A story of revelation and rebirth

A story of revelation and rebirth May 20, 2009

PETER BRIETBART reviews Losing My Religion by WILLIAM LOBDELL (pictured above)

PACING across the bright, flood-lit stage, a faith-healer screeches Alleluiahs into the microphone, his voice echoing around the packed auditorium. As the offering buckets fill, an elderly man in a wheelchair empties what little money he has, catching the eye of the rock-star priest on stage. The healer bellows:

Brother before this night is over, you’re going to walk out of here!

As the buckets overflow with desperate donations, the healer proclaims that the gathered faithful are healed of their ailments; cancers cured, diseases remedied, disabilities overcome. And yet, as the fanfares fade and the crowd clears, William Lobdell can’t help thinking about the old man in the wheelchair: poorer, still disabled, and with anguish in his eyes.
This sad encounter – one of many in his role of the LA Times’ Religious Correspondent – instilled deep doubts in Lobdell. The once “full-faith Christian” was left with no choice but to acknowledge the corruption, ugliness and dishonesty that marked out the Lord’s workers here on Earth.
Lobdell’s faith begins where faith grows best: in a time of dire need, and when any help, even imagined help, will do. His life in ruins, he finds a crutch in scripture, and embraces Christianity with relief and enthusiasm.

The journalist beautifully describes a new world seen through the eyes of religious faith. God’s work is suddenly everywhere. And the Divine has a plan for him. He believes that he must use his “God-given” journalistic talents to report on religion, bringing stories of glory and hope to his readers. He works hard for years, and then, miraculously, lands a job at the Los Angeles Times – a clear sign of heavenly favour.
Unfortunately for his faith, the glossy veneer of religious organisations appear increasingly tarnished as he begins reporting on the more disturbing side of the godly.
He meets charismatic man of God, Monsignor Michael Harris (the first of many such men). In 2001, Harris was accused of molesting a boy in his care and, as the evidence started to pile up, the Roman Catholic Church paid out $5.2 million, whilst Harris was quietly permitted to resign his positions of authority due to “stress”.
At the time of the meeting, Lobdell did not realise that the Church had knowingly hid and protected Harris. He’d been accused of a similar offence 30 years earlier and had received “treatment”. Those who “treated” him concluded that Harris was attracted to adolescent boys and, in all likelihood, had probably molested children on several occasions. The Church knew all this and yet they did nothing.
But the scandal did not stop there; it was only the beginning. Lobdell takes us through his time reporting on the Church’s escalating paedophilia scandal, with one revolting revelation folowing another.
His statistics on the number of paedophile priests left me feeling uncomfortable and angry. The Church would bully and manipulate the victims into silence to prevent a scandal. Organised religion can be vulgar, but to see the Roman Catholic Church aiding, abetting, and facilitating paedophiles in staying undercover and unnoticed whilst they continued to rape children in their care, is enough to make one detest them.
If such an organisation existed without a claim to the divine, the fury of all moral people would erase them from the face of the earth.
Priests – the ones appointed to hearing confessions of sin – were the ones that should have been confessing. The hypocrisy and silence of the Church was bewildering – enough for Lobdell to abandon long-standing plans to join it. To do so, he felt, would have felt like a betrayal of the Church’s victims.
Lobdell simply had met too many victims and heard too many stories. And the stories continued to come out.
He tells of a priest standing in front of his congregation with the air of an oppressed victim. He’s been hit with the Church’s new zero-tolerance policy on molesting children, or “boundary violations” as he puts it, and has been forced to resign because of an “incident” many years earlier.
The gathered women and men of God give him a standing ovation as a sign of solidarity, and sympathy with his plight. Lobdell, a proud father of four sons, is horrified by the reaction of the faithful as they applaud, cheer and cry for the frocked offender.
Stephen Weinburg once wrote in the New York Times:

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

In what circumstances other than in a religious setting, where critical thinking is gradually – and often instantly – destroyed by faith, is it possible to conceive of a group of good, ordinary people applauding a child molester?

