Live chat: spirituality and tests of faith

Times Staff Writer

2007-07-24 13:03:20.0 Administrator2: We'll begin now -- welcome Bill, and thanks for chatting!

2007-07-24 13:04:09.0 JayH: Hi Bill! My first question is: have you felt at all like a lot of people, whether acquaintances or complete strangers, have made you their "project" since your piece was published?

2007-07-24 13:04:42.0 JayH: By the way, I want to add that I thought your article took a lot of courage to write and publish, whether it felt that way or not. :)

2007-07-24 13:04:47.0 Bill Lobdell: Well, I've gotten something like 1,300 e-mails, many of them encouraging me to stay with my faith -- or at least keep my mind open.

2007-07-24 13:04:59.0 Karen Bro: first, I want to thank you for your soul-baring article. It is rare for readers to be exposed to such personal insight by a reporter. Your article ends in summer 2005; I am wondering where you stand now on the issue of your personal faith?

2007-07-24 13:05:46.0 Bill Lobdell: I'm pretty much an agnostic, leaning toward atheism. My mind isn't closed. I mourn the loss of faith, but that's where I am.

2007-07-24 13:05:54.0 LouLou: Your story on Sunday was so thought provoking. Thanks for writing so honestly about something so personal. Could you talk a little bit about the difference between magical thinking and deep faith?

2007-07-24 13:07:21.0 Bill Lobdell: I'm not sure I know how to answer that. I've seen people who really, really believe in their faith, and their day-to-day actions are quite different that people, such as myself, who called themselves religious. Maybe that's deep faith.

2007-07-24 13:07:26.0 flistr8: I think it's gerat that people such as yourself, Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al are appearing in mainstream media and portrayed in a positive light. It's time the world see that people without faith in god are still moral, sensitive and rational. Thanks for your story.

2007-07-24 13:09:02.0 Bill Lobdell: Thanks. But I tried not to come off as someone who has an ax to grind about God. I don't. I think a lot of the institutions built in his name that very corrupt, but I'm not out to be an evangelical atheist.

2007-07-24 13:09:21.0 Peggy Normandin: Bill, you said in your article that people were either born with faith/religion (terms you use interchangably) or not. How can you "mourn" the loss of something you apparently never had?

2007-07-24 13:10:43.0 Bill Lobdell: I love the idea of having faith. It's comforting. I've chased it since I was 28 -- some years ago. I think people often mourn, in a sense, things they don't had.

2007-07-24 13:11:04.0 Karen Bro: Do you make any attempts to attend church or read books by Christian authors, or Christian blogs? Or, for that matter, spiritual matter from any source -- Christian or otherwise?

2007-07-24 13:11:57.0 Bill Lobdell: I don't attend church anymore, but I do still read quite a bit -- both books and on the Internet. And not just Christianity, though that's my main focus.

2007-07-24 13:12:22.0 Gee: Bill, are you an atheist?

2007-07-24 13:12:35.0 Bill Lobdell: Not quite.

2007-07-24 13:13:30.0 WhatSayItAintSO: I found your article poignant. You have gone where I have almost gone, but can not bring myself to go. What effect have people like Carl Sagan, Dawkins, or Hitchens had on your thinking? Is it not enough to stand on the idea that God exists, He is good and worthy of our trust, but inexplicable and one day it will all be made clear?

2007-07-24 13:14:23.0 jody: "He is good and worthy of our trust," That sounds like so much wishful thinking to me.

2007-07-24 13:14:56.0 jody: How do you know "he" is "good?"

2007-07-24 13:15:57.0 Bill Lobdell: I'm a long-time fan of Hitchens. I've read Dawkins and Sagan, but they doesn't do a lot for me. There are great, intelligent writers on all sides of the issue, and none has much of an impact on my beliefs. It really comes straight from, for lack of a better term, my soul.

2007-07-24 13:16:01.0 kaybe: You stated in the article that your wife was Catholic. Is she still? Has the fact that the status of your faith has changed been an issue between the two of you? My husband and I have both been lifelong Catholics however I reluctantly no longer believe and it has been difficult for him to accept or understand.

2007-07-24 13:17:10.0 Bill Lobdell: My wife is no longer a Catholic. We've been lucky -- at least for me -- that our spiritual journeys have mirrored each other's, probably because we talked about it endlessly and shared many of the same experiences.

2007-07-24 13:17:22.0 Barb in OC: Bill, I related to some of your problems. Do you think that the failure of Christians to live up to what we might expect from them caused you to question your faith?

