This is a bonus chapter for my book that I hadn’t considered when I wrote it but after the fact I wanted to put this aspect of what happened down on paper, so to speak.
It’s about why I continued in the church, and religion, for as long as I did though I had been unhappy for several years. I suppose the reason is loyalty. I am a very loyal person by nature and quite possibly loyal to a fault it would seem. I’m not quite sure when the characteristic of loyalty started gaining a hold in me, whether it was growing up or after joining the US Marine Corps. If there is any doubt, I would bet on it coming about in the Marines over anything else. Loyalty in the Marines is a big deal as we have a long and very proud tradition of the Corps and the battles it fought through the centuries.
Loyalty being a strong feeling of support or allegiance toward someone or something is by definition one of my strong characteristics. Once I left active duty in the Marines and came back home, I joined the Baptist church at the behest of my friends, which you can read all about in my book. This was another organization to which I pledged my loyalty and which contained my friends and soon-to-be new friends including the pastor.
After some time of being involved in the church and becoming friends with many people there my loyalty grew strong toward the church, just as it had the Marine Corps. I think though that after enough time passes, obligations formed and that loyalty turned into a lasting expectation of my contributions and support of the church. After becoming involved in the sound room, running the microphones, the camera’s and the recordings, I had an obligation, a job even, in which I was expected to be there every time the doors were open for service. I wasn’t being paid for my duties, but I wasn’t expecting or asking for it either. But it did feel like a job I had to be at for sure. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing per se. But if you’re unhappy or don’t believe in it anymore, it’s a problem.
I’m not so sure that it was faith that kept me going for much of the time I was involved with religion. I think at first it sufficed, maybe for 2 or 3 years, but after that it became a chore and expected which translated into loyalty. It didn’t take too long for me to see what was going on and how many things we did, or were expected to do and believe in were ridiculous. I couldn’t have faith in some of those things that defy logic or make no sense whatsoever. I have a real hard time believing in superstitions and irrational delusions and I find that pretty much all religions fall into that bucket. But I stuck with it not because of faith in it, but because of my loyalty to the people I was friends with. Some of the concepts of religions are so irrational that they might as well be Hollywood movies (and sometimes they are). In the end it’s more like entertainment. An escape from reality or what we call a suspension of disbelief in order to go along with the plot and enjoy the ride.
Religions in past times seem to me to have been a way to explain the unexplainable of the world around us. As we became more educated and learned what things really are, how they work and where they come from, we developed the sciences to explain things. Science explains things with fact based evidence and peer review. It questions everything and leaves nothing sacred. Religion to me is no longer needed to explain things that we don’t understand. Science doesn’t explain everything yet, and probably never will explain it all, but it’s come a long way to dispel a lot of erroneous beliefs. Didn’t humans once think the Earth was flat? It was loyalty to an idea that if you went too far in one direction, you’d fall off the Earth. That was based on our limited view of the Earth, stuck on the ground and unable to see the curvature of the planet and to realize that it’s a sphere and not flat – you won’t fall off. It was just a lack of facts and perspective that lead to that idea for so long. But we learned, we tested, we experimented and we questioned the sacred.
As the years passed, that job of running the sound room became very boring and I didn’t particularly enjoy doing it anymore. But I did it because I was expected to do it. I did it because I was loyal to the church and the pastor and it was what I was supposed to do. I was loyal to my friends as well who expected me to be there with them. Even when some of them left the church on their own, later came back or left to move to another location. I was the vanguard; always there, always doing the job even as others came and went. But the unhappiness settled in, not just in performing the sound room job, but in religion and church as a whole. Yet I persevered and kept going to church and kept performing my expected duties as well. I didn’t want to let down the people of the church, the pastor or my friends, even after most of them had all moved away for various reasons. They expected me to stay and to keep on doing what I was doing because it’s what God wanted. Of course, no God ever actually told me that is what he wanted. But that’s another story for another time.
