A Guest Post by ObstacleChick
A Sunday morning in June in New Jersey can often be warm, sunny, and beautiful. Many people are outside biking, walking, running, gardening, walking their dog, or just sitting outside enjoying the day. I’m a runner, and in the running community, one typically plans one’s longest run of the week on Saturday or Sunday morning when one is most likely to have two to four hours to spend on a run. We even have a phrase for it for those who choose Sunday — the Church of the Sunday Long Run.
This past Sunday, I went out for a nice run and took a slightly different route that led me past a small Lutheran church. About thirty to forty people were outside in folding chairs listening to the minister conducting the service. It makes sense when you have a small congregation to take them outdoors on a nice day. But what struck me were the automatic split-second thoughts and reactions that entered my brain.
First, there was a sense of guilt and shame for not going to church on Sunday morning. I haven’t attended church services (outside the occasional funeral) in more than 10 years. I stopped believing in God and Christian doctrines several years ago as well. My husband is also an agnostic atheist, and we have raised our now-teenaged kids without religion. But somehow, that quick jolt of guilt and shame flooded my brain. This was followed by the second thought: “Oh, crap, I’m wearing a tank top and shorts and am running during church time in front of all these religious people.” I don’t believe there is anything bad about someone wearing a tank top and running shorts while they are running. It’s appropriate attire if the weather cooperates and the runner feels comfortable in that attire. But I recognized the deep-seated “indoctrination” surrounding appropriate attire for church and for “religious people” to see.
These thoughts were a bit of a shock for me, but they indicate just how thoroughly indoctrinated people can be, especially when they are brought up in a religious setting from childhood. From the time I was three years old, my family attended Southern Baptist church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesday evenings. If you didn’t go to church at one of these times, you’d better be throwing up or in a hospital. There were rules about appropriate attire for each type of service. Sunday morning attire was the most formal, as Sunday morning church service was the week’s first worship event, where we showed God our reverence for Him by donning our best clothing and (theoretically at least) donning our most submissive and humble spirits. Sunday and Wednesday evening services were more casual — I suppose one could say that “business casual” was the appropriate attire for those services. A tank top and shorts would not have been deemed acceptable for any of these services.
In the fields of education and psychology, it is well established that children develop abstract reasoning skills during the age range of 11-16, with most children developing abstract thinking around age 13-14. This is why children in seventh grade are often tested to find out if they are ready to take algebra in eighth grade (about 13-14 years old) or if they should wait. Abstract thinking involves the ability to think about objects, concepts, or ideas which are not physically present. Within abstract thinking is the ability to think critically, to use the scientific method, to use reasoning skills, to be able to conceptualize and manipulate objects in one’s mind, and to develop spatial skills. Most religious groups understand that it is vitally important to indoctrinate children in the 4-14 age group because once they reach the stage of abstract reasoning, many will reject religious indoctrination. As many of Bruce’s readers who were indoctrinated as children know, it is VERY difficult to undo doctrines that were taught to us during those critical years. Conversely, my nonreligious kids read all religious stories in the same vein that they read “Harry Potter” or any other literary works of fiction. Religious folks understand that if you don’t indoctrinate them when they are young, you have to wait until people are at their most vulnerable and then approach them with a “cure-all” salvation message.
In 1977, the song “Easy” by the Commodores (written by Lionel Richie) became popular. Before my mom became more religious, we used to listen to the easy listening radio station that played this song a lot. As a kid, I never understood the chorus. Sunday morning was never easy. How could the Commodores claim that Sunday morning was easy? We had to get up early – not as early as for work and school, but early still – eat breakfast and get dressed in our best for an hour of Sunday school and at least an hour of worship service. Afterward, we would go home and have pot roast or whatever else Grandma was able to put in the oven to cook slowly until we returned home for Sunday dinner. Sometimes, as a special treat, my Grandpa would go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and pick up a bucket of chicken and sides for us. We would be home for a few hours before having to go back to church for Sunday evening worship. For being a day of “rest,” Sunday was pretty busy. Only heathens, apostates, atheists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and backsliders did not go to church on Sunday, so I figured the Commodores must fall into one of those categories. That was too bad, because I kind of liked Lionel Richie.
As a deconvert, I learned that the Commodores were right – Sunday morning CAN be easy.
“Easy” by Commodores
That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning
That’s why I’m easy
I’m easy like Sunday morning
How many of you who were raised in a very religious household still experience a sudden pang of guilt or shame in reaction to some religious stimulus? [I call these experiences Fundamentalist hangovers. Ten years after my divorce from Jesus, and I still occasionally have guilty feelings such as the ones mentioned in this post. – Bruce]