Abandon all hope, Christians
An open letter to Christians from former LA Times religion reporter and ‘Losing My Religion’ author William Lobdell
Imay be the most prayed-for atheist in America.
Since my memoir, “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace,” was released last week, I’ve received scores of emails and phone calls assuring me that God hasn’t given up on me and that I’ve been put on various prayer lists around the world.
So far, it’s not working.
“Losing My Religion” details my journey from a gung-ho evangelical Christian who became a religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times (I thought God had answered my prayers) to a reluctant atheist because of what I saw in eight years on the faith beat. Because the book isn’t a rant against religion — it’s more a story of a love found and lost — I’m seen by many as re-convertable. And if I returned to the fold, my testimony would be a valuable commodity within the evangelical community.
Several Christians boldly predict that my next book will be “Finding My Religion Again,” or something along those lines. To that end, I’ve been sent a small mountain of Christian books, pamphlets, DVDs, CDs and workbooks that the senders promise will hook me back up with God.
To save everyone time and effort, let me tell you what absolutely won’t work.
Sending me scripture verses
This super-popular approach is problematic. First, I’ve studied the Bible quite a bit, so it’s not like there’s a passage I haven’t read that will instantly restore my belief in God. And more to the point, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God, so passages of scripture no longer hold supreme meaning for me; they’re fascinating from a sociological or literary perspective, but they’re not history. Sending me a Bible passage would be like a Latter-Day Saint sending you — an evangelical Christian — a passage from the Book of Mormon to prove Mormonism is true. It just doesn’t work.
Handing me a book by a believer
As a Christian, I’ve spent two decades reading the best Christian works throughout history. Like you, I hope, I’ve read Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, G.K. Chesterton, St. Theresa of Lisieux and others. If those giants can’t convince me God is real, no other author will.
Threatening an eternity in hell
This is another standard tactic, filled with Christian love. The emailers are usually succinct, writing something along these lines: “I hope you’re prepared for an eternity in hell.” I’m not sure whether I’m headed for hell, but do know that someone can’t magically believe in Jesus just because they are threatened.
Giving me a Christian movie
“Left Behind.” “Facing the Giants.” “One Night with the King.” Do you understand how awful popular Christian movies are? Any film in that genre would tend to reinforce my atheism. Stop sending them to me.
Asking me to have lunch or to attend a specific church
It took me four years of investigation, study and internal struggle before I could finally admit to myself that I had lost my faith. Ninety minutes over a cheeseburger with your pastor isn’t going to bring it back.
Debating the truth about Christianity with me
Look, Christian apologists (defenders of the faith) can be very intelligent. So can Christian critics. Generally, debate in this area changes no one’s mind. Having read the arguments on both sides, I put in with the critics. For me, there’s no point in rehashing it all — unless someone comes armed with a new argument or evidence.
Perhaps you can sense a double standard here. An army of Christians is trying to pry me away from atheism by any argument necessary, with no invitation or apologies. (An email just landed in my in-box with the subject line: “I have all the answers to your questions.”) But you wouldn’t expect to see a high-profile Christian bombarded by atheists trying to ruin his faith. Unless provoked (conservative Christians’ influence on politics and society sparked the recent New Atheist movement), atheists have a live and let live mentality. Christians can learn from them.
But wait, my Christian friends say. We believe Jesus has commanded us to bring lost sheep back into the fold. It’s our duty. If that’s the case, I’d suggest you follow the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
In other words, make Christianity attractive to outsiders through your actions. And retire the rest of your conversion material. n
William Lobdell, who served as editor of Times Community News when the Pasadena Weekly was owned by the LA Times from 1998 to 2000, will talk about and sign copies of “Losing My Religion” at 7 p.m. Friday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-5320.