William Lobdell, a former religion writer for the Los Angeles Times, made a splash recently with his book, “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace.” In the book, Lobdell describes how covering scandals and corruption in organized religion led him to question, and ultimately reject, his own belief in God. Have you ever undergone a crisis of faith yourself, and do you ever counsel churchgoers who are struggling with their feelings about religion?
Almost everybody experiences a crisis of faith at some point in his or her life, and of course I am no exception. In my work as a rabbi, I regularly encounter thoughtful people who question their faith in God and struggle to maintain their belief, especially during difficult times. I remind them that to question is human, and that all of us contain deep spiritual reservoirs that enable us to endure even the most severe challenges.
Furthermore, it is often during these trying moments that we are able to truly shine — and by rising to the occasion, we demonstrate the incredible strength that comes from spirituality.
Hard times can test our beliefs, but we may emerge with an even deeper faith as a result of the struggle. It’s worth remembering that great Biblical figures such as Abraham and Moses also grappled with their faith during moments of adversity. What defines them as exceptional religious leaders is the fact that they were able to muster the fortitude necessary to overcome those challenges.
It’s very sad if William Lobdell chose to abandon his faith over the actions of the immoral individuals he encountered while reporting on religious life. No large organization can remain totally untouched by corruption or scandal — and religious institutions are unfortunately not immune. However, the flawed individuals and negative incidents that often make the headlines represent only a small percentage of religious organizations as a whole; in no way do they characterize or represent the entire spiritual establishment.
Regardless of what they may claim, those involved in shameful acts don’t embody divinity in any way and are an affront to everything God stands for. It’s truly unfortunate if Lobdell’s beliefs were undermined by his encounters with the corrupt minority, rather than being strengthened by the positive example of the virtuous majority.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
The ancient Greeks had a saying: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I believe that saying, and I think it holds true for one’s faith as well.
In my opinion, anyone who has never questioned his/her faith either hasn’t had a serious thought or has been too afraid to ask the serious questions. Jesus himself was not immune from doubt, so how can we be? Psalm 22 begins, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” which are some of the words uttered by Jesus as he was dying (Matthew 27:46). Rene Descartes gets credit for the Latin phrase, “Cogito ergo sum,” meaning “I think; therefore I am.” I would add to that, “I think; therefore I doubt.”
Probably my biggest crisis of faith was when I was a freshman in college. Being away from home for the first time for an extended period, combined with some upperclassmen who were bent on destroying my little-boy, Sunday-School faith, combined with a break-up from a girlfriend had all left me feeling pretty vulnerable — and all these jarring things happening at once in my life had made me actually wonder if God did in fact exist. Those days seem like the gloomiest of my life, including the end of my first marriage. (Take my wife, please! But don’t take away my God!) And of course I have counseled churchgoers who are struggling with their feelings about religion.
Those who are questioning are also on a spiritual journey, and I am not afraid to tell them that to doubt is a good thing. To be faithful doesn’t mean one never doubts; to be faithful means one trusts where one cannot prove.
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
La Cañada Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
Like many people’s, my faith has wavered at various challenging times. But in 29 years of following Jesus Christ, I’ve never had an “I give up on God” kind of crisis. I do understand the frustration and confusion many people feel when it seems like God just isn’t there. These feelings are intensified when our focus is predominantly set on how things have gone wrong, as Lobdell’s occupation demanded.
Everyone’s faith is tested by trials. God personally tested Abraham and Job and David. He tested the entire nation of Israel. His purpose in this is always positive, to refine us, to reveal to us the actual depth (or shallowness) of our faith and to bring us to a greater knowledge of Him and His ways. Your appropriate response to testing will produce the greatest blessings. Fix your attention on Jesus Christ, not the circumstance. Focus your thoughts on what is true, good and pure. Memorizing a Bible verse like Romans 8:28 will help greatly.
When many of Jesus’ followers abandoned Him, He asked the 12 if they, too, wanted to leave. Peter’s response reveals the heart attitude of a person who will triumph over crises of faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
Lobdell’s apostasy couldn’t happen to me, and I don’t mean to be smug, only that I doubt he was a “born-again” Christian (as reported). People can’t lose their faith, and ultimately salvation, if they have truly become as Jesus declared, “born-again” (John 3:3 New International Version). It’s like parachuting from a plane into a war zone; you cannot un-jump once done. Yet, many identify with Christianity who really have no dying commitment, who never really made the leap-of-faith, and who would desert under fire. Christ’s Apostle said that true Christians remain, but regarding the quitters, “their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19 NIV). Judas was one who claimed apostleship, who witnessed Christ’s miracles first-hand, yet went straight to hell as a faithless traitor.
Lobdell’s hop from one religious camp to another makes me suspect that he also didn’t really grasp the Gospel. Finally settling into Catholicism, he became disheartened by the pedophile priest scandals on which he reported. After all, if Catholics can’t trust the faith of priests, what can they trust, since these men are credited with supernatural abilities and special access to God?
Our Protestant Reformation countered the religious abuses of Christianity’s institution once, but now we find the theology that made history has given way to snake-oily televangelists who espouse un-Biblical tripe to bilk the naïve. Lobdell reported this corruption too; unfortunately, he couldn’t separate profligate sinners from processing saints.
The Bible warns, “wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Act 20:29 NIV), so Christians must always “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Everyone struggles with doubt, but such is overcome with vigilance, and we should expect that much of the testing will unveil the devil in our midst. Still we remain, and that to the very end.
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
Conservative Congregational Christian Conference
Groucho Marx said it best: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
I very much understand the struggle Lobdell went through and so many others experience. Many of us have even tackled the ministry specifically as an answer to the incongruity we’ve witnessed between the preached word and the implemented actions of the message. It’s called hypocrisy.
And the problem is all around us today. I struggle with it daily with an ancient church and leadership that is disconnected with the workings of the world. Today, our country is involved in two major wars, the genocide in Darfur continues, health and human services deteriorate, and most church communities are silent on these issues, opting rather for structure-building and PR campaigns that make themselves the official spokes-hole for God. But don’t stop with the church; it’s around us in the “leaders” of our communities and school districts, and all that we hold sacred. It’s endemic in all facets of our life — leading by a set of principles that you yourself do not adhere to.
The situation is truly disconcerting, and I have contemplated leaving the church on occasion because I cannot reconcile the notion of belonging to a group that has lost the path of peace and love set forth by its founder.
It is the words of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr that gives me the strength to endure.
He refers to love as the “impossible possibility,” that is, there will always be a disconnect between theory (possibility) and reality (impossibility) by virtue of the high command for sacrificial love against our human frailties.
So strangely enough, it is Groucho’s comment that keeps me in check.
Once we truly look at our own lives in the life of the collective, we understand that each of us comes to the table with our own shortcomings.
Our first step to remedy the hypocrisy is introspection of the self and then a personal commitment to strive for the higher ideals.
FR. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN
In His Shoes Mission
Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center