Excerpt from Losing My Religion by William Lobdell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Losing My Religion

How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace

By William Lobdell

Losing My Religion
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2009,
    304 pages.

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Chapter One
"You Need God"

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
—Jeremiah 29:11

By age 27, I had screwed up my life. I had married my volatile high school sweetheart five years earlier, mostly because it seemed easier than breaking up. When I left her, I didn't follow through with the divorce. Dealing with her in court would be messy, so I just bailed. In the meantime, I happily jumped into an adolescence delayed by my fidelity to the first girl I'd ever loved. Before long, I managed to get a girlfriend pregnant. I loved my newfound bachelorhood, and I was petrified by the prospect of another marriage and my first child (leaving aside the fact that my divorce to my first wife couldn't be finalized for at least six months).

I ran away as fast as I could, concluding that I had only a few months left in the wild before the baby arrived and a lifetime of responsibility would kick in. I needed to pack in as much living as I could. I drank away many nights. I caroused with friends. And I'm forever shamed to admit that I cheated on my pregnant girlfriend.

Other parts of my life weren't much better. My journalism career had stalled at a local minor-league magazine, where I worked long hours for low pay covering "business lifestyles" about which I couldn't have cared less. My digestive system waged daily war on me. I developed acne that I had been spared as a teenager. When I combed my hair each morning at the bathroom mirror, I couldn't look myself in the eye. When I turned 28, I could barely admit it was my birthday. I couldn't stand the person I had become. I found no reason to celebrate my life.

But then our son, Taylor, was born. I found myself staying up deep into most nights, holding my child tightly, staring at his innocent face, letting his chubby fingers wrap around mine and knowing it was time for me to grow up if this kid was going to have a fair chance at life.

A month after Taylor arrived, I married Greer in a Las Vegas wedding at a small chapel on the Strip presided over by a drunken pastor and his dutiful wife. They were our only witnesses. We spent the first part of our wedding night watching a comeback concert by Tony Orlando and Dawn. I gave our marriage about as much chance as the over-the-hill singing trio performing in that half-empty casino concert hall. Though she would not say it, I knew Greer had grave doubts about me, too, but she wanted her son to have an in-the-home father—something missing from her childhood—and was generous or desperate enough to give me a chance.

Soon after the wedding, on an especially low day, I had lunch with a good friend named Will Swaim. A fellow journalist of my vintage, Will is rail-thin, with a handsome face whose broad features seem to be made from stone. He has a kinetic energy that brings to mind someone who drinks way too much coffee. He is also one of the smartest and most searching people I know. Not yet 30, his career ambitions had swung wildly from Roman Catholic priest (he decided not to go into the seminary) to punk rock star (he was the lead singer for a group named the Barking Spiders) to aspiring guerrilla fighter (an unexpectedly pregnant wife caused him to give up his one-way plane ticket to Mexico City, the first leg of a journey that would have taken him to Nicaragua to fight with the Sandinistas) to peace activist (he worked for three years to ban nuclear weapons). He finally settled into journalism, where he's made a national reputation for himself as an alternative weekly editor and publisher.

Seated at a booth in an upscale coffee shop under the flight path of the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, he started a conversation in the usual way.

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The foregoing is excerpted from Losing My Religion by William Lobdell. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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