‘Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace’

Instead of going to shul Shabbos morning (I was exhausted, I have a sore and swollen right knee from doing squats in yoga), I stayed home and read a great new book by former Los Angeles Times religion reporter William Lobdell — "Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace".

What surprised me was how little resonance his Christian journey has for the convert to Orthodox Judaism. OJ in practice is more lifestyle than systematic theology. If you do Orthodox Judaism and you’re not retarded, you connect deeply with other people and form strong bonds. Most people won’t then sever those ties even when they have crises of faith. Even if you don’t believe in the efficacy of prayer, you don’t stop keeping Shabbos.

Almost all of the religious texts Lobdell quotes at the beginning of chapters are from the New Testament.

On page 128, Lobdell writes about Mormons: "Perhaps what mattered wasn’t theology, but the quality of life it created."

Damn straight.

Lobdell quotes theology-obsessed Dr. David Berger saying that Chabad is "a clear and present danger to Judaism."

Lobdell writes:

"Danger? Here’s what I saw: a group of people who, on the whole, lived out their Jewish faith in a way that outshined most of Judaism. Their leaders, rabbi-and-wife emissary teams called schluchim, didn’t mind doing the dirty work — living in remote outposts in lifetime assignments, earning modest salaries and ministering to nonreligious Jews. From my reporting and talking to others who had covered the movement, I found most Lubavitchers to be happy and content with their lives. The evidence for that is in their children — more than 70% in California, where the best statistics are kept — also become schluchim. Imagine what would happen to any faith group if 70% of its pastors’ offspring became pastors themselves. It always struck me as ironic that one of the best evangelical denominations was found in Judaism among the Lubavitchers. For me, their actions produced an attractive portrait of faith in action." (Pg. 75-76)

Lobdell attends a conference of ex-Mormons. "The ex-Mormons warmly welcomed me, as had the victims of clergy sexual abuse. They were thankful that someone — even a stranger, even a journalist — would listen to them."

"The lost faces of former Mormons and the callous treatment they suffered stuck with me. Their tormenters were not conspirators; the church did not need to order anyone to freeze them out. Surely the remarkably harsh and widespread reaction against them was a sign of insecurity: declaring Mormon belief a house of cards was a serious threat that evoked defensive hostility." (Pg. 132, 133)

Lobdell specialized in Roman Catholic clergy abuse stories. "For 2,000 years, the church has policed itself and rarely answered to anyone. Despite words crafted by the bishops’ public relations people, this mindset hasn’t changed overnight — and won’t for the forseeable future. To many in the clergy, the public scrutiny during the sex scandal seemed like an attack on the church, which they believed was the sole possessor of the truth. I think that’s why the bishops and church’s attorneys attacked the victims who came forward in the past with disproportional viciousness." (Pg. 143)

"The Catholic church presents an extreme case of institutional deference, which helps explain the success of the cover-up of abuse for so many decades. Members of the laity aren’t supposed to question their "fathers."" (Pg. 145)

Lobdell wonders why he can find so few courageous Christians willing to speak out about evil in their midst. "Shouldn’t faith, if you truly had it, give you the strength to grow some balls and do the right thing, no matter the consequences?" (Pg. 165)

"Why did Christianity produce so few people like Justin and so many others like Christian public relations guru Larry Ross, who, though wildly talented and professing a deep Christian belief, have no problem promoting a charlatan like [Benny] Hinn?"

From Wikipedia:

By far the most controversial aspect of Hinn’s ministry is his claim to have the "anointing", the special power given to him by God to heal the sick. At Hinn’s Miracle Crusades, he has allegedly healed attendees of blindness, deafness, cancer, AIDS, and severe physical injuries. Since 1993, however, investigative news reports by programs such as Inside Edition, Dateline NBC, the Australian edition of 60 Minutes, and several network affiliates in the United States have called these claims into question.

Hinn made a number of unfulfilled (religious) prophecies for the 90s, such as God will destroy America’s homosexual community in 1995 or the death of Fidel Castro,[8] election of the first female president of the USA,[9] the East Coast of the United States will be devastated by earthquakes,[8] etc., all before the third millennium. Hinn also appeared on the Trinity Broadcasting Network in October 1999 to claim that God had given him a vision that thousands of dead people would be resurrected after watching the network — laying out a scenario of people placing their dead loved ones’ hands on TV screens tuned into the station — and that TBN would be "an extension of Heaven to Earth." Hinn has also claimed that Adam was a "superbeing" who could fly to the Moon; that God froze the Red Sea with his breath when he parted it; and that Christ would make a personal appearance at a crusade in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2001[citation needed].

