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 1: “You Need God”
With my life a mess, I end up at an evangelical megachurch and fall in love with God.
Chapter 2: Born Again
As my faith deepens, I have a born-again experience. I’m mystified and excited at my new life.
Chapter 3: A God Thing
As a Christian, my life begins to straighten out. My marriage improves, my career improves and I have a whole new set of friends.
Chapter 4: Answered Prayers
Being a journalist, I notice the mainstream media doesn’t report on religion very well. I start to pray that I can land a job as religion writer for the Los Angeles Times. Several years later, through a seemingly miraculous set of circumstances, I got the job.
Chapter 5: Shot Out of a Cannon
My first few years on the religion beat were a honeymoon. I reported on amazing stories of faith that deepened my own convictions.
Chapter 6: My Ten Commandments
How I reported on the religion beat.
Chapter 7: Father Hollywood
The story behind a major Catholic clergy sexual abuse case that uncovered corruption throughout one diocese–before the national sex scandal broke.
Chapter 8: A Spiritual Body Blow
The toll that meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse had on me. The first cracks in my faith appeared.
Chapter 9: The Golden Rule
A distressing look at how the most devout Mormons treat family members once those relatives reveal that they no longer believe in the faith.
Chapter 10: Millstones Around Their Necks
As Catholic bishops and other church leaders truly believe in hell, how do they explain their actions, including putting children in the path of pedophiles.
Chapter 11: A Gentle Whisper Silenced
With my doubts rising, I no longer sense God’s presence in my life and start to scramble to keep my faith.
Chapter 12: ‘Rebuild My Church’
I decide my new calling from God is to expose corruption with the Body of Christ and allow it to heal. It’s a big job.
Chapter 13: Heal Thyself
While I investigated televangelists and faith healers, I become more disappointed in mainstream pastors who have shows on their network and don’t speak out against these charlatans. Their TV shows are more important than helping the most desperate among us.
Chapter 14: The Dark Night of the Soul
With my spiritual crisis near a climax, I try with increasing desperation to recapture my faith.
Chapter 15: At the Edge of the Earth
I go to remote Alaska Native villages to see how molesting Jesuit priests preyed on Eskimo children with the authorities hundreds of miles away. I’m finally glad that I no longer believe in God.
Chapter 16: Letting Go of God
I see Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God” one-woman play, and it changes my life. I realize that it’s both okay and comforting to be an atheist.
Chapter 17: One Story Too Many
After reporting on a priest who refuses to give child support to his sickly son, I resign from the religion beat–too burned out to go on.
Chapter 18: “Welcome to the Edge”
A year after admitting to myself that I am an atheist, I come out of the closet to the world with an essay in the Los Angeles Times about my journey. The story generates nearly 3,000 e-mails–the most in the paper’s history–with the vast majority of people thanking me for honestly dealing with spiritual doubt.
The unexpected peace I’ve found in my new life as an atheist.
“Lobdell’s spiritual journey fascinates, not least on account of the irony of his trajectory from agnosticism to belief to atheism while covering religion. It’s a story that may raise eyebrows among believers and nonbelievers alike.”
– Booklist (Starred review)
“The book is a complex and compelling account of his loss of faith while he was delving deeply into religion in America as a journalist.”
– National Catholic Reporter
If you’re someone who only recently became an atheist, or someone who’s only thinking about it, this is a book that could help you along the way. If you’re religious, it can help you understand why some atheists choose the path that we do.
– Hemant Metha (“The Friendly Atheist”)
“Lobdell’s 302-page hardcover–published by HarperCollins, and stemming from a front-page story he wrote for the Times–is a layered, nuanced autopsy into what killed his faith.
Like all seasoned journalists, he knows how to hook the reader.
– Greg Hardesty, Orange County Register
“Lobdell is a gifted writer. Avoiding the disparaging polemics that often characterize the debate between nonbelievers and people of faith, he turns his own story into a fast-paced, engrossing tale, one that is sure to be popular with nonbelievers, but deserves to be read by Christians as well.”
– Christian Science Monitor