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Deciphering a Religion Journalist's Deconversion


Apr 6 2009
William Lobdell's rejection of faith seems less examined than his own reporting for the Los Angeles Times.

Former Los Angeles Times journalist William Lobdell lost his faith reporting on both the shiny, happy face of American religion and its cancerous underbelly. I became interested in Lobdell's work when I lived in Southern California and was trying to get a grasp on the region's unique religious landscape. After reading his blog for more than a year, recently meeting him, and devouring his memoir—Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America . . and Found Unexpected Peace—I have a great deal of empathy for the man, as I suspect many religion journalists would. And yet, his conclusions don't ultimately convince.

Lobdell writes that he backed out of his imminent conversion from evangelicalism to Catholicism because he "didn't want to join an organization that was run by leaders so out of touch with the modern world that they never picked up the phone to turn in child rapists—something most of us would do automatically, even if the perpetrator were a member of our own family."

This is a truly na?ve assertion. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2006 that 56.3 percent of child-abuse reports were made by mandated professionals—police officers, medical workers, and educators. Of the nonprofessional reporters, only 7.7 percent were family members. Furthermore, a 1992 U.S. Department of Justice report found that in 20 percent of cases when a female child younger than 12 years old was raped, the rapist was her father.

So should we stop believing in family because fathers rape and mothers often fail to report?

Reason disallows me to concede to Lobdell's assertion that religious institutions are inherently more corrupt than others. One hardly needs to mention financial and political institutions, so let's consider journalism. He complains that Christian media are loath to investigate their own, as if these organizations alone acquiesce to advertising and circulation pressures. As a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors Association, I heard similar complaints from a peer at Ms. Magazine. Over lunch, the idealistic feminist lamented that her magazine shied away from reporting on intra-feminist debates because its editors wanted to present a united feminist front and didn't want to lose readers.

Lobdell rightly notes that Christians should be different, but often aren't. And yet, he finds a few radical disciples worthy of praise. It is this disproportion, the very reality that shipwrecked his faith, that correlates entirely with the biblical account of the faithful throughout history, and with our Messiah's short experience on earth.

Related Topics:Atheism; Church; Doubt; Journalism; Media

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