history of the ancient Middle East have shown that the Semites considered it to be "even" when they could see the stars, some time after sunset.

But what are Sabbatarians supposed to do north of the Arctic Circle, where it remains dark for several months each year? "Easy," some tell us. "Just calculate from the lowest and highest points of the sun." When I was in Norway recently, the Adventist Sabbath began in the Arctic Circle at 11:30 Friday morning. Sabbatarians were required to lose Friday as either a working day or a school day. Some were agitating a return to a six p.m. Sabbath commencement as a solution to this difficult problem. One of those pressing for a more liberal interpretation of the law was a high-school teacher. He said, 'We have to recognize that the law was drafted to suit the needs of an agrarian people living in Palestine, not a highly industrialized society living within the Arctic Circle." A measure of sanity indeed!

Then we could ask about applying the letter of the Sabbath law to airline pilots, international travelers or astronauts.

Even Sabbatarians may now say, "these are silly, nit-picking questions". Of course they are! But those who choose to apply the letter of the law must find an answer to such silly, nit-picking questions. Letter-of-the-law Sabbatarianism is as viable in our modern world as the Flat Earth Society.

Of course, the day stated here can be either the seventh day (Saturday) or it can be put as the first day (Sunday) and the logic still holds. Those who insists on strict Sabbatarianism should come and realize the practical absurdities of their position.

No comments: