LA Times religion reporter ends up losing faith

No really a debate here, but it’s a religious topic and the article I’m linking to could be argued as atheist witnessing, so…

Here it is
To summarize: the author, William Lobdell, tells his story of lobbying to get the job of religion writer because he thought religion needed to be portrayed in a better light and he thought it would increase his faith:

Lobdell speaks of covering a series of faith rattling stories, starting with the Catholic Church pedophile scandals:

Lobdell says he then looked away from the clergy to the laity for faith:

Lobdell goes on to detail covering some other stories, including TBN and “prosperity theology” among other things. He end his piece by telling a story about watching a court trial involving the callous treatment of a woman who is seeking child support from a priest who impregnated her.

Lobdell ends the article by saying he went outside to call his wife on his cell phone and telling her that he wanted a different beat.

I just heard Lobdell on a local radio show today. He said (as he says in the article) that he recognizes these were failures of humans, not God, but that the lack of what he called “light” in the rank and file laity had a lot to do with killing his faith.

He also rightly pointed out that faith is a dependent variable, not an independent one and that it’s not something that can be switched on or off at will. It justwent out for him and that’s that. He said on the radio that he would like to have it back but that he finds himself becoming more cemented in his lack of faith than otherwise.

Anyway, it’s an interesting and sad little article.

Fascinating. I hate to put it this way, but he’s like the (now former) religious person many atheists wish they were talking to – someone who can add up all the crimes and facts of organized religion and actually have a change of heart.

That’s the saddest line to me. How to have faith in an organization when each new molestation and conspiracy case is less and less shocking?

That article is a tragic indictment of human nature. Although I am an atheist, I understand how comforting faith can be, and just how much help the structure of a church can provide. In the end, though, the religions that flourish aren’t necessarily the ones that meet people’s spiritual needs or honor God, they are the ones that survive, and survival is often a question of wringing money out of parishioners.

The religions that thrive in the long run? Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think it’s less out of being right with God and doing right for God. I think it’s because inherent in the structure of the church are the means and methods for manipulating the people who are loyal to it.

Here’s what comes to mind from this article: how much must a religion’s clergy’s/leader’s behavior affect its practicioners’ personal faith? At what point do you think to yourself that this is the fault of the religion, rather than the corruption of the individuals? Obviously, the line is different for everyone, or the entire Catholic Church would be empty by now if everyone thought like the writer of this article.

But, not being heavily religious, it almost seems to me that this guy’s faith was weak anyway, given his reaction to the scandals and such. OTOH, he admits as much in his article, so maybe that’s it.

That’s a very evolutionist view… :wink:

I feel for him, his words struck a chord. I have no doubt that if I could whole-heartedly accept the faith I disdain, I would certainly be a happier man and very likely a better one. It is not to be.

Perhaps he will not succumb, perhaps he can live with the truth that doubt is a holy as faith.

I’ve been a happy atheist (agnostic, if we want to be precise) since I was a teenager. Never looked back. I find the universe, as it is, of such astonishing beauty and sophistication that who the frack needs a god? The more I think about what it would be like if there really were a god, the more glad I am that there isn’t one.

Organized religion, like any human institution, is going to be about sex and power, with maybe a little compassion thrown in here and there. Our chimp cousins would be proud (except they’d probably wonder about that compassion part)!!

That’s a sad article, but it made me wonder… if an agnostic or atheist reporter had written about coming to faith via the religion beat, would the LA Times still have put it on the front page? Somehow I doubt it.

Here’s a take on the (highly recommended) Get Religion blog, which chronicles the coverage of religion in mainstream media.

He loses his faith, so he quits his job as religion reporter? That seems like kind of a cop-out, frankly. Is it strictly necessary to believe in religion in order to report on it?

He answered this question in the radio interview I heard today. He said of course an atheist or agnostic could cover the religion beat but that he just personally needed a break from it.

If a columnist wrote about his atheism a lot as part of his beat and made a dramatic change, then yes, they would probably put it on the first page.

I would guess that most of the editorial staff of the LA Times believes in God. The media in general tends to be slavishly obsequious towards Christians. There is no media conspiracy against Christians. It’s atheists that get short shrift.