2007-07-24 13:19:17.0 Bill Lobdell: I look at people volunteering at the Catholic Worker in Santa Ana and see the radical words of the Gospel in action. I guess if more people acted out their faith that way (I certainly didn't), the religion would have more credibility. I've always been fascinated, for instance, with Orthodox Jews. You may not agree with their faith, but they lived it out better than most.

2007-07-24 13:19:42.0 Electra: Don't you think one can be religious without having to be part of ONE creed? I hope, specially now, you continue covering religious topics, specially when people in power abuse the children. I have me great Catholic priests and it is necessary to take a stand and make the Catholic and any other religious institutions understand that that type of abuse cannot be tolerated.

2007-07-24 13:22:48.0 Bill Lobdell: I do think you can be religious without being linked to one specific faith. One of the biggest disappointments for me was the incredibly few number of priests and bishops who reported child molesters they knew were in their midst without first being contacted by attorneys, the media or authorities. It's the exact opposite of what the Gospel -- and our secular laws -- say to do.

2007-07-24 13:22:50.0 ccuevas: Bill, reading your article was encouraging. You seem to have mastered the sifting between the "wheat and the chaff."

2007-07-24 13:22:53.0 WhatSayItAintSO: Demon-Haunted World by Sagan was the first book to really cause me to question my " christian world view", have you read it?

2007-07-24 13:23:35.0 Bill Lobdell: I haven't.

2007-07-24 13:23:40.0 mcsoupman: Bill, I appreciate your struggles. I felt that you voiced your life experiences without taking full aim or attacking the religious community that you were apart of. I read your earlier quote and was immediately reminder of a scripture in James 2 that says Faith without works is dead. You admitted that you (certainly didn't), do you think that had a role to play in your current struggle?

2007-07-24 13:24:23.0 Tracy Hall Jr: Although most of your article expressed disillusionment with Catholicism, you got in your digs about Mormons. I've read your "DNA proves Book of Mormon false" article, your "Tom Murphy is the Mormon Galileo" article, and your "Mormons shun ex-Mormons" article. What turned you against Mormonism?

2007-07-24 13:28:08.0 Bill Lobdell: Tracy, if you look at the body of my work, I've written much more positive stories about Mormonism than negative. Mormon leaders would also agree with that statement. This is the case for each faith. I don't hate religion. I love religion. I think that's what gave me the energy to expose some of the corruption within it. And I've seen the tons of great work religious people do, and I know our country and world would be crippled without it. But for me, I just couldn't believe anymore.

2007-07-24 13:28:10.0 Peggy Normandin: In the same way that the stories of broken faith influenced your decision to abandon religion, do you feel some responsibility for the influence your testimony might have on other's faith?

2007-07-24 13:31:35.0 Bill Lobdell: I'm a big fan of the truth, and I think the truth will win out. I don't think, for instance, anyone of faith has anything to worry about because of my story. It's just my story. I think everyone is responsibile for their own spiritual path. That said, I do think anyone reading about it should do it with great care. It's way I waited a little to tell my story. I wanted my thoughts to settle.

2007-07-24 13:31:39.0 rpp: Do you think that most religious people are "lost"people like you were?

2007-07-24 13:32:41.0 Bill Lobdell: No. I got a lot of crap from atheists for using the phrase "gift of faith," but that's how it feels to me. I just don't have it anymore.

2007-07-24 13:32:45.0 assr25: How do you feel about losing your faith? Sad? Angry? Jaded? I assume you took your children to church. How do they feel about God?

2007-07-24 13:33:56.0 Bill Lobdell: A) Sad B) Angry C) Liberated D) Confused E) Uneasy. I did take my children to church. They no longer go, though I wouldn't stop them if they wanted to attend.

2007-07-24 13:34:03.0 Peggy Normandin: Bill, what do you think made your story "LA Times front page newsworthy"?

2007-07-24 13:36:22.0 Bill Lobdell: I think it's a story that almost everyone -- including the saints of the church -- grapple with. Everyone identifies with a struggle over faith. Some people have criticized the paper and said it was only on the front page because I ended up without faith. If I ended up with my faith intact, it would have gotten the same play. The editors were interested in how my spiritual journey was impacted by my professional life.

2007-07-24 13:36:38.0 religionchat33: What do you think of the small, house groups that are springing up all over? Will they eliminate the problems you saw in the church? Would you consider joining such a group? Sorry about asking a triple-barreled question.

