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

Published by HarperCollins, the "Losing My Religion" memoir received much critical acclaim and media attention (see reviews here). You can order the book here. Some excerpts:

My heart threatened to beat out of my chest. I was at the edge of a cliff, weighing whether to jump. I wanted to take the plunge, but I didn’t want to be looked at as a freak. I didn’t know how I’d explain my conversion to my atheist friends. I didn’t want to imagine how I would change once Jesus truly became the centerpiece of my life. Would I be wearing a rainbow wig and handle bar moustache inside a football stadium waving a “John 3:16” sign at the television camera? Would I be compelled to walk away from material pleasures and devote my life to helping the poor? I didn’t want to find out.

[snip]

The poor quality of religion coverage in the 1990s (it has improved greatly in recent years) wasn’t surprising to anyone who worked in a newsroom during that time. Few journalists volunteered for the religion beat, which was seen as a place to warehouse burned-out or incompetent reporters. It was one step lower than writing obits, traditionally the last rung of the ladder before a reporter was drummed out of journalism (that has changed in recent years, too). Many editors — most of whom didn’t regularly attend worship services, according to several studies — saw the religion beat as an antiquated part of newspaper tradition, surviving only because the “Faith” section on Saturdays made money and needed some filler to surround the listings of houses of worship and church advertisements.

I came to view the religion beat as an untapped vein of gold. It offered complex stories of great human interest that could be unearthed with minimal effort. I’d seen lives, including my own, dramatically changed by faith, but most of the stories seemed to be located away from where mainstream journalists liked to dig for their articles.

[snip]

I quickly found the religion beat to be different than others at the paper. One of my first interviews was with a pastor who had walked away from a six-figure job as a commercial real estate broker to follow God’s call. He once had ordered custom dress shirts but now shops at the Goodwill so he can start a new career ministering to God’s people.

After escorting me into his tiny office, he said, “Do you mind if we first pray about the your job and your responsibility?”

[snip]

I started to view the moderates of my faith (myself included) as people who didn’t fully believe the radical, uncompromising message of the Gospels. We didn’t turn our lives entirely over to Christ. We stored up treasures on Earth and not in Heaven. We didn’t go too far out of our way to help the poor or make real sacrifices in the name of Jesus. We lived a version of Christianity Lite, a feel-good brand of faith that didn’t extend much past Sunday morning.

[snip]

Though I continued to work other religion stories, my editors wanted my primary focus to be the Catholic sex scandal. I began to live a duel life. By day, I investigated the local dioceses, dug up documents in courthouses, talked with a seemingly endless string of victims, and interviewed bishops, their aides, attorneys and priests. In my off-hours, I put in my final months of training to become a Catholic.

[snip]

It started to bother me greatly that God’s institutions — ones He was supposed to be guiding — were often more corrupt than their secular counterparts. It forced me to ask: If these churches were infused and guided by the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t it follow that they functioned in a morally superior fashion than a corporation or government entity?

[snip]

With my new set of doubts, I started to obsess about hell — worrying that I would wind up if I tumbled into disbelief. I didn’t think of hell as a fiery pit, but something closer to C.S. Lewis’s vision of it in The Great Divorce — a place of unending blandness far from the pleasures of God.

[snip]

Of course, there is a simpler, more elegant explanation, more elegant, though it’s deeply dispiriting. The most logical answer to why God won’t heal amputees is that either God doesn’t care or doesn’t exist. This would also explain the lack of miraculous healings for people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, long-term quadriplegics, untreated AIDS patients, those with Parkinson’s Disease, mental retardation, Down’s Syndrome, and a host of other maladies.

[snip]

Even suppressed doubts started to surface. I began to realize that God may not be that perfect father I longed to believe in — and be loved by. In fact, He may not even exist.

[snip]

Christians often talk about Pascal’s Wager, which argues that it’s a good bet to believe in Christ. If you’re right, you’ll spend eternity in heaven. If you’re wrong, you’ll just be dead like everyone else. But it seems to me that to indulge in Pascal’s Wager, you actually have to believe in Christ. The Lord would know if you were faking. I could no longer fake it. It was time to be honest about where I was in my faith.

[snip]

I didn’t tell Packy about my own doubts about faith. Listening to him filled me with shame. My faith had collapsed. He had been through much worse than anything I could imagine …

[snip]

At first, experiencing doubts about my faith, I acted like one of those frightened beachgoers who swim madly against the current, trying to get back to what I thought was the safety of Christianity. But the current of truth had me and wasn’t going to let me go. When I decided to stop fighting it, I felt relief — even serenity. I decided to ride it out — past the surf line — and see where it would take me.