Losing My Religion
The struggles of a religion reporter whose work begins to erode his faith.
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At the time the DiMaria case was settled, Lobdell and his wife were attending Catholic conversion classes twice a week. As he tells it, “the Father Hollywood story was a spiritual body blow, but I didn’t sense it at the time.”Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, the eager reporter felt God had given him a special responsibility: to uncover corruption in religion in order to spur reform and healing. With equal fervor, he undertook in-depth reports on televangelists who were milking people of millions and using funds for themselves; one involved an exposé of the homosexual tryst and lavish living of the head of Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Yet the results were disheartening: Catholic parishioners repeatedly took the side of abusive priests and railed against the victims; and the televangelists raked in millions more the year after the stories appeared. “In fact, my stories were used as fund-raising tools – evidence that TBN was doing God’s work and the devil (that is, yours truly) was trying to stop it,” Lobdell writes.
It wasn’t reaction to his stories, per se, that most distressed him, he says, but the fact that Christians who were in a position to stand for principle and clean things up, regularly chose to turn a blind eye to dishonesty, corruption, and hypocrisy.
At first Lobdell felt that corruption in religious institutions had nothing to do with God. But then he began looking for evidence of how Christians lived, and whether it differed at all from nonbelievers.
“If the Gospels were true, shouldn’t I be able to find plenty of data that showed Christians acted differently – superior in morals and ethics – from the rest of society? I wanted to see that people were changed in fundamental ways by their belief in Christ.” The data from many studies, whether on divorce, racism, charity, materialism, etc., showed otherwise.
He began experiencing “a dark night of the soul.” Two other assignments became crowning blows: a reporting trip to St. Michael’s Island in Alaska, where “a single Catholic missionary raped an entire generation of Alaska Native boys”; and a court case in Portland, Ore., in which a priest and his order were refusing to give sufficient support to the son the priest had fathered and his destitute mother.
Lobdell and his wife never joined the Catholic church. The author struggled mightily to hold onto his faith, but, he says, it just left him – it wasn’t a choice. Today he’s not a different person – he still lives according to the standards outlined in the Bible. But he says his faith is gone for good. One wonders about those prayerful years and why their impact in his own life failed to sustain him. Lobdell finds ways to explain them away.
In this soul-searching autobiography, Lobdell raises deeply significant issues about what constitutes a genuine Christian life. While others might find different answers to some of the challenges Lobdell recounts, it would be difficult to bring more integrity, modesty, and honesty to the struggle.
Jane Lampman is the Monitor’s religion reporter.