2007-07-24 13:38:31.0 Bill Lobdell: I think the movement is the future of the church. The younger generation really insists on a real faith and not something contained in buildings. Though it has some drawbacks, I think it would eliminate some of the problems inherent in an unchecked power structure. And no, not now.

2007-07-24 13:38:35.0 jason: Can you discuss the difference between losing your faith in the church and losing your faith in god?

2007-07-24 13:40:06.0 Bill Lobdell: That's a really hard question. My faith in church definitely left first. My faith in God -- someone who watches over us, cares about us, intervenes for us -- is pretty much gone, but still lingers.

2007-07-24 13:40:12.0 jason: You said atheists gave you crap about the phrase "gift of faith." How have believers reacted to the idea that they only believe because God gave them that gift?

2007-07-24 13:40:58.0 Bill Lobdell: Sorry, Jason, I don't understand the question.

2007-07-24 13:41:10.0 assr25: Are you still searching for truth and if so what questions do you want answered?

2007-07-24 13:42:29.0 Bill Lobdell: I am still searching for truth. I have an open-mind. It's not like a list of test questions I need answered. For me, it's about belief, a feeling, and I'm not sure exactly what goes into creating that belief for or against God.

2007-07-24 13:42:35.0 gabriela peterson: Have you received any comments from any church leaders? Especially from the TBN crowd? What would bring your faith back? I had a deep faith and trust in God and my church, and I lost them...completely.

2007-07-24 13:45:18.0 Bill Lobdell: I've had an amazing outpouring of responses from vatican priests, parish priests, pastors, rabbis, Christian authors, etc. Hundreds. The vast majority simply said my story touched them, they appreciated my honesty, they had experienced some of the same problems, and they hope my spiritual journey wasn't over. In my experience, the Trinity Broadcasting Network crowd doesn't veer too far away from TBN. I doubt they saw the story.

2007-07-24 13:45:29.0 Grace VanNortwick: Will "losing your faith" affect your philosophy on purpose in life and the "hereafter" so to speak?

2007-07-24 13:47:38.0 Bill Lobdell: I think I'm the same person I was before. I try to be moral, volunteer, etc. That hasn't change. The question of hell certainly gets my attention. I think now that when I die, it's much like before I was born. I just won't exist. That said, if there is a heaven, I'm guessing and hoping that a loving God will understand my screw-up.

2007-07-24 13:47:43.0 religionchat33: A Good Book that might help with some questions is " The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life by Armand M. Nicholi Jr. " It is a really thoughtful account that grapples with some of the same issues you have...and I have as well but come away as a strong believer.

2007-07-24 13:48:21.0 gabriela peterson: I would like to thank Mr. Lobdell for his fascinating article.

2007-07-24 13:48:27.0 Bill Lobdell: I'll check it out. I think I read excerpts in it in Christianity Today a while back.

2007-07-24 13:48:32.0 Bill S: A shaken faith is still faith. Or have you arrived at Mr. Dawkins' conclusion that faith and belief are forms of ignorance?

2007-07-24 13:49:31.0 Bill Lobdell: I don't think faith and belief are forms on ignorance. I'm the one who could be wrong. But my faith is gone.

2007-07-24 13:50:14.0 Julie Sly: After your years of covering the clergy sex abuse scandal, do you think anything at this point can restore the credibility of church leaders?

2007-07-24 13:53:08.0 Peggy Normandin: Bill, frankly, having read our article and listened to your respones, I have to say that you sound like a modern American man having a mid life crisis. And in this country in your profession, that gets ink. Commit to something, man. And stop whining.

2007-07-24 13:53:48.0 Bill Lobdell: The church needs to get back to its roots. It needs much more lay involvement. Someone once said that if there was one mother on any church sexual misconduct board, the problem would have been stopped in its tracks. But the Catholic Church is a hierarchical organization that, by design, is very slow to change. This will take a long time, though the small changes in the past half-dozen years has been lightning quick when compared to the church's historical ability to react to corruption within.

2007-07-24 13:55:47.0 JayH: Peggy: I suspect you think you're showing Bill "tough love." You're not. ;-)

2007-07-24 13:58:25.0 Andrea: One thing I wonder is why we consider "losing" faith a loss? No believing in the Christian faith isn't a loss of ethics or morality. Why isn't a secular humanist stance applauded given the intolerance religion is fostering both in the U.S. and abroad?

