William Lobdell on Religion Reporting as a Test of Faith

William Lobdell is the religion reporter at the Los Angeles Times.  Here is a column which has been making the rounds of the blogosphere this week, in which he talks with gut-wrenching honesty about his spiritual journey and his eventual loss of faith.  As a young adult he had the classic evangelical conversion experience.  He spent several years in the world of evangelical Protestant-dom, during which time he felt that God was calling him to become a religion reporter.  During his time as a religion reporter he felt drawn to Catholicism, to the point where he joined an RCIA class.  Unfortunately his time in RCIA was right at the time that the clergy sex scandal broke back in 2001 and 2002.  His observations of the lengths which the Church went to to protect certain priests who were known sexual abusers, as well as the way in which rank-and-file Catholics responded in support of those priests, was very disheartening to him.  He talks about how he tried to reconcile the character of God with what he was seeing, but in the end his efforts were futile.

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.

Well, as I said, this piece has been making the rounds of the blogosphere this week.  Here is a response from Catholic blogger Amy Welborn.  She comes at it from a Catholic perspective, and offers a number of good points in response:

–Christianity has never been pure in any sense, and any believer in any era would be justified in feeling the outrage which Lobdell expresses.

–The life of faith is not easy, but hard.

It is interesting to me that many anti-religionists (not talking about Lobdell here) accuse believers of taking an easy way out. Of embracing a sweet vision of life and reality that avoids hard questions, or, in the end, is satisfied with platitudes.

It is not so, is it? For faith is hard. Does anyone really think that faith is easy in the face of the innocent suffering of a child? Or the ravages of Alzheimer’s? Or the existence of evil? Or, as we’re talking about here, the ironies, paradoxes and counter-witness of the Church?

–Faith may be hard, but it is even harder to make sense of the world, and especially what went down in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, without faith.

It is too late at night for me to ramble on about this (thankfully), but simply put – one’s faith in Jesus Christ is faith in Jesus Christ. It is more than a challenge, because that whole “Jesus Christ” thing involves this other thing called “Incarnation” which means that, nonsensically, the God became human as a baby, grew up, and was executed by those he had created out of love. The whole thing is almost impossible from the start, and once you throw in the rest of the billions of us, with all of our sins and blindess, it gets crazier still. And even more painful because of how many of us (all of us, perhaps?) use God as a cover for our sins.

–And here is where she really comes at it from a Catholic perspective:  De-emphasizing Catholic teaching in favor of holding up the community of believers as a model of Christian faith and love is a risky thing.  Ideally this is what we should be doing in evangelism, because if we are living lives that are truly connected to God then there will be fruit that others will be able to observe.  But this is risky business because sometimes–many times, in fact–the community of believers really isn’t all that.  Furthermore, our faithfulness is not the final proof of the truth of what Jesus taught and who Jesus is.  While we hope that our lives reflect the character of Christ, it is not our place to say, “Look at me, and believe.”  Instead we should be saying, “Look at Him.”

Michael Spencer has, in turn, written a response to Amy’s piece.  In his piece he reflects on the difficulty of trying to make sense of Jesus and His claim to know truth and to be truth.

Pilate cynically said what is truth, and the beaten-and-soon-to-be-crucified one looked at him and said, in effect, I am. This is, arguably, the most difficult concept of truth the mind can consider. At every place, this concept of truth runs into the harsh walls of what we call “reality” and “logic.” Anyone who contemplates the meaning of the Christian story as a claim to truth must surrender to something- someone- that offers truth of an entirely different sort. That truth is not easy, and it is not comfortable in this world. It is, as Amy says, outrageous at every point.

It is definitely difficult to try to make sense of a beaten and soon-to-be-crucified man claiming to be the truth.  But then, the Christian faith is in many places a complete inversion of what the world accepts and holds dear.

Well, enough of ripping off other bloggers.  Summer semester ends this week; maybe then I’ll have time to get some material of my own up here.

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