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Hangovers from Our Religious Past: Easy Like Sunday Morning

Cartoon by David Hayward

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]


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    As a regular runner I can relate, even more so because I live behind a church (CofE) and have to run past it, and its dwindling congregation, every Sunday morning that I decide to run. If I’m not running I’m out on my motorcycle, trying to remember not to rev it as I pass the church!

    What I find odd about church congregants is that they always look so sad. They say it’s just being respectfully solemn, but I like to think that they resent the feeling of obligation they have on Sundays to go to church, and are secretly envious of the great majority of the UK population that enjoys their Sunday mornings, and pretty well never sets foot inside a church.

    Incidentally ObstacleChick, do you enter formal races or is it just for fitness and your own enjoyment?

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    I used to revere places of worship as I passed them in my car. After my negative experiences, during my church days, and the discovery of their games of guilt & shame, after leaving & all the new things I learned about religion, some extra psychology and the thinkings of the brain…I’ve outgrown any holdings “they” had on me. I’m outside the bubble – they are still inside. I sometimes find myself calling them “fools”…even tho I detest name calling. But I’m disappointed in the very adults I used to respect & look up to. Found out I can be just as independent in my thinking as they believe they are.

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    GeoffT, I know what you mean about people looking sad at church. For many years, I felt church attendance was an obligation. I joined the choir and enjoyed that as I love music. Most of the people in the LBGTQ-affirming progressive church we attended were nice, though most a lot older than me. But as I struggled with unbelief, even nice people and good music couldn’t hold me.

    I run for fun, fitness, and racing. I started with road racing and them got into obstacle racing (hence ObstacleChick). I do both, but for the last couple of years more focus on obstacle racing. I qualified for age group competition for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship 3 years straight and finally went to compete in Canada in October 2017. I was near last in my age group but it was an amazing experience with racers from 67 nations competing. Like Olympics for OCR folks. (OCRWC is near London this year, you should check it out if you are near London). I won’t do another road marathon – my last was NYC Marathon in 2014 – my body can’t take the road pounding as much. OCR are on trails, mostly mountains, lots of technical terrain. But I like running half marathons and 10k on road – shorter distances are less fun. How about you?

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      Well ObstacleChick that’s pretty impressive. Running at all is tough, but interrupting it constantly with obstacles makes it so much harder because you lose normal rhythm. I live a long way north of London (for UK distances) but I’ll google your suggestion, if only to see what it’s about.

      I run mainly to keep fit, though I’ll enter casual local races, 10k and the like, but I aim to do the Malaga half marathon every year. I developed a knee injury a couple of years ago (I’m 65 now and being told by everyone that I’m too old to be running!) that was diagnosed as everything from arthritis to things I can’t pronounce, but an MRI scan showed nothing significant and it’s now just about healed, so I’m trying to build back up. I’m just managing to get back inside of 9 minute mile pace, and still have 8 in my sights, though think that may be just unrealistic.

      Good luck with your running and try to avoid churches!

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    DO, I hear you. It is disappointing to find out people you once looked up to lied to you or were manipulating you. You are better off elsewhere!

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    Thanks for this, ObstacleChick. It is so volatile for me to even begin to think on these things in specifics: I can handle the global damage done by being abandoned to God by my parents and by the church they revered but when I begin to think of specific memories I start to cry. It isn’t particularly for me anymore and the wreckage of childhood that comes out of the fires of hell talk but the misery I imagine for all the children of the world who are being harmed right now by these ideas. It saddens me to see an impoverished area with huge churches overshadowing them, the locked doors of salvation, the one door and only one. I hate those fucking beautiful cathedrals built to hide our delusionary ways, built not to guild the lily but to dress up the horror of our denial and harm done, hide it away and not have to feel it, pass it on to babies, little tykes who trust us with all.
    Do I have guilt and shame overcome me? Sure. And nowadays I sometimes suffer it because I was so so duped and so slow to catch on to the evil they were commiting while intoning with reverence. I feel terrible that I did not run for my life as a teen and instead decided to stay and reinvent the holy wheel so it wouldn’t make me puke. How much of my life I poured into that, so much of it and all the while I might have just been easy, easy on a Sunday morning. There were so many levels of harm done; I see that now, or at least a good deal of it and that is what I look at when I stare at stained glass walls with crosses. My children are free of all that, free to choose or not…

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    I too, have a reaction like that sometimes, even though I don’t “believe” anymore in any religious doctrine.