Lobdell had no answer, and left his job with his faith in tatters. What he now knows to be true destroyed what he so deeply wished to be true: that God was looking out for him, that his life was in His hands, that he had a divine purpose. The corrupt godly, the swindling faith-healers, the rapist priests, the contradictory scripture, and the cold and silent voice of God led him to one conclusion. God was not silent, but imaginary.
This is a story of revelation and rebirth, but not as the Christians would like it. Lobdell damns himself to hell as he realises that there isn’t a hell to be afraid of. His belief in an afterlife evaporates as his temporary, mortal, real life takes on new clarity.
He needed a crutch whilst he was crippled, and Christianity sufficed, but he mistook the crutch for the cure. We all need purpose, but wishing something does not make it so. William’s intelligence allowed him a lucky escape – and he was cured of a delusion no faith-healer could ever fix.
Today, Lobdell is a “reluctant” atheist, running an excellent blog on which he elaborates:

I know one thing, I don’t believe in a God who intervenes in our lives. That seems to me to be the real dividing line: do you believe in a personal God or not? Deitism and atheism are on the other side of belief in a personal God. That’s where I am.
Though it varies by the day, I estimate that I’m 70 percent sure I’m a reluctant atheist and 30 percent positive that I’m deist (deist meaning that a creator kicked off this whole world but has a hands-off approach).
The larger point being: I’m 99.99 percent sure that there’s not a god who intervenes in the lives of humankind.

Readers can get his excellent book from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. No sceptic’s bookshelf should be without a copy.

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  • Nick

    The church will do all it can to cover up such 'scandals'. They see the molestation of children by those that represent them as nothing more than a nuisance and an unfornate besmirchment of their 'good name'. They will never risk exposing and / or aiding in the prosectution of preists who commit these crimes for fear it will reflect badly on them; PR outways basic morality.
    The Church has no regard for truth, logic or fundamental humanity when it comes to their beliefs, so it is no real surprise that they adopt such a hideous attitude to peodophiles that serve them.
    For them, the suffering of a few cannot jeapordise the adoration, and financial support, of millions.

  • ron

    maybe if they started the day with a prayer and hung the 10 commandments everywhere these sorts of things wouldnt happen.

  • I was born into a Christian family and attended private Lutheran school. I broke away from religion around the same time I learned about the New World Order. Overall I think I'm happier now. The truth will set you free.

  • Mourning Atheist

    Everyday, bit-by-bit, I am disillusioned. The emptiness inside screams echoes of hopes withering into the darkness where they belong. A shadow that’s not malevolent but indifferent. It couldn’t hurt much more.

  • Wasp_Box

    I see the Christian Brothers in Ireland sued to prevent anyone being named in the latest report of the holy ones. They repulse me.

  • Har Davids

    With all the Pope's verbal fuck-ups and the abuse-scandals it's truly a miracle worthy of a god that so many Christians still cling to religion. And the same goes for Jews and Muslims of course.

  • chrsbol

    Yes I'm sure this story will surface soon here and with some luck the victims will get some justice.
    But then again probably not as they'll all close frocks to protect the kiddiefiddlers.

  • Fred

    Lobdell still seems tortured and confused. He feels himself to be 70% an Atheist and 30% a Deist? Laughable. What's even more laughable is a man like Lobdell determining his beliefs based upon the hypocrisy or the shortcomings of the few people he reported on. Beliefs, by nature, are not properly verifiable nor falsifiable based on a few, empirical examples. Someone should have told Lobdell that fact going into Christianity and into journalism. He should have expected to encounter many, many individuals who fell short of Christian ideals and who did not embody them. Instead, he expected to have his faith confirmed by real-life, empirical examples of the people he reported on—–none of whom are normal people who live nondescript lives; but, instead, who were the unusual, news-worthy deviants which would inevitably come to his attention as a journalist.

  • Fred

    Lobdell is as much of a sad case as a current atheist/deist as he was as a Christian. Still confused. Still reacting to unrelated bits of information which he failed to put into perspective. Still afraid to commit fully to either a life of spiritual faith or practical empiricism. Still caught in a futile, ambivalent impotence which mocks him. Still trying to merge faith and reason when it cannot be merged in any conventional sense. This is not the story of a man coming to grips with life and reality. This is the account of a man who never understood Christianity in the first place. He professed tenets which he never truly believed, and he tried to make a career for which he was not suited.

  • Fred

    He will most likely continue ricocheting back and forth between belief and unbelief, and between hope and disillusionment. It's the nature of that particular man and not the consequence of the truth or falsity of anything outside his own experience.

  • Mike

    Or we would end up with more delusional idiots in the world.

  • Stonyground

    I remember hearing on the radio about some guy who was quite highly qualified as a doctor of divinity or something like that. Anyway he converted from Christianity to Hinduism for a while but then he converted back again because he preferred going to Heaven to being re-incarnated. He actually believed that his eternal fate would be different depending on which sack full of garbage he believed in.

  • Steve

    There was a time when men believed that the crops wouldn't grow unless they plowed a child into the field every spring. Humanity outgrew that. It's time we outgrew the rest. The world would be a lot better off if the Vatican Cult and all of its descendants could be sent to join Thuggee.

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  • Anonymous

    I'm just hoping this is sarcasm.

