July 5, 2009
Book Review: Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America -- and Found Unexpected Peace, by William Lobdell.
- Reviewed by Jackie Alnor
“I had always been an anxious person and still am one. I bite my fingernails until they bleed. My stomach can churn up at a moment’s notice. I have anxiety nightmares more nights than not.” [page 56]
Those do not sound like the words of someone who “found unexpected peace” after rejecting Jesus Christ. But those are the words of William Lobdell, former religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times, whose 2009 book published by mega-publisher, HarperCollins, is a first-person account of apostasy in the life of a professing believer.
“But in 2000,” wrote Lobdell, referring to the start of his short duration as a Christian, “I didn’t have the usual crippling apprehension. My situation was nerve-racking and filled with anxious moments, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. This feeling -- of well-being? I wasn’t even sure what to call it -- was odd. I hadn’t felt it in my first four decades of life.”
Such are the contradictions and confusion that riddles the entire testimony of this reporter. After reading Losing My Religion, I am left with the impression of a confused lost soul whose life is again unsettled with no hope to hold onto in this life or the next. This book chronicles Lobdell’s “faith journey” from a seeker-sensitive church to the Roman Catholic Church and then into the oblivion of Darwinism.
From a purely human perspective, it is not difficult to understand - and even to sympathize - with a religion reporter who has seen up-close a pandemic of religious scandal in church leadership in modern times. As a newly appointed religion reporter, Lobdell’s position coincided with his profession of faith in Christianity. The two areas in his life at first seemed heaven-sent, but as his investigative reporting unearthed dirty laundry in the church world, his own faith in God began to crumble.
During his tenure as a religion reporter, Lobdell cites investigations he worked on that challenged his faith. I am sure there were many stories that affected him, but he focuses in on the most frustrating ones. In the Protestant camp, the money-grubbing and/or immorality of various Evangelicals such as Benny Hinn, TBN’s Paul Crouch, and Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) caused him to question where he could find what the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” Then covering the pedophile priest mega-scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, interviewing many of the now grown-up victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, dealt a fatal blow to his faith in God.
In all cases, Lobdell was angrier at the “Christian” reaction, or non-reaction, to the scandals in the “church” than to the perpetrators themselves. He cites the following examples:
• Benny Hinn: “He lives behind gates in an oceanfront mansion in Dana Point worth in the vicinity of $20 million...While legions of vulnerable viewers are being told that generous donations to Hinn’s ministry will lead to a miraculous healing, most Christian leaders are content to pass by on the other side of the street, their eyes averted -- like the rabbi in the story of the good Samaritan.” [pg. 179]
• Paul Crouch: “I thought when the news broke that Paul Crouch had paid nearly a half-million dollars to keep quiet allegations of a homosexual tryst, the TBN faithful would get in an uproar, demanding more information from Crouch and maybe even his resignation. Instead, there was mostly silence. Donations streamed in unabated...Top-name pastors such as Billy and Franklin Graham, Robert H. Schuller, Joel Osteen and Greg Laurie continued to air their programs on TBN...B-list celebrities, including Chuck Norris, Kirk Cameron, MC Hammer and Gavin MacLeod, never stopped using TBN as a way to stay in the spotlight...I walked away from the TBN stories doubting God’s call for me was to report on corruption within the church. It just didn’t make a difference. [pp. 194-195]
• Hank Hanegraaff: “Donor money seemed to be paying for the personal expenses of Hanegraaff and his family. His ministry paid for, among other things, a luxury sports car, a large salary for his wife who rarely worked in the office, and country club dues...[The whistle-blower] acted on her responsibility to God to safeguard the donors’ money, and her actions left her unemployed and her boss still in ministry. How could that be?” [pp. 71-72]
Roman Catholic Pedophile Scandal: “I saw that the Catholic
bishops believed deeply in their institution and their office -- enough so
that they routinely lied, violated secular laws or put children in
harm’s way to protect the church. Their actions show that they had
dedicated their lives not to the Gospel, but to a Roman system that valued
loyalty and obedience to superiors and punished those who brought scandal.
It was easy for the bishops to appear to be holy when celebrating a
Mass...it was much more difficult when they actually had to sacrifice
something -- such as the derailment of their careers by the Vatican if
they turned in a molesting priest to civil authorities and created a
scandal, rather than dealing with the matter internally and making it
neatly disappear.” [p. 164]
If being a Christian meant looking the other way when leadership is exposed as evil, he wanted no part of that church. He couldn’t seem to separate who God is versus the lives of those claiming God’s name for themselves. He had righteous indignation concerning the evil he was exposing, but since the majority of so-called believers discounted his efforts and continued to support these workers of iniquity, he concluded that God couldn’t be in the lives of His representatives and therefore didn’t really exist. Faith was just a placebo.
Once Lobdell’s disenchantment with Christians took root, he then turned his attention to the God of the Bible and found fault with Him. He could not reconcile the existence of evil and a God that seems so far off in time of disaster. He couldn’t reconcile babies born with birth defects or to abusive families with a God of love. He reasoned that if there was a God He wouldn’t sit quietly by and allow the wicked to prosper and innocents to suffer.
He sized up his belief in God with his belief in Santa Claus as a child. Both were now exposed as equally false in his mind. He had become cynical towards Christianity after seeing so much corruption in the church saying, “Like a homicide detective, I had seen too much,” [p. 253} and gave up his beat as a religion reporter.
The “peace” he refers to in the subtitle of the book would better read “resolution.” He accepted atheism as his new belief system when he came to a resolution that God is a legendary invention of man, the Bible is myth, there is no afterlife, and at death we all will just be as we were before conception: nonexistent.
He traded in his former heroes: Mother Teresa, John of the Cross, St. Therese (aka: Little Flower) -- and put comedian Julia Sweeney, Howard Stern and Mark Twain in their place. After all, his three heroes had all lived in darkness, not knowing their own fate after death, according to Lobdell, and even Jesus cried from the cross, “Why have Thou forsaken Me?”
Comedian Julia Sweeney, former cast member of Saturday Night Live, during a stand-up routine, convinced him that Jesus was not worth following even if He did exist. Citing Jesus’ words to His disciples, “Who is My mother, brother,” etc., Sweeney argued that Christ was not much into family values.
Raunchy comic Howard Stern lifted Lobdell’s self-esteem by his brute honesty, unlike the dishonesty of crooked TV preachers. He called Stern his “new savior.”
He would throw his lot in with them. At least they tried to tell the truth no matter whose feelings got stepped on.
Losing My Religion is an important well-written book - but not recommended for those whose faith is not fully based upon a grounded understanding of Scripture. Had Lobdell understood Bible prophecy and the signs of the end times that include the great falling away from the faith, these signs of apostasy would not have shaken him. Sadly, he has become a statistic of those whom Jesus described in the parable of the sower of the seeds in the 13th chapter of Matthew. Lobdell fits the profile as one along the way side who believes for a while, but a lack of understanding sets him up for the enemy to steal what was sown in his heart. Lobdell’s faith was doomed when he sought the wisdom of man, going from one aberrant church to another to gain knowledge, instead of sticking to the Word of God.
Unknown to Lobdell, his book, rather than proving the non-existence of God, affirms God’s Word as true in light of Bible prophecy that predicted, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” [1 Tim. 4:1].
The author is not at all at peace, but a fear of pending judgment will ever be in the back of his mind. He himself admits that his new-found belief system won’t do him well when he comes to his death bed.
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