Summary and book reviews of Losing My Religion by William Lobdell

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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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

William Lobdell's journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems—including a failed marriage—drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell—a veteran journalist—noticed that religion wasn't covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith.

Yet what happened over the next eight years was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall St. firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn't exist. He explored every doubt, every question—until, finally, his faith collapsed. After the paper agreed to reassign him, he wrote a personal essay in the summer of 2007 that became an international sensation for its honest exploration of doubt.

Losing My Religion is a book about life's deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt. How he faced that power, and wrestled with it, is must reading for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.

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 ...

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One way I can tell whether a nonfiction book has met its goal is if, after finishing it, I want to call the author and invite him/her to lunch. I have to say that nothing would make me happier than spending a quiet spring afternoon sipping a nice sauvignon blanc and chatting with Bill Lobdell. I feel just that close to him. More than that, I feel we are kindred spirits; battered souls on a quest to make sense of a confusing world. Better yet, I think there are more people who have a lot more in common with Lobdell (if truth be told) than might be ready to admit it. Because who among us does not have a personal story of love gained and lost? And what is religion if not organized love targeted toward a spiritual entity? In view of that, who has sought enlightenment and something to believe – really believe – in, only to feel sand-bagged when the recipient of our faith turned out to have feet of clay?   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (1148 words).

Media Reviews
Los Angeles Times - Heather King

I understand that Lobdell's heart is broken, as all human hearts must be broken if for no other reason than that we must die. I sympathize down to the bone with his hunger for the world to be holy without quite being able to be holy himself. But I can't help wondering what would have happened had Lobdell stepped out of his journalist's role. I wonder if he would not have discovered that even the best of us contribute to the suffering of the world. I wonder if he would not have discovered that conflict, uncertainty, paradox, doubt are the beginning of faith, not the end of it. I wonder if he would not have realized that an anonymous author wrote a variation of this story 2,600 years ago -- about a man named Job.

Dallas News - Sam Hodges

Lobdell lost his religion but found a good story: his own. The modest, heartfelt way he tells it should win over many readers, including those praying for him.

Christian Science Monitor - Jane Lampman

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.

Publishers Weekly

If Christians are no more ethical than atheists, why belong to a church? It's a curious utilitarian argument that sounds more like a rearview explanation than a revealing account of loss of faith.

Library Journal

Lobdell's heartfelt account is probably closer to the experience of many Americans whose doubts overwhelmed them, leading them - reluctantly and after much soul-searching - to disbelief.

Kirkus Reviews

It's not a cheerful conclusion, but Lobdell's honesty and self-effacement make it persuasive. An important wake-up call to people of faith.

Shelf Awareness, Harvey Freedenberg

This intellectually and spiritually challenging memoir leaves us with the distinct sense that Lobdell's intriguing journey is far from over.

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Beyond the Book

Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church
The tide of sexual abuse cases against Catholic Church officials took its toll on William Lobdell, causing him to abandon his faith altogether. Surprisingly, however, this may not be a widespread effect. According to a recent survey, while membership in most religious groups has fallen during the last two decades, the Catholic Church - whose halo was severely tarnished by the scandals - lost fewer members than mainline Protestants* and Baptists.

The Church may not have suffered significant losses in the number of faithful who call themselves Catholic but, almost a decade since news of that first lawsuit hit the headlines, they are still being hit where it hurts - in the pocketbook. As ...

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