Sunday 8 August 2010

Book review: Losing My Religion by William Lobdell

William Lobdell's compulsive autobiography is an honest, open chronicle of his conversion to evangelical Christianity — and his subsequent de-conversion as a result of his exhaustive journalistic investigation of religion. His book's subtitle, How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace, accurately describes the arc of his story. We see how he became enamoured of Christianity, and how the church of his choice didn't quite live up to his expectations, and how he nevertheless reconciled his misgivings and embraced his faith.

We read of his perseverance in pursuit of his dream job, eventually landing the post of religion writer for the Los Angeles Times. And by his own account he seems to have been very good at that job. But still the church didn't quite meet his needs, and he decided to become a Roman Catholic. Even while undergoing special Catholic training classes he continued his investigative journalism, often into priest-paedophilia. At the very moment he was due to be formally accepted into the Catholic Church, he was breaking a big story of Catholic priests sexually abusing children in their care. Nagging doubts that hadn't been of too much concern now rose to the surface and he decided to delay his official conversion. The appalling catalogue he helped to unveil continued to grow, and as it did so his faith dwindled, until eventually there was nothing left of it.

Losing My Religion is a page-turner that grips from beginning to end. It's an honest description of what it's like to fall into religion, and out of it again, and on the way we discover the true horror of the Catholic-priest-paedophilia scandal in America.

(On Sunday January 31st 2010, William Lobdell was interviewed by Mary Hynes on CBC Radio's Tapestry programme. Tapestry is available as a podcast — also for iTunes. The mp3 audio of this edition is available for direct download via Castroller.)

Lobdell, W. (2009) Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace, New York: HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06-162681-4; hardcover $25.99