Losing His Religion

In his essay Religion Beat Became a Test of Faith, William Lobdell (LA Times) painfully recounts how he lost his Christian faith after a career of reporting on the horrible crimes and hypocrisy within the Church.  From child molestation, rape and sodomy by Catholic priests to false teachings, fake healing and outright stealing by televangelists, Lobdell explains his disillusionment with organized religion.  He ends his piece with these words:
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.

My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago - probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state of your soul.
A Christian response to Mr. Lobdell's critique might be that he made the mistake of putting his faith in the church, rather than in Christ. The prophet Jeremiah asks who can understand the utter corruption of the human heart, be it popes or paupers.  But Lobdell isn't questioning the human condition of sin; rather, why does God's transforming power seem so weak within the heart of His kingdom on earth?  Why does the church itself exhibit such extreme corruption?  How can people who profess Christ be so evil?  His conclusion is unusual for a Catholic:  faith is a gift rather than a choice.  The elect will believe and the unelect will be damned.  If you don't make the leap of faith, then it is because you don't have the gift which allows you to make the leap.

This creates a curious paradox for the doubter.  If faith is a gift from God, but as a doubter, I assert that God did not give me that gift, how can I even make the statement since as a doubter, I doubt the existence of God?  If God does not exist, then the "gift of faith" is nothing of the sort; it is merely a form of self deception.  If I insist that God did not grant me the gift of faith, then I am a liar, because I still believe in God, albeit, a cruel and merciless God.

This is the God which Ivan presents to Alexey in the Brothers Karamazov.  Ivan is an intellectual and a nihilist, while his brother Alexey is a novice monk.  As the two brothers discuss their beliefs over dinner, Ivan explains that for him it is not a matter of faith.  Like Mr. Lobdell, Ivan Karamazov taunts Alexey with stories of horrendous atrocities, mainly against children in 19th century Russia. Even if he believed in God, he could not accept God's justice.
"And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don't want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother's heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket."
The bedrock which underlies this house of outrage somehow does not get mentioned in Ivan's scorn.  He talks about truth, oppressors, forgiveness, suffering, and harmony.  By what standard does he measure the significance of the injustice?  Who planted a longing for justice and truth in his skeptical soul?  Who gave him the very opportunity to choose either submission or rebellion?  And although he is a fictional character, Ivan represents us all.  Inspired and informed by the standard of truth which God places in our hearts, we judge God and question His justice.  God's response to Job is more than bluster, it cuts directly to the existential heart of the matter.  Our questioning, our longing, our sorrows and joys, our suffering and ecstasy all derive from being itself, an infinite gift because it is an eternal one.  As for God's means of righting the wrongs, Alexey says it best in his response to Ivan:

"...you said just now, is there a being in the whole world who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!'"
Every single day, a hundred local newscasts describe some horrific event in which an innocent child is brutally tortured, sexually assaulted, and/or murdered.  We like to call it news, but it is really an acid eating away at our collective soul.  It isn't really surprising that Mr. Lobdell has lost his religion by reporting on the macabre and twisted side of the church.  We can even blame God, but in a strange and mysterious way, God has already taken the full blame.  For every dark and sinister story about pedophile priests and kinky voyeuristic evangelists in hotel rooms, there are a thousand stories of goodness, kindness, love, service, worship, devotion, honor, humility and truth.  The real leap of faith is believing that there are only naturalistic reasons for the vast majority of people to behave morally, with so many opportunities to be dastardly.  It is the nature of journalism that the evils of the world get amplified, and the good things taken for granted.  Earthquakes make news, but the solid earth beneath my feet is boring.

We all make a leap of faith.  It is where our feet land that matters.

Steve Alderman writes from Cypress, TX
In his essay Religion Beat Became a Test of Faith, William Lobdell (LA Times) painfully recounts how he lost his Christian faith after a career of reporting on the horrible crimes and hypocrisy within the Church.  From child molestation, rape and sodomy by Catholic priests to false teachings, fake healing and outright stealing by televangelists, Lobdell explains his disillusionment with organized religion.  He ends his piece with these words:
As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.

My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago - probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don't. It's not a choice. It can't be willed into existence. And there's no faking it if you're honest about the state of your soul.
A Christian response to Mr. Lobdell's critique might be that he made the mistake of putting his faith in the church, rather than in Christ. The prophet Jeremiah asks who can understand the utter corruption of the human heart, be it popes or paupers.  But Lobdell isn't questioning the human condition of sin; rather, why does God's transforming power seem so weak within the heart of His kingdom on earth?  Why does the church itself exhibit such extreme corruption?  How can people who profess Christ be so evil?  His conclusion is unusual for a Catholic:  faith is a gift rather than a choice.  The elect will believe and the unelect will be damned.  If you don't make the leap of faith, then it is because you don't have the gift which allows you to make the leap.

This creates a curious paradox for the doubter.  If faith is a gift from God, but as a doubter, I assert that God did not give me that gift, how can I even make the statement since as a doubter, I doubt the existence of God?  If God does not exist, then the "gift of faith" is nothing of the sort; it is merely a form of self deception.  If I insist that God did not grant me the gift of faith, then I am a liar, because I still believe in God, albeit, a cruel and merciless God.

This is the God which Ivan presents to Alexey in the Brothers Karamazov.  Ivan is an intellectual and a nihilist, while his brother Alexey is a novice monk.  As the two brothers discuss their beliefs over dinner, Ivan explains that for him it is not a matter of faith.  Like Mr. Lobdell, Ivan Karamazov taunts Alexey with stories of horrendous atrocities, mainly against children in 19th century Russia. Even if he believed in God, he could not accept God's justice.
"And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don't want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother's heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket."
The bedrock which underlies this house of outrage somehow does not get mentioned in Ivan's scorn.  He talks about truth, oppressors, forgiveness, suffering, and harmony.  By what standard does he measure the significance of the injustice?  Who planted a longing for justice and truth in his skeptical soul?  Who gave him the very opportunity to choose either submission or rebellion?  And although he is a fictional character, Ivan represents us all.  Inspired and informed by the standard of truth which God places in our hearts, we judge God and question His justice.  God's response to Job is more than bluster, it cuts directly to the existential heart of the matter.  Our questioning, our longing, our sorrows and joys, our suffering and ecstasy all derive from being itself, an infinite gift because it is an eternal one.  As for God's means of righting the wrongs, Alexey says it best in his response to Ivan:

"...you said just now, is there a being in the whole world who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!'"
Every single day, a hundred local newscasts describe some horrific event in which an innocent child is brutally tortured, sexually assaulted, and/or murdered.  We like to call it news, but it is really an acid eating away at our collective soul.  It isn't really surprising that Mr. Lobdell has lost his religion by reporting on the macabre and twisted side of the church.  We can even blame God, but in a strange and mysterious way, God has already taken the full blame.  For every dark and sinister story about pedophile priests and kinky voyeuristic evangelists in hotel rooms, there are a thousand stories of goodness, kindness, love, service, worship, devotion, honor, humility and truth.  The real leap of faith is believing that there are only naturalistic reasons for the vast majority of people to behave morally, with so many opportunities to be dastardly.  It is the nature of journalism that the evils of the world get amplified, and the good things taken for granted.  Earthquakes make news, but the solid earth beneath my feet is boring.

We all make a leap of faith.  It is where our feet land that matters.

Steve Alderman writes from Cypress, TX