Monday, August 31, 2009

The Book in Hand – Losing My Religion, Part 2

.In my previous post, I shared the first part of my review of Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace, a new memoir by journalist William Lobdell. You can review Part I HERE before reading the conclusion below.

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At the end of the first part of my review, I mentioned that at the same time that Lobdell was deeply engaged in the catechism and indoctrination required for membership in the Catholic Church, he was also investigating and coming to understand the enormity of the sexual perversions that the Church had hidden for centuries. It is no surprise, then, that when his investigations revealed the extent of the rottenness within the Catholic Church, his faith, which had rested so strongly on the institution, its leaders, and its traditions, was shaken and ultimately destroyed. He found that he had built his house on sand.

Mr. Lobdell’s error, of course, was in confusing (or perhaps connecting too strongly) his personal faith in God with the religious institutions that men (mostly) have created, especially the Catholic Church. As Mr. Lobdell discovered when he investigated wealthy televangelists, faith healers, and some other religious organizations, many man-made religious institutions and businesses have very little to do with God and very much to do with power, money, and celebrity. God is not church, and churches are not God. Churches can at best be gathering places where like-minded people can share and enlarge upon ideas and faith that they hold in common. To expect much more is to be disappointed.

And when Mr. Lobdell looked into whether or not Christians (the book does not consider other religions) behave better, ethically and morally, than non-believers, he “couldn’t find any evidence within Protestantism or Catholicism that the actions of Christians, in general, showed that they took their faith seriously or that their religion made them morally or ethically better than even atheists.”

Worst of all for Mr. Lobdell, of course, was the moment when he realized that the Catholic leaders who publicly professed deep faith, and who preached damnation to sinners, had privately committed unimaginably dreadful sins against the most vulnerable members of their faith communities. Equally damning was the reaction of the entrenched Catholic faithful, who tended to embrace and support their sinning priests and refuse to accept the truth. How can people believe in God, he wonders, in the face of the institutionalized hypocrisy and perversion which is perpetuated in the name of that God? What does not God intervene?

It seems to me that true faith should always transcend religion, and that intelligent people of faith (is that an oxymoron?) should be able to differentiate between their personal beliefs and man-made religious institutions, especially institutions that are controlled by people who have so blatantly and criminally rejected Christian teachings.

Though Mr. Lobdell writes clearly and cogently, as would be expected from a professional journalist, the book is too long for its topic. Perhaps he uses nearly 300 pages to tell his story because, as he says, “My loss of faith had taken me years to recognize and then grow used to.” (p.259, but oh, such awkward syntax!) This story seems dominated by detail about the sexual abuses, and his journalistic instinct is too much in evidence here. However, I do understand why he includes so many sordid details, for it was the cumulative effect of those discoveries, made over months and years, which destroyed Mr. Lobdell’s faith, and it is natural that he wants us to feel the same horror and inescapable anger and disgust that led him to leave his faith and become, as he terms it, a “reluctant atheist.”

I’ve heard two radio interviews with Mr. Lobdell, including a fifty-minute, talk; in neither situation was he able to make his case as clearly as he did in writing. His comments dwell on the sexual abuses, and on the fallacies of all religious faith, without explaining sufficiently how and why these factors contributed to his own abandonment of his faith.

The most important and, for me, most persuasive part of the book came at the very end, after he had cataloged the myriad reasons for his abandonment of faith and religion. He expressed surprise and delight in his new-found serenity and spiritual self-sufficiency, which he attributes to his atheism, however "reluctant" he claims to be. That makes sense, of course, since he is now basing his behavior on his own internally-generated moral and ethical standards, not those imposed externally by an institution which he found to be, at its core, corrupt and sinful.

All in all, this is a good book and an important one, and is recommended.


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