Losing My Religion is William Lobdell’s memoir of becoming an evangelical, then a Roman Catholic, then a reluctant atheist. It is an engrossing and quick read. And unlike Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Lobdell is not vicious. He disagrees with believers, but he does not despise them.
Lobdell is an award-winning journalist who covered the religion beat for the Los Angeles Times. As a one-time resident of Costa Mesa, California—where Lobdell lives—and a former reader of the Times, I personally know some of the people Lobdell reported on, and I remember reading some of his stories. His reportage on the sins of Paul and Jan Crouch and their Trinity Broadcasting Network sticks in my mind even to this day.
The book begins with Lobdell’s life in a mess. A friend tells him he needs God, and he ends up going to Mariners Church, an evangelical megachurch pastored by Kenton Beeshore. As he matures in his faith, he switches to St. Andrews Presbyterian, pastored by John Huffman. Eventually, however, he finds himself drawn to Catholicism, and he and his wife enroll in catechism classes.
At about the same time, he begins to cover a clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Orange Diocese, involving Father Michael Harris, the longtime principal of Mater Dei High School. In 1996, a one-time student at Mater Dei named Ryan DiMaria sued Harris and the Diocese and won a judgment of $5.2 million dollars. DiMaria also successfully forced the Diocese to reform the way it handled clergy sexual abuse cases.
Lobdell was disheartened at the way the episcopal hierarchy covered for abusive priests and vilified their victims, using strong-arm legal tactics to silence them. Even more, he was utterly shocked by how pliant congregations rallied to the side of their abusive priests rather than to the side of the children those priests had molested. As he began reporting on clergy sexual abuse in other dioceses, Lobdell saw the same pattern of cover-up, vilification, and strong-arm legal tactics play out over and over again. This pattern delivered a “spiritual body blow” to Lobdell’s faith, which never recovered. (And despite completing catechism, Lobdell decided not to join the Catholic church after all.)
Losing My Religion is memoir, not apologetic. Lobdell narrates his story of “de-conversion” rather than offering airtight arguments for disbelief. Nevertheless, the corruption of the Catholic church, not to mention the sinfulness of television evangelists, is the main reason he offers for his loss of faith. If the Christian God exists and does what the Bible says he does, surely Christians should be better than they are. He raises additional objections based on the problem of evil, the ineffectiveness of intercessory prayer, and the hard-to-believe stories of the Bible.
As the pastor of an evangelical church who is trained in both philosophy and theology, I find Lobdell’s arguments less than convincing. They are the standard objections to Christianity for which the standard replies suffice, at least in my opinion. But as I wrote above, Lobdell’s narrative is engrossing. I cheered his initial conversion and mourned his (hopefully not final) apostasy. I’m quite sure that Lobdell’s story is the story of many a parishioner who wants to believe but can’t because of the sins of the church.
As an Pentecostal pastor, I recommend reading this book as a spiritual discipline. Christians can be too smug in their beliefs and too self-righteous in their actions to see the incredible evils that are taking place right under their noses within their own churches. And if the church doesn’t live according to the Bible, why should it expect anyone else to