Losing His Religion

April 6, 2009

In the recently crowded field of atheism apologetics, William Lobdell’s Losing My Religion is a particularly thoughtful, personal tale of faith going stale and doubt bringing peace.

Lobdell’s subtitle basically outlines the book’s story: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America–and Found Unexpected Peace. The former journalist “on the religion beat” for the Los Angeles Times relates his journey toward sincere, born-again Christianity for much of the first half of the book, until unanswerable questions and an up-close look at a variety of church scandals rendered him unable to believe in “the placebo of faith.”

One of the great values of Lobdell’s book is his sensitive and fair treatment of people of faith. His evangelical background and deep study of the Catholic church served him well in his initial years as a reporter on religious issues, and he exerpts several fascinating stories he reported on faith-driven social activists and extraordinary individual acts of forgiveness.

Lobdell’s personal religious journey brought him to an appreciation of Catholicism so profound that he underwent the extensive training required to join the church. At the same time, his reporting on the mushrooming sex scandals of the Catholic church brought him face-to-face with victims of abuse whose experiences made the stated values of the ancient church seem like a cruel farce.

In one especially harrowing chapter, Lobdell details his trip to “The Edge of the Earth,” an isolated northwestern Alaskan community on St. Michael Island where a generation of Alaskan Native boys were sexually abused in a diocese the author describes as “a dumping ground for molesting priests.”

As the corruption and hypocrisy he witnessed overwhelmed his faith, Lobdell corresponded with an equally thoughtful pastor in an attempt to recover a sense of belief. The book excerpts much of this interesting correspondence in one of its final chapters, and readers are gently challenged to evaluate truths on both sides of the seemingly intractible argument.

Lobdell’s story is a valuable contribution to a field where angry polemics and harsh judgements are thrown back and forth without the contenders on either side stopping to listen. His description of the sense of peace and gratitude he found after giving up making excuses for his wavering faith seems not unlike similar testimonies of believers who swear by the peace brought by theirs.

This Los Angeles Times article outlines Lobdell’s experiences as a religion reporter whose faith was profoundly tested. The author also discussed his journey in this NPR piece from 2007. Lobdell’s homepage features a wide-ranging blog and links to other interesting resources.


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