Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

My current read is Losing my Religion by William Lobdell. Here's the synopsis from the publisher:

William Lobdell's journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems—including a failed marriage—drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell—a veteran journalist—noticed that religion wasn't covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith.

Yet what happened over the next eight years was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall St. firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn't exist. He explored every doubt, every question—until, finally, his faith collapsed. After the paper agreed to reassign him, he wrote a personal essay in the summer of 2007 that became an international sensation for its honest exploration of doubt.

Losing My Religion is a book about life's deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt. How he faced that power, and wrestled with it, is must reading for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.

My thoughts so far:

Just about 1/4 of the way through, and still very engaged in the book. Much of this section has been Lobdell's experiences as a new religion reporter for the LA Times. He describes just a few of the many people of faith he interviews - Madge Rodda, a church organist who set up a system of spiritual counselors for her rapist; Sister Mary Norbert, a former lawyer who chose to enter a cloistered convent; Leia and Dwight Smith, who quit their successful jobs to take literally Jesus' command to life a selfless life by taking in the homeless. Each of the people he interviews poses a challenge to his own new faith. He uses a quote from C.S. Lewis to illustrate his struggle - "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." He wonders is people who consider themselves moderate believers have ever truly grasped the message of Jesus.

While his burgeoning career as a religion journalist was underway, he was examining his own core belief system. Feeling he had matured past the mega-church he was attending, he explored a Presbyterian church, and eventually found his way into the Catholic faith of his wife. After some time in that environment, he decided to undergo conversion classes. It was while he was beginning his time in the Catholic Church that his religion editor gave him a new assignment - a Catholic priest was on trial for sexual misconduct, and the editor had all the documents in the case. Lobdell began to research what would become the issue of his career.

Once again, what has made this memoir so interesting is Lobdell's unflinching honesty about his own experience. He is not afraid to examine what was going on in his head, and question his own motives and experiences. Aside from that, his stories about the people he meets as a reporter are fascinating and inspirational in their own right. In fact, the only thing I don't like right now is that I have a basic idea of how the book ends, and I don't want to get there. However, Lobdell has me hooked, and I'll be along with him for the entire, heartbreaking ride.


Nicole said...

I have this on my shelf to read. I haven't quite gotten around to it yet, but I definitely will.

I agree with you on the honesty. I read The Midwife, by Jennifer Worth and it was such a great book and the number one thing that made it that way was how honest she was about herself and her reactions to the people around her. You really get to learn more from it that way, and I was able to see how she grew in her experiences.

Literary Feline said...

I am glad you are continuing to enjoy this one, Elizabeth. The author was on a panel at the book festival I attended this past weekend. He was overshadowed by the other two panelist, unfortunately, but I did find what he had to say interesting just the same.

jehara said...

that sounds really interesting.

cat said...

be entertained

Elizabeth said...

Nicole - Feeling like the author is being honest makes such a difference. When they tell the whole story, warts and all, it makes it so much more credible.

Literary Feline- I'm jealous you got to see him in person. I think he would be fascinating to talk to.

jehara - so far, it is extremely interesting.

cat- thanks, I will.