Church Scandals Shake Writer’s Faith
An open letter to William Lobdell of the Los Angeles Times
On July 21, 2007, William Lobdell, the religion writer for the LA Times, wrote an article expressing his frustrations with the subjects of his beat: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lostfaith21jul21,0,3530015,full.story?coll=la-home-center
Below is Huckleberry's response.
Mr. Lobdell -
Has the rancor diminished? I would assume that your July 21 article would raise quite a ruckus amongst your regular readers and the faithful—pro and con. I trust that the uproar has subsided a bit and that you will feel comfortable reading one more letter on the topic.
If it is true that, as Samuel Johnson once so famously stated, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” then allow me to expand this wisdom to say that religion is the scoundrel’s safe-house.
It is worth noting that that the oft-quoted Mr. Johnson was not saying that patriotism was, in itself, a bad or ignoble thing. Rather, he was commenting on the common trait for such scoundrels, when cornered, to quickly run for cover under the flag. Thus, they turn noble patriotism into a weapon against justice. But true patriotism remains unscathed.
Similarly, the formalized religions are easy marks for the sophistry of scoundrels. Many religions—and especially the Christian ones—are founded on the concepts of forgiveness and redemption. These theological concepts are child’s-play for the disingenuous to manipulate into a means of diverting accountability and avoiding penalty. Thus, they turn noble faith into a weapon against justice. True faith, however, remains unscathed.
In your article you describe your journey from faith into disillusionment. Fair enough. I suggest that you and your readers remember that the disillusionment is with the men and institutions surrounding faith and not necessarily with faith itself. Not to be overly dismissive, but transferring one’s justified frustrations otherwise would be like abandoning your favorite sports team because the vendors charged you too much for warm beer.
We are cautioned repeatedly to avoid idolatry and graven images. It is not for God’s sake that we received these instructions. For how can a bronze statue or crystal cathedral properly represent what we understand to be God? And if we deign to do so, can our faith be as easily dented or shattered? The contemporary concepts of priesthood are especially vulnerable because such priests are placed, by ecclesiastic authority and the priest’s own desire, at the gateway between God and the flock—providing the sacrament, dispensation, forgiveness, and penance associated with their vocation. Priests and the magnificent structures they inhabit can therefore quickly become the idols of those they serve. It would indeed take a special man of unique character and divinely inspire gifts to hold up such a load properly. Unfortunately, such special, unique, and inspired men are few and the gap between their occurrence increases with the passing centuries. In the end, they are just men. It should therefore not be surprising that we find, on occasion, scattered piles of dented metal and broken glass about the landscape, for this is how all idols fall whether they are Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise.
We are right to seek justice. And it is good if we feel indignation and empathy for the suffering of victims. Should we hold priests and pastors to a higher standard? Certainly—that weeds out many of the disaffected and malingering scoundrels in search of a darkened corner to hide in. But we can only feel personally robbed of our faith if we have harbored some remnant of idolatry within us.
I wish you the best and ask only that you consider that your journey from faith into disillusionment is not yet completed and may one day return to faith once again.