  • Chas

    Do not turn away from Peter because of the sins of Judas

  • dave

    religion is, for lack of a better word, a very romantic idea. who doesnt want to be in a total paradise, whilst all those that wronged them are in a place where they must deeply regret all that they've ever done wrong. it is not practical however, and it has long been known that it is more of a way of "controlling the masses" than anything of much virtue. the uncertainty surrounding death consumes us all, yet only those consumed with religeon give away 10% of there hard earned(and already, heavily taxed) pay. we will, unfortunately for us, all find out what happens in the end. Itd be awesome to imagine that we keep experiencing thoughts and feelings, and have a lovely time for the rest of eternity. this is a subject where even the most well written, thought out, and innocent seeming web post will not change anything. the I'm only one person mentality consumes all of us, and prevents us from attempting to change things, and when we see others attempt this very thing, wich many, if not all of us long for, and they are persecuted because of it…when this does happen, we retract from our temporary moment of braveness and re-enter the world where absolute power corrupts, absolutely. This is the way it has been, and this is the way it will always be. those that hold power of any kind relish it, and refuse to let it go, until it is taken from them, and the saviours of the people will inherently become just as evil as the tyrants they previously overthrew. Thus, it is much easier to say that the world is way fucked up, and carry on with our sad little, temporary yet supremely blissful reality that we call life. only when people storm the vatican and remove all the gold, and the richness, and the people holding power, and controlling everything, and brainwashing bilions, will we see what faith really gives us. those people would probly fall into despair just like everyone else, yet they would place the blame squarely on "GODs" shoulders, instead of their own. They are completely absolved of any need to think for themselves, because they follow a higher power….the guys with all the money. I sure as shit hope god exists, but come on people, we dont know, and we WONT know until we are incapable of letting any living soul know about it. So while we still breath, enjoy life, be a little kid again, how cool is life? cant u just respect it for what it is, a truly awesum experience, one wich we are all supremely lucky to have recieved.

  • valdemar

    I for one think Mr Lobdell is to be congratulated for intellectual and emotional honesty, especially in a USA where religiosity is still equated with morality by most media pundits and politicians.

  • Stonyground

    I think that after the latest revolting revelations, any "Peters" that don't Denounce the Catholic Church and leave it to rot are "Judases" by association.

  • albert

    We ate all Atheists. Many reject all gods but one and I reject all gods..
    And if you believe in ghosts,re incarnation and superstition then you can't believe in
    a god…

  • One of the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood begins with the sad news that parents break to their kids, that Santa Claus isn’t real. In my case, the dominoes all ticked over in a perfect line:
    If there’s no Santa, there’s no Easter Bunny, tooth fairy…man, next thing you know they are gonna tell me that there’s no Batman…
    It’s time for humanity to grow up and let that last domino fall.

  • Jay

    I like Thomas Jefferson's take on religion. He was vehemently against the “corruptions” of Christianity, and against the religious bigotry and hypocrisy of arrogant, self-important and self-righteous people who claimed to be Christian authorities. But, even so, Jefferson loved the actual teachings of Jesus.
    Jefferson decided to do something about it. He compiled a reformed version of the gospels to rescue the philosophy of Jesus and the "pure principles which he taught," from the “corruptions and artificial vestments” which were established as “instruments of riches and power” for church patriarchs.
    Jefferson concluded that Jesus never claimed to be God, and he regarded much of the New Testament as corrupted with "palpable interpolations and falsifications." So he separated ethical and true teachings from the religious doctrine and dogma. He called his book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels.” He didn’t publish it, because he regarded religious beliefs as a private matter. But now people know it as The Jefferson Bible.
    Read a similar take at: http://reformationcomingsoon.bravehost.com

  • There are many people leaving Christianity and there are many joining it. The difference, however, is that those who leave inevitably end up writing best-sellers.

  • Kate

    Another kind of insanity (conspiracy theory) is no cure for the first (religion.)

  • The basic problem guys like Breitbart and Lobdell have is what I would loosely term the "Ghandi syndrome" – i.e. the quote allegedly attributable to Ghandi saying he loved our Christ, just not our Christians. Like Plato's shadows on the cave walls (gratuitous nod to the benefits of a liberal education) they see Christians *as* God, and not *of* God. The unvarnished truth is that it's because mankind is broken like shards of glass that God's perfection is distorted as it shines through us. In some, the brokeness is immense and mosaic, creating the horrific crimes of headlines and history books. In others, the brokeness is more subtle and fine, and as they work through their paths to salvation through Grace God's light shines through them in more Christ-like fashion.
    Either way, condemning God and His love for man because His message is hijacked by the weak is both intellectually disingenuous and spiritually empty.

  • At least we're not spiritually disingenuous and intellectually empty Mr Green.

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