Book Review

Losing My Religion by William Lobdell. HarperCollins Publishers, NY, 2009; 291 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-162681-4, hardback, $25.95.

Join the author on his journey from from lack of faith to faith to doubt to inability to have faith any longer.  Faltering under personal and professional problems, he joined a megachurch and became a born-again Christian.  Here he explains the appeal these churches have for so many as well as the beneficial effect religious faith had in him and his family.  After several years he joined a mainline Protestant congregation.  Meanwhile as a journalist he wanted to report on faith and religion, and got that opportunity for newspapers in Orange and Los Angeles counties.  He covered religious news and mainly uplifting, positive stories of faith in people's lives.  Finally he was drawn to Catholicism, and completed the year-long process to convert.

But around this period the Catholic priest/pedophile scandal broke open, and as the religion reporter Lobdell was at the forefront in Southern California, interviewing victims and members of the Church hierarchy, reading reams of legal documents and transcripts.  The hypocrisy and lack of compassionate concern for victims and their families, both from Church officials and congregations, shocked and sickened him.  He also investigated financial and personal abuses by TBN televangelists and a prominent Christian faith healer on that network, as well as reporting such stories as scientific contradictions to Mormon teachings.  Far from these exposés putting a dent in people's faith, believers reacted with hostility to such perceived "attacks."  Seeing the extremely negative side of religion up close eventually caused him to doubt, and at the last minute he wasn't able to go through with joining the Catholic church. 

Moreover, as a religion journalist he was exposed to people of many different faiths, some of whom lived exemplary lives and seemed more committed to practicing their moral code than the mainstream Christians he knew  – but whose beliefs struck him as completely irrational.  This also fed his doubts about the truth of religion, when even faiths he considered theologically absurd produced the same good results he had found so telling in his own life.  He sought statistics that would show that born-again Christians lived lives that were more moral, more exemplary, than other Americans, to prove to himself that Christianity had some special virtue other faiths (or lack of faith) did not.  The statistics did not bear this out: born-again Christians had as much or even more divorce, drug use, crime, spousal abuse, etc.  Over several years he fought hard to bolster and save his faith in an interventionist God and Christianity, which had been central to his life for years.  Finally, however, he had to admit to himself that he no longer believed.  To his surprise, after accepting religion as an illusion he found himself as a non-believer happier and with more peace of mind than before.  His life  became freer, simpler, and more precious.

There is no handwringing here over lost certainties, or celebration of militant atheism.  He does not try to convince the reader to think one way or another, he simply recounts his own spiritual journey. He brings forward the satisfactions and benefits of belonging to a faith and believing in a personal God; the dark side of religion; the power of doubt and skepticism; and the overriding importance of honesty with oneself.  He describes how, while a believer, his interpretation of his experiences reinforced his faith, pointing out the selective attention we all apply to evidence and events depending on whether they reinforce or challenge our current viewpoint. – Sally Dougherty (June 2009)