2007-07-24 13:58:29.0 Bill Lobdell: Spiritual crisis? Yes. Mid-life crisis -- I hope not. I haven't gotten my Porsche and mistress yet! I thought I'd get a lot more criticism such as Peggy's but I've been astonished at the deeply felt and often encouraging comments I've gotten from the piece. Out of more than 1,000 comments, I haven't, until now, been accused of a mid-life crisis or whining. Maybe it's my tone in this chat.

2007-07-24 13:58:38.0 WhatSayItAintSO: Well, Thanks again for your honesty. It gave me pause.

2007-07-24 13:59:00.0 gabriela peterson: I agree with JayH, one thing is a mid-life crisis...another is a deep crisis of faith. Pls, the difference!

2007-07-24 13:59:33.0 JeffK: Peggy, While I have some sympathy for your comment, I have to say it sounds like a family member telling someone sufferening from depression to "Snap out of it!" It is a sincere feeling on your part, it just is not useful or useable by the person it is directed at.

2007-07-24 13:59:48.0 JayH: Bill: you portray faith as something that filled a void in your life (I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth). Has something else come in to fill that void, or has the void become something you've come to accept? Or somewhere in between?

2007-07-24 14:00:11.0 Andrea: Hello, I really enjoyed Mr. Lobdell's article--it was thoughtful and moving.

2007-07-24 14:00:57.0 Bill Young: I don't understand how a chat room works. I posted a question about 20 minutes ago and it hasn't surfaced although some postings seem to be immediate. Please advise.

2007-07-24 14:01:20.0 Peggy Normandin: This is rich!

2007-07-24 14:02:18.0 Administrator2: Hi Bill. Not all questions appear in the chat room. We are being inundated with questions for Bill. Please submit again.

2007-07-24 14:02:39.0 Bill Lobdell: My faith really served me well. It got me to be a better husband and father and friend. It caused me to reflect more deeply on my life and what I am doing. I think I've matured over the years, and maybe that's replaced it too. Someone asked me if some crisis really brought me to my knees, would I turn back to God? I don't know. As I said before, I've got an open-mind. I'm not trying to convert any to be anti-religious. I'm not.

2007-07-24 14:02:49.0 Jon T: No Peggy; the Catholic Church is rich !

2007-07-24 14:03:05.0 Bill S: If you think "faith" has value as a way of thinking about the world, don't you think you NEED to get it back?

2007-07-24 14:03:11.0 Andrea: Help, admin. Where do i go to read the transcript of the conversation currently taking place?

2007-07-24 14:04:03.0 Administrator2: Andrea, check back in an hour at for a link to the transcript.

2007-07-24 14:04:23.0 Bill Lobdell: I've known great people -- and charities -- that were both faith-driven and non-faith driven. I don't faith has a monopoly on any good value or moral.

2007-07-24 14:04:34.0 Bill Young: Have you considered the possibility that the God idea is merely a mental construct and that it should be considered as a separate issue from the many different aspects of religion?

2007-07-24 14:05:26.0 Bill Lobdell: Sure. But that goes much deeper than my brain can go -- at least right now.

2007-07-24 14:05:36.0 assr25: What was it that initially drew you into Christianity and what kept you one for all those years?

2007-07-24 14:06:46.0 Bill Lobdell: It was raised a minor league Catholic -- Episcopalian, so I was familiar with Christianity. But it is Jesus' message in the Gospels that I found so compelling.

2007-07-24 14:07:04.0 Clairville: I also found your article to be quite poignant and a cautionary tale for the church. I am sharing it with my congregation this Sunday. It does seem to me that a lot of your negitive experiences were in relationship to"big stuff," the RC church, TBN, certainly there are some terrible things there. But I have found that the people I serve are really trying to seek God and rise above all that . . . junk.

2007-07-24 14:08:17.0 Bill Lobdell: Clairville, that a good point. The heroes in faith are the people in the trenches doing good works each day.

2007-07-24 14:08:33.0 Bill S: "Faith" in effect DOES have a monopoly on morals because we give power to churches that SAY it does.

2007-07-24 14:08:44.0 Scott M: In your experience at Mariners church and with other non-Catholic, non-TBN churches showed you the kind of "back to its roots" and "lay involvement" that you would like to see?

2007-07-24 14:09:52.0 Bill Lobdell: Very generally, the churches that seemed to work the best -- that, at least in my opinion -- carried out the Gospel the best were small, poor churches, both Catholic and Protestant.