In April 2001 HBO aired a documentary called "A Question of Miracles" on Hinn and fellow faith healer Reinhard Bonnke. [10] The director Antony Thomas told CNN‘s Kyra Phillips that they did not find cases where people were healed by Hinn.[11] Thomas told the New York Times about Hinn’s claims, "If I had seen miracles, I would have been happy to trumpet it . . . but in retrospect, I think they do more damage to Christianity than the most committed atheist."[12]

In 2002, Joe Nickell of the Skeptical Inquirer wrote a critical analysis of Hinn’s healing claims.[1] Nickell cited information that Hinn’s cures have not been documented by independent reviews, and said "there is a danger that people who believe themselves cured will forsake medical assistance that could bring them relief or even save their lives."[1]

In March 2005, Ministry Watch, an independent evangelical organization which reviews Christian ministries for financial transparency and efficiency and advises potential donors accordingly, issued a Donor Alert stating that "the reported exorbitant spending of the Hinn family reveals that BHM has far more money than it needs to carry out its ministry" and advising Christians to "prayerfully consider withholding contributions to Benny Hinn" while praying for his restoration and repentance.[13] Benny Hinn Ministries is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.[14]

In November 2006 the CBC Television show the fifth estate did a special titled "Do You Believe in Miracles" on the apparent transgressions committed by Benny Hinn’s ministry.[15] With the aid of hidden cameras and crusade witnesses, the producers of the show attempted to demonstrate Benny’s misappropriation of funds, his fabrication of the truth, and the way in which his staff chose crusade audience members to come on stage for televised healings.[15] According to the show the seriously disabled who attend his healings are interviewed and then weeded out from ever getting the chance to come on stage. Instead, those who have minor injuries are brought up in their place. [15] Benny Hinn claims proof from the faithful’s doctors that healings have been successful.[15] However according to the show none of these doctor notes have ever been produced as evidence to his claims.[15]

In December 2006, BHM sent out a mailing asking for donations towards a new Gulfstream G4SP jet valued at an estimated US$36 million and costing over US$600,000/year to maintain and operate.[16]

Another disturbing facet of Hinn’s organization is the 1998 deaths of two members of his "inner circle" from heroin overdoses, Mario C. Licciardello’s (brother of the Christian singer, Carman) investigation of those deaths, Hinn’s suing of Licciardello and his strangely coincidental death the day before Hinn was to give his deposition that would have resulted in Hinn’s files being publicly released. An out of court settlement was reached with Licciardello’s widow.[17]

Where is the Christian Gary Rosenblatt? Gary is an Orthodox Jew and a deeply committed part of the Jewish community. He edits his newspaper The Jewish Week with an eye for helping Jews and Judaism. Yet he willing to undertake tough investigative reporting. I don’t know of any Christian equivalent to Gary Rosenblatt. For all its shortcomings, the parochial Jewish press is far more hard-hitting about the Jewish community than Christian publications are about the Christian community.

William Lobdell writes: "Besides a handful of secular media outlets and a few fringe Christian organizations, no one is bothered enough by Hinn’s antics and the harm he does to people and the Body of Christ to call him out. Many fear the tight relationship between Hinn and the leaders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network — coming out against the faith healer would mean incurring the wrath of the world’s largest religious broadcaster. The Christian media, whose voice could make a difference with believers, have shied away from most criticism as well. In general, the Christian media is extremely hesitent to undertake investigative reporting on Christian organizations, no matter how corrupt. Controversy — and the resulting loss of advertisers and readers — scares them. …I started to wonder why my faith had so few people of principle." (Pg. 187)

When Lobdell began investigating TBN: "I received threatening phone calls. A man with a menacing voice asked if I would be driving my usual way home that night and warned me to watch my back. Another caller said that a private investigator had discovered an illicit affair I was having with a male newsroom colleague (not true). A pastor in Riverside, California launched a website devoted to "bringing me down" because I was doing Satan’s work. He posted a series of lies about me (such as that my editors had kicked me off the story) along with personal information about my family and me. He solicited donations so he could hire a private investigator to dig up dirt." (Pg. 189)

"It was discouragingly easy — though incredibly surprising — to find out that Christians, as a group, acted no differently than anyone else, including atheists. Sometimes they performed a little better; other times a little worse. But the Body of Christ didn’t stand out as morally superior. Some of my data came from secular institutions such as the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Poll, but the most devastating information was collected by the Barna Group, a respected research company run by an evangelical Christian worried about the health of Christianity in America." (Pg. 204, 205)

"If you are having doubts about God, you don’t want to find yourself on St. Michael Island, Alaska, where a single Catholic missionary raped an entire generation of Alaska Native boys." (Pg. 215)

"Just as there is a large network of clergy sexual abuse survivors, there are also several national support groups for women whose children were conceived by Catholic priests. Most of the priests have spurned their children. Their superiors generally offer little support — morally or financially — for these kids." (Pg. 254)

"Then-Archbishop of Portland William Joseph Levada, now a cardinal in the Vatican and close advisor to Pope Benedict XVI, argued in a motion that the "birth of the plaintiff’s child and the resultant expenses…are the result of the plaintiff’s own negligence," specifically because she engaged in "unprotected intercourse." …Legal documents filed on behalf of Levada, one of the top Catholic leaders in the world, argued that Stephanie was negligent because she had not used birth control — even though birth control is a mortal sin in Catholicism." (Pg. 256)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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