I was expected to continue going to church because everyone else was and because God says you’re supposed to. But what happens when you don’t want to do that anymore? What happens when your faith waivers, or your belief in the supernatural wanes? Then there is no purpose to going for you. Why keep going? Why keep doing what makes you unhappy if there is no benefit to you and only a detriment?
I go to work to earn money to live and take care of myself and buy the things I need and want. While I enjoy the work that I do, I do it for the money. Like many people, if I were independently wealthy and had no need to work for money, I wouldn’t. I’d spend my time doing other things that I enjoy more, and would do them when it pleased me. After all, going to work is giving your time to an employer to do a job they need done, hence the expression ‘time is money’. We give our time to earn money to use as a tool for the rest of our time that we have on our own. If we have enough money to last a lifetime, we don’t need to give our time to someone else to do a job – unless we want to and it makes us happy of course.
I wasn’t happy at the church anymore and I certainly wasn’t being paid for my time. As I said earlier, there was no expectation of being paid for going to church and running the sound room. For a long time I gave of my time to do that because I liked it and enjoyed the work. But after a while that interest faded along with my faith in God. But why did I keep going? Again looking back over the time, it was loyalty. I kept going to church and doing the job because I was loyal to the people and the pastor of the church. I wasn’t being loyal to a God or the concept of Christianity anymore. While that stuff faded, I still had care and concern for the people there and didn’t want to leave them in a bind with the sound room either. There really wasn’t anyone else there that could do the work. Or those that could, had other duties in the church or due to work demands couldn’t always be there when church was in service. So I kept at it for years until I was able to train one of the teenagers to run everything. I believe I mentioned it in my book, but I’ll say it again here. When I trained the teen to run the sound room, my intention was to have someone as a backup in case I couldn’t be there and to give me a break once in a while and to allow me to sit in the congregation and enjoy the service, as it were.
That went on for many months and it wasn’t until the end of 2014 that I realized that I had to change something. I didn’t enjoy the experience of church, religion or God anymore and it was time to change things. I was glad that I had trained someone to do the sound room job so that I could leave and when I did I wouldn’t leave the church with a void in the sound room and scrambling to find someone to take it over. I would have felt much worse than I already did for leaving anyhow.
The loyalty that I have toward things and people in this situation kept me in a place of unhappiness for a long time. That’s where I say that I am, or can be, loyal to a fault. I should have ended things there several years earlier than I did. Once I became unhappy, the misery and sour attitudes I carried around grew every week. Every Sunday and Wednesday, especially Wednesday evenings, I dreaded driving the 40 minutes or so one way to church, sitting through the preaching that I didn’t really believe in anymore and then driving back home and getting in late. Why was I torturing myself like this for so long? It was loyalty.
What I have learned through this experience is that I need to be more cognizant of how far my loyalty takes me. I’m still very loyal to the Marine Corps and I’m loyal to the county that I work for. I’m loyal to my friends as well. But I need to be careful sometimes where too much loyalty can take me. It can make me unhappy, such as with church and religion, or it could take me to a dangerous place that I don’t need to be in.
My advice is to evaluate where you are, where you want to be and to ensure that whatever it is you’re doing, that you’re happy or as happy as you can be in doing it. We only have this one life on planet Earth and then that’s it (I don’t believe in the irrational notion of an afterlife). Make the best of the years that you have available to you and try to be happy while you can. If your loyalty to someone or something is getting in the way of happiness, then perhaps it’s time to sever or cut back ties to whatever negative thing that might be.
Life, to me anyhow, is always changing and evolving with each passing day. There is no reason not to evaluate things and make adjustments where needed to keep you on track to your life’s goals. Life isn’t black and white and it’s not always a case of right or wrong. Life is what we make it for ourselves and each day, each situation is different and needs to be observed objectively with your goals in mind. Life isn’t a one size fits all baseball cap either. What’s right and what’s important for me may not necessarily be what’s right and important for the next person. It’s up to them to determine those things for themselves.
I’m pleased to say that I am very happy with my decision to leave the church and religion behind at the end of 2014 and that since the start of 2015, now two and a half years later, I am in a better place all around. I’m not letting my strong sense of loyalty take me too far down the wrong path any more.