2007-07-24 14:10:13.0 Bill S: If good works can be done by faithless people, why do we need "faith"?

2007-07-24 14:10:52.0 Barb in OC: Bill, I am a born-again Christian, like you, but am a Protestant. I became familiar myself with the Catholic Worker in S.A. when they helped our group of families of 3-Strikers. It was my first encounter with the Catholic religion. I was amazed at their willingness to help us find justice, when my own conservative protestant church were not interested. That is when I had struggles of my own. But I still believe that Jesus is my Lord and Savior and died for my sins. And some Christians need enlightenment about our world.

2007-07-24 14:11:59.0 Administrator2: Please send us your final questions for Bill Lobdell. We'll be wrapping up in a couple of minutes

2007-07-24 14:13:09.0 Bill Lobdell: It's interesting to me that the churches that seemed to carry out the Gospel were either very liberal or very conservative. Either way, they were radical, and I think that's what's needed.

2007-07-24 14:13:15.0 Peggy Normandin: So, what's the problem? I just don't get it. Why are you dwelling on the dark side of human nature instead of on the beauty and light where God prevails. You say it's not a choice...I say say it is.

2007-07-24 14:13:28.0 someone special: hi

2007-07-24 14:13:53.0 gabriela peterson: While I respect your answer Mr. Lobdell, the tragedy is that the small, poor churches want to be at the end like the big, rich churches!!!

2007-07-24 14:14:03.0 west hollywood: Bill, your column was one of the best things I've read in quite some time. Did you find any particular comfort or insight in any of the responses you received?

2007-07-24 14:14:38.0 JayH: (gabriela: amen!!)

2007-07-24 14:15:43.0 Bill Lobdell: For Peggy, on balance, I don't dwell on the dark side of human nature. But I think it's our duty -- whether we are Christians and godless journalists -- to root out corruption and bring it to the light. That's what Jesus did. That's what many, many of the saints did.

2007-07-24 14:16:03.0 Administrator2: Thank you all for your questions.

2007-07-24 14:16:30.0 Peggy Normandin: OK, good luck to Bill. Let

2007-07-24 14:16:51.0 Administrator2: Hang on. Bill has one more answer coming.

2007-07-24 14:19:31.0 Bill Lobdell: I did find some comfort in the answers. I've covered a lot of non-religious stories, but I traditionally never got more vicious hate mail than from people of the faith -- probably because they believe so much is at stake. This is a phenomeon attested to by religion writers across the country. But for whatever reason, this story provoked a different response. It was almost entirely loving and caring and gentle, whether from Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics or atheists. Thanks for chatting today.

2007-07-24 14:19:34.0 db: Not sure why you are so surprised by all this.... the Bible is rife with gross failure. King David committed adultery then contracted murder to cover it up and he seemly got off pretty easy compared to the guy that got killed but then it did seem to ruin his family life down the road... And this is the guy that wrote many of the Psalms and was a declared, "A man after God's own heart." I guess if I was a reporter of any type in David's day and watched the events of his life unfold I would have to conclude that David was sham and God was less than fair and people were probabaly pretty simplistic to continue to follow him as a King. To me the Bible indicates from beginning to end that men are put in charge of the Earth including religious and secular institutions and they are free to fix it or screw it up per their incination and actions and they seems to be born out over and over again both in the Bible and in life. ... so people fail and some quite boldly and arrogantly.... and that was covered quite well in your article.... most of the content of the prophetic books of the Bible are a report of the wrongs of God's people and a call to repentance... we can read it measured in minutes but the records cover years and generations. Perhaps you should be a prophet to the church... perhaps you are already.

2007-07-24 14:19:58.0 Administrator2: Thanks for coming to this chat and thank you,

2007-07-24 14:20:14.0 Administrator2: Bill for discussing your article with us!

2007-07-24 14:20:21.0 gabriela peterson: Mr. Lobdell, kudos on that!!!

2007-07-24 14:20:23.0 WhatSayItAintSO: Thanks again

2007-07-24 14:20:25.0 Peggy Normandin: 's hope he doesn't get reassigend to the Food section lest he give up eating altogether.

2007-07-24 14:20:29.0 assr25: Thanks for your time and honesty. i hope you find your truth and continiue to share your experiences with us.

2007-07-24 14:20:32.0 JayH: Thanks for speaking to us, Bill!

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World