In his late 20s, journalist William Lobdell was born again. Or at least, that’s what he thought happened to him at a mountaintop men’s retreat that he attended at the urging of Hugh Hewitt, the conservative evangelical radio personality. Floundering in his job and family life, Lobdell had been drinking in the fellowship of “seeker-friendly” churches and Bible studies in the Los Angeles area. After a weekend of confession, singing, high emotion, and sleep deprivation, he lifted his hand at the altar call and prayed the sinner’s prayer, and felt what he describes as a vision—a glow in his heart accompanied by an incredible sense of supernatural presence. Over the next decade, God led him to his dream job as the religion reporter at The Los Angeles Times, where he could uncover the hidden stories that would reveal the true face of faith through a medium naturally inclined to be skeptical.
He hadn’t been long on the job when one of his fellow reporters dropped a hefty file on his desk: a lawsuit alleging that Father Michael Harris, beloved principal of a local Catholic high school, had sexually abused some of his students. It was November 2000, more than a year before the clergy-pedophilia scandal erupted in Boston and spread west across the country. Although Lobdell continued to report on remarkable stories of forgiveness and strength achieved through faith, when the nationwide Catholic-abuse story broke, he devoted himself to it full time. And what he saw—not just the compulsions of a small percentage of the parish priesthood, but the systematic betrayal of the victims by a Catholic hierarchy that without exception covered up abuses, shuffled guilty men around, and attacked the vulnerable to save its own skin—destroyed his ability to believe in God.
The bookstores are full of screeds against belief and polemics against non-belief. In such a polarized moment, Lobdell’s book Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting On Religion In America—And Found Unexpected Peace, is an anguished tale of paradise gained and lost that provides a vital, revelatory human perspective. From the believers who inspired him to the institution that disillusioned him, Lobdell writes with page-turning urgency about a journey he finds simultaneously tragic and liberating. Because of his simple, honest style and ability to see both sides of the story, his audience should include Christians, atheists, and those hovering in the vestibule. It’s a primer on taking faith seriously enough to let it go, and it deserves to be read by everyone who cares about American religion, either as a promise or as a threat.