William Lobdell William Lobdell

Abandon all hope, Christians

An open letter to Christians from former LA Times religion reporter and ‘Losing My Religion’ author William Lobdell


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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.

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Atheism is like religion. Neither can be proved through any means presently available. In a sense both are faith based and opposite sides of the same coin. I believe we have a right and a duty to do and seek those things which give us the greatest happiness in life. For some it might be the choice the author has made. I do not state this as a relativist. I am not. But I can understand sincere motivations that lead us down distinct pathways which I may not agree with.

I think the author is wrong in his decision, but if he is sincere, then I can only conclude he is also true to himself. Choice is the greatest gift God gives us, and while we live choice is not permenant. As he grows in knowledge his choices may lead him down a path different from his present course.

posted by jefeinCA on 3/05/09 @ 11:11 a.m.

Atheism is not a religion. It is a lack of belief in God.

True, one cannot disprove the God, but one cannot disprove Zeus, Zen Buddhism, invisible unicorns or the Easter Bunny either. Just because you can't disprove something and don't believe in it, doesn't mean you're following a religion.

Many do not choose to be an atheist because it may give them the "greatest happiness in life," but rather it is the position that is most likely to be the truth. What most atheist seeks is evidence. It is not up to the atheist to disprove a supposely invisible being with infinite magical powers intent on hiding himself, but rather for the believer provide proof of his existance. It is clear from your post you have no proof.

The author has clearly educated himself extensively in the area of religion. Like many who have done the same, it is no mystery he turned to atheism. As you grow in knowledge, perhaps it is you who will go down a path different from your present course.

posted by satheist on 3/05/09 @ 02:29 p.m.

Good to hear that Mr Lobdell has chosen the enlightening path away from religions. And atheism is not a religion rather the lack of acceptance of gods in general. Atheism is a belief shared by almost all religions. Christians by accepting Jesus are declaring their atheism to Islam, Hinduism, and all the other isms that are not Christianity.

He is also joining the fastest growing belief system in the US and the Western World as a whole. Church attendance in the US and Europe continues to decline. Although Christianity is still the religion of 75% of Americans it is well below 50% in the population 30 years and younger, and there is no sign that this decline will not continue.

America is enterring a wonderful age where reason will win out over superstition. We will no longer behave well because if we don't we will end up burning in hell for all eternity. Rather we will behave well because it is inherently good to help your fellow man and woman. After all atheists are just as moral as anyone else.

Congratulations William!

posted by Sarah_Bellem on 3/05/09 @ 06:05 p.m.

Don't worry Mr. Lobdell, I won't pray for you or quote from Bible scriptures, but I'll share what a wise old man wrote about 100 years ago:

"Religion should be the Cause of Love and Affection

Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion. All the holy prophets were as doctors to the soul; they gave prescriptions for the healing of mankind; thus any remedy that causes disease does not come from the great and supreme Physician."

(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 130)

posted by alyosha19 on 3/05/09 @ 11:40 p.m.

I don't think the author was ever truly saved. Sad. God hardened pharoh's heart too when He was so firmly rejected. It's not going to go well when this stiff necked man stands before the creator.

posted by christian on 3/07/09 @ 04:00 a.m.

To the poster above who goes by "christian". I spent 30 years as a Christian, and I too had a similar experience as Mr. Lobdell. I have nothing but respect for Mr. Lobdell, because, like him, I searched and searched for God. I prayed and prayed and begged and begged that God come to me. But little by little, over time, it was clear that he simply wasn't there. He wasn't real. I didn't leave God. God never existed.

Combining that with what we know about science, it became all to clear to me that what they taught me since I was a child simply wasn't real. There is no God. there is no Jesus, and as frightening as you may find it, there is no Holy Spirit.

As you can imagine, it's an incredibly painful experience to go through. And I offer congratulations to Mr. Lobdell for taking the time to write a book about it. Many of us have -- Dan Barker wrote an excellent one, as have others, including myself, and I hope that more and more people who are having difficulty believing but hold on simply out of fear will read all of these books and start to realize that they're not alone, that it's safe to finally let go.

Like Mr. Lobdell, I have *finally* found happiness since I let go. Again, I congratulate Mr. Lobdell.

Jeffrey Mark
Author, Christian No More, ISBN 0981631304

posted by jeffmark on 3/11/09 @ 04:25 p.m.
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