    It takes me by surprise just how very, very, physical the reaction is. The jolt is something that I feel in my body. It seems to bypass my mind entirely for a couple seconds and I get an actually abrupt lurch inside me.

    It is quite impressive that being drilled on what is “right” and what is “wrong” during the many years of my childhood can create such an intense body response even when my mind has long since abandoned the actual substance.

    It’s pretty freaky.

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      Freaky crawly weird but absolutely being shown as real and measurable by Science as time goes forward. Alice Miller was suggesting it years ago (how trauma endures in our bodies) and Janov’s whole career focussed around how trauma is in our flesh, how early trauma actually changes the physical growth of the brain and sets a new, tramatized ‘standard’. When one considers how religion is so much of the emotions and not the intellect, it becomes clearer and clearer that the feelings are the goal in it, the highs of salvation and perfect love and also the lows of self-degradation and delusion. It is a truly full package and all wrapped up in stained glass and woo-inspired art. I was speaking with my wife about how much damage done early on just stays in one’s life. The guilt and shame is just part of what I see in the mirror. I can do something that is a common problem, like lose my keys and instead of just moving on and giving myself a break, I hack away at myself, how dumb I am and probably completely doomed because I cannot manage to even hold on to keys. Religiously flavored self-hatred was where I learned to see myself that way, my parental examples and the twice a week church-going. The Christians always talk about the wonderful, unfathomable love of Christ to die on the Cross and I say, Horseshit any way you look at it… What kind of God tells people they are shit to begin with, that they need to fall at the feet of Yahweh…..

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    Melissa Montana

    I still feel occasional guilt about reading certain books and listening to certain types of music. That indoctrination sure dies hard.

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    Interesting post. Although I do have some of the religious hangover stuff, for me the larger emotion/feeling is one of being astonished that anyone still believes in a god. And how defensive and prickly they are when they come across someone who does not, as if my decision/actions of non-belief is a commentary on what they think, which of course it isn’t. I think they’re deluded, but that doesn’t make them unfit to eat lunch with, ya know?

    One of the children I work with recently had an argument with some of the other kids about religion. When he exclaimed, “Jesus Christ!” over spilling a cup of water, one of the other kids was horrified. “You’re going to hell!” he said, “You can’t say that!!”

    Kid#1 scoffed and said, “He isn’t real, neither is God. A bunch of old men made up religion to make everyone do what they wanted.”

    It was *on*.
    Oh my.

    As I have had to do in the past, I stepped in and explained that personal beliefs are exactly that, personal. And that they’re not going to be able to change each other’s feelings.

    Then I distracted them by offering to take them outside.

    We have a family member who’s a scientist. He made a living at it, is now retired. Very smart guy. Wonderful sense of humor, great conversationalist, and a kind and decent man. And he believes in the Christian god SO deeply that it permeates his entire existence. It always amazes me to see the depths of his belief. And I have to remind myself that indoctrination from birth is a very hard thing to overcome.

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    It is interesting how many of us describe a physical “hit” when faced with a religious stimulus, almost like being swatted on the hands by mom for being naughty. That early religious indoctrination is really hard to overcome. Intellectually we know it is BS but our brains have tightly retained that earliest learning. I suppose from an evolutionary standpoint people teach their offspring the most important elements for survival, and primitive humans would have considered appeasing gods to be important, but in 2018 it seems so silly.

    GeoffT keep going, listen to your body, and enjoy. My father in law is 71 and has completed 2 OCRs in the 5-7k distances. At 48 I hope to be able to continue running for a few more decades. When unusual pains crop up I take some recovery time and that seems to help.

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    An excellent video series by Valerie Tarico called “Psychoanalyzing God” gets into this very issue. She uses the analogy as the same way, even as adults, we’ll hear our parent’s voice telling us to look both ways before crossing the street.
    When reading about the absolute torture that are reported by ex-IFB/fundamentalists it makes me so relived I only had to deal with a liberal protestant upbringing. I’d never feel guilty about missing church, in fact I have an anecdote of the exact opposite reaction.
    Immediately after the Sept 11 attacks I was on one of my bike rides. I notice the parking lot to the local baptist church was overflowing enough so it was obvious that the disaster had brought out a lot more people than usual. This got me shaking my head thinking that if I was God and created the awesomeness of the natural world I would be annoyed that people would cloister themselves in a man made building.

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Bruce Gerencser