June 24, 2009

BOOKS: Losing My Religion, William Lobdell (2009)

In his late 20s, during a period of difficulty in his life, Lobdell turned to religion, becoming a born-again Christian. He came to believe that his profession, journalism, did not do a very good job of covering and reporting on religion in America, and began seeking a job as a religion reporter.

In 1998, he got that job, and began writing about religion for the Los Angeles Times. At first, he found the experience immensely rewarding, and enjoyed having the opportunity to write interesting stories about people who had largely been ignored by the mainstream media. But over time, the increasing number of financial and sexual scandals in various religious organizations, in particular the horrific sexual abuse coverups by the Catholic Church, drove Lobdell to a crisis of faith. His final piece as the Times religion reporter was a long essay in which he discussed how and why his faith had collapsed; this book is, in part, an expansion on that essay.

It's tempting for me, as an atheist who has no use for the superstitions of the various Invisible Sky Bully cults, to snicker at Lobdell with a hearty "Told ya so!" But I can't be that callous; Lodbell's sincerity, and his genuine struggle with his dying faith, are deeply moving. More than mockery, I'm moved to sadness that he wasted so many years trying to find meaning where none exists (and for the countless millions who continue to waste time on that fool's quest).

By the end of his journey, Lobdell finds peace and happiness, and looks forward to facing the rest of his life with a newfound freedom and gratitude that he has finally been able to abandon what he calls the "placebo of faith." This is a profound and courageous book, and Lodbell's willingness to share the process of soul-searching that he's been through is commendable indeed.

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