Losing Religion on the Religion Beat: A Review of William Lobdell's book, Losing My Religion

My review follows:

William Lobdell’s new book, Losing My Religion, is a page turner from start to finish. As a former religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times he knows how to write in ways that make us feel and think what he does, every step along the way.

Previously I had said Joe Holman’s book, Project Bible Truth, was the most extensive deconversion story I had ever read. But now I must say Lobdell’s book is the most extensive one.

Lobdell’s book does not focus on the arguments against Christianity, like Holman does, although they are there. Rather he takes us on a journey from his evangelical faith to almost becoming a Catholic to what he describes as a “reluctant atheist” or “skeptical deist.”

Lobdell lost his religion on the religion beat: “Like a homicide detective, I had seen too much.” (p. 253). At first he liked his job and it didn’t affect his faith at all. But his doubt started when covering the scandal of Catholic priest molestations and interviewing the victims who were lied to and ignored by the church. For him the most egregious problem wasn’t necessarily the molestations and the ignored children sired from the affairs the priests had with women, although that was bad enough. No. It was the cover-up that the well-organized Catholic Church had for defending them. He just couldn’t understand, nor should anyone for that matter, why the church hierarchy didn’t do as Jesus wanted them to do in upholding the dignity and rights of the downtrodden and the abused. According to him, “the real story wasn’t about the molester priests, but rather the bishops who covered up for them and caused thousands of additional children to be sodomized, orally copulated, raped and masturbated.” (p. 142).

One missionary priest at St. Michael Island, Alaska, “raped an entire generation of Alaska Native boys.” (p. 215) “Though the Jesuits deny it,” Lobdell writes, “there’s evidence to suggest that the villages of western Alaska served as a dumping ground for molesting priests.” (p. 228) Lobdell called this a “pedophile’s paradise.”

As he reported on these abuses he was preparing to become a Catholic himself, and we see him struggle with this decision as he covers the story. Two weeks before doing so he couldn’t go through it. In his words: “Converting to Catholicism during the height of a horrific scandal felt like an endorsement of the establishment,” (p. 158) something he just couldn’t do.

He described going to a “survivor’s meeting” and concurs with Thomas Doyle, a leading advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse, that molesting priests and their superiors were committing “soul murder.” (p. 105) As he recounts it, the church “acted more like Mafia bosses than shepherds.” (p. 119). And he asked himself this question: “If an institution is corrupt, does that have any bearing on God?” (p. 135). He thinks it does. In fact, he started to see that “religious institutions are MORE susceptible to corruption than their secular counterparts because of their reliance on God, and not human checks and balances, for governance.” (p. 161)

Lobdell covered stories about the Mormons and their lifestyle, which were “mesmerizing.” (p. 122), although their beliefs were “nutty.” (p. 124). He recounted their strange beliefs, despite the fact that scientific evidence from DNA shows us “descendants of American Indians came from Asia, not the Middle East.” (p. 280) And he asks: “what’s so strange about Mormonism compared to traditional Christianity?” (p. 126). He himself didn’t see the disconnect at this stage in his faith journey, but he said, “I just happened to have grown up with the stories of the Bible. I was more used to them.” (p. 127) Indeed, that's the only difference.

Lobdell covered some evangelical TV Evangelist scandals, like Robert Tilton, whose ministry placed the donation checks in one pile and the prayer requests in the dumpster; and Benny Hinn, who raised funds for an alleged $30 million healing center in Dallas, Texas, which was never built; and Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch, who covered up Paul's homosexual tryst, and Paul's forcing a woman to have sex with him. (pp. 173-197). Lobdell asked himself why his faith “had so few people of principle.” (p. 187).

Lobdell reveals the mental gymnastics of believers in defending their faith and institutions when criticized. After he wrote about TV evangelist Robert Tilton’s financial abuses Tilton subsequently used this criticism by claiming he must be doing something right because Satan (i.e. Lobdell) was attacking him, and donations kept coming in. When a Catholic priest resigned after admitting he had “inappropriate contact” with a child 19 years previously, some parishioners suggested naming the new church wing after him for his years of service in the 19 years since then, failing to realize that pedophiles will only admit to the evil deeds they were forced to admit. Pedophiles usually have many more victims, as Lobdell told them. When the DNA evidence showed the Mormon faith was false, the defenders went on the attack against science and him.

After coming out of the closet in a personal piece written by him detailing his deconversion, one criticism levelled at him was that he only had “witnessed the sinfulness of man and mistakenly mixed that up with a perfect God.” Lobdell writes, "I understand that argument but I don’t buy it. If the Lord is real, it would make sense for the people of God, on average, to be superior morally and ethically to the rest of society. Statistically, they aren’t. I also believe that God’s institutions, on average, should function on a higher moral plain than government or corporations. I don’t see any evidence of this. It’s hard to believe in God when it’s impossible to tell the difference between His people and atheists.” (p. 271).

We see Lobdell struggling, really struggling, to maintain his faith in the midst of his reporting. He attended a weekend retreat. He had an email exchange with a good friend and pastor. He looked into studies of prayer to find evidence that prayer works. He did a study to find if believers are any better morally than non-believers. All to no avail.

This is a very good book written by a credible person. While I doubt believers entrenched in their faith will be caused to lose their religion from reading it, Lobdell still stands as a credible witness against religion and the mental gymnastics of believers who simply choose to believe against the evidence.

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