I don’t. If an atheist reporter had “found faith” like that, not only the LA Times but quite likely any number of other newspapers and TV/cable news would have taken the opportunity make speeches about how wonderful it was. The surprise is that they admitted the opposite happened.

However you might feel about it, it’s a hell of a powerfully written piece. That’s some fantastic writing for a daily newspaper.

I’m not so sure his experiences are that good a reason for losing faith (not that you have a choice). They’re very emotive, but I wouldn’t say the actions of worshippers have any impact on the existence of God or not. I think it’s a worthwhile lesson that religious people aren’t necessarily better than the rest of us, but it’s not a reason alone to actually stop believing.

Lobdell initially gets pissed off at the priests who molest children. Then he gets pissed off at priests who impregnate grown women… what the hell’s it gonna take to make him happy?

But seriously folks- I think Lobdell’s a whiner. I can see how this would make somebody lose faith in an institution (and God if he were there would know that Protestants have their own crosses to hawk pieces of), but as an atheist myself I don’t understand how it makes him an atheist.

That ‘people are stupid and illogical and irrational and unreasonable and assholish in large groups when they have a a common cause and a charismatic leader to make them feel good (or at least less worthless) and to absolve them for not thinking for themselves and or for acting selfishly’ is an observation based behavioral science known to experts as history. However, this doesn’t mean there’s no God (or that there is one or that there are or aren’t billions of gods). I’d prefer he lost faith over the theological and logical nonsense rather than disillusionment with people; had he covered politics and ended up an anarchist on the premise, quite well argued, that most people are too stupid to vote, it would have made more sense as it at least wouldn’t have presumed the existence or non-existence of the supernatural based upon irrelevant failings of humans.


I take your point that he should have made a reasoned decision rather than an emotional one. OTOH, it is hard to fault him for losing his faith due to the actions of the followers. To my mind, the whole point of religion is that the followers act noticeably better than those with no faith or another faith, something they regularly fail to do.
As another point, when you remove the followers from a faith, what do you have left? It isn’t like God is going actually coming through on all those promises.



I agree with RickJay that it is very well-written and evocative. I also agree that many newspapers have a Christian bias – certainly the local rag here does – but I’m not sure I would put the LA Times in that category. I still don’t think a “reporter finds religion on Godbeat” story would make the front page; and I’m not sure it should. Why is this front page news? To me it’s a human interest story at best.

On another note, I understand his reasons for asking for a different assignment, but I wish he had stayed with religion only because religion is, in general, very poorly reported (even in sympathetic news sources). Anytime a well-informed and thoughtful/critical religion writer moves to a different beat, the pool of remaining well-informed religion writers becomes even more diluted, and you end up with feel-good gloss pieces or ignorant hatchet-jobs.

I think they’re a better reason for losing faith in some things than in others: faith in the Catholic Church? in religious institutions in general? in people, or in religious people, or in people in power in organized religion? in God? in a particular conception of God?

Christianity teaches that human beings (and, hence, human institutions controlled by human beings) are sinful, corrupt, and pretty much FUBAR, and that includes the ones who claim to be religious. Anyone who’s read the New Testament ought to know that Jesus himself didn’t have much faith in the religious authorities.

I can really understand the reporter’s perspective because it used to be mine, and I made the opposite journey — from atheist to believer. I would imagine there are as many who come to believe as there are who lose their faith, and there are some famous examples of the former.

From my perspective now, the reporter is looking to the clergy and to the laity for faith. I think I realized the problem with this when I came across Jesus’ question to the women at His tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My experience tells me that faith is a gift from God, and that people who say they represent Him are as often obstacles to faith as they are exemplars of it.

I agree that this is powerful, but I disagree it is an effective piece of atheist witnessing. At best it is a counter-example to the claim that religion makes you better - but we have thousands of years of history to serve as counter-examples. The only good reason to be an atheist, IMO, is to have good reasons for not believing that any gods exist.
His argument is the complement to the argument that you should be religious because religious people live longer, or have better sex lives, or get more money from work, or whatever. That might all be true, and there still might be no god. Conversely, every priest could be a monster, and god might still exist. So, I think this is an example of how religion fills an emotional need, and if it fails at this, some might reject it.

I left religion despite the fact that my rabbi and all my teachers were wonderful people, and that I always had a good experience going to Hebrew School and shul. I think it is hard for many people to view the question of god dispassionately, from either side.