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How an L.A. Times Religion Reporter Lost His Faith

After 8 years covering the God beat, William Lobdell's faith was in tatters and he left both it and his job behind him.
 
 
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William Lobdell is an intelligent, soft-spoken man and when he talks, you'll want to lean forward and listen because his story will resonate with anyone who's ever regarded themselves as a seeker of truth, whether they are religious or not. His attitude towards religion was fairly casual until his mid-20s when family and professional problems threatened to overwhelm him and he found solace with an evangelical church and was born again.

But it wasn't just solace he found; it was also a new purpose. Already a journalist, he saw that the vibrant life and activities of the religious community received very little attention in the mainstream media and he convinced his editors at the Los Angeles Times to let him cover the religious beat. For the next 8 years, Lobdell covered religion for the Times as a columnist and beat reporter. Initially, the work was rewarding. There were inspiring stories about people like the elderly church organist who forgave and eventually converted a man who'd tried to rape and kill her; and the group of Mormons who recreated their ancestors' 800 mile wagon trek from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino. Lobdell received national attention and several awards for his reporting and investigative journalism. It was these investigations however, that started him questioning his beliefs again. It wasn't simply the stories of sexual abuse of children by priests that bothered him. It wasn't just the heart-rending stories of the victims whose lives were forever altered by those they'd trusted either. It was the discovery that in case after case, these priests' superiors had known of the problems and tried to cover them up through denial, shifting pedophile priests to new parishes ...and by bullying victims and their families into silence or vilifying them in the courts and the media if they wouldn't keep silent. Lobdell began to wonder how these people and institutions, supposedly inspired by God, could be so corrupt? After 8 years covering the religion beat for the Los Angeles Times, William Lobdell's faith was in tatters and he left both it and his job behind him. In 2009, he described his crisis of faith in  Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America - and Found Unexpected Peace, a book published by Harper. It's not simply an indictment of faith and religion, though that's part of it. It's also a personal memoir and a journey of finding comfort in faith before disillusionment; of a search for truth that led not just to disbelief, but to liberation. This shines through not only in the pages of the book but in Lobdell's soft and understated tones when he talks about it. I heard him speak in Los Angeles when he was promoting his book and interested readers can still find plenty of examples of his talks on Youtube. These days, William Lobdell is less involved with journalism and promoting secularism. In March, 2011, he left a job writing for the LA Times community newspaper, The Daily Pilot, and accepted a position as the communications director for the city of Costa Mesa, California where he is still working. His goal, he says, "is to make Costa Mesa the most transparent city in the nation so the public can see how its business is being conducted" so he's doing there what he did as a religion reporter and atheist author; looking for what's true and reporting on it. It's just on a new stage of Lobdell's personal journey.

Hugh Kramer is a former coin and stamp dealer who's now an activist in the secular and humanist communities.

 
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