- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

While vacationing in Seattle over Christmas, I read two books — one by a famous atheist who found God, the other by a journalist who gave up on God.

British philosopher Antony Flew shocked the world four years ago this month when he announced that scientific evidence had convinced him a mastermind is running the universe. Principles such as special relativity, which guides electromagnetic forces that enable everything from genetic codes to rotating planets, could have never happened by chance, he wrote in “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.”

He also cites the extraordinary diverse arrangements of the DNA code, which have to be in precise alignment to work properly. Their workings are so complex and subtle, that the possibility of it all falling together by chance is “minute,” he said. “[It] looked to me like the work of intelligence.”

He even gives a huge nod toward Christianity that, he says, “is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to divine revelation is true.

“There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul. … If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat.”

It’s an amazing admission from a man who led the world’s atheists for 60 years.

The other book hit closer to home. William Lobdell’s “Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace” is not horribly distant from some of my struggles, which led to my recent book “Quitting Church.” (A personal disclosure: Mr. Lobdell wrote an endorsement for the back cover of my book.)

Things were going swimmingly for him after he became a born-again Christian in 1992 and in 2000 snagged a full-time religion reporting job for the Los Angeles Times. At the time, I envied his fabulous articles on the corruption within Trinity Broadcasting Network, an immense Christian TV ministry in Southern California.

But his faith was destroyed not only by the dirt he was uncovering about televangelists, but also by the immense evil of the Catholic priestly sex abuse scandals. Nearly every bishop and cardinal who allowed abusive priests to rape and sodomize children has remained unpunished.

He details years of interviews he had with the broken people left behind; whose prayers God did not answer, whose lives are like shattered glass. In the end, spiritual burnout, the moral failures of many Christians and God’s apparent indifference to people’s suffering did him in. His faith withered and in July 2007, the Times published his 3,800-word front-page essay about his newfound unbelief. He got 2,700 e-mails, many from Christians admitting they are close to the edge as well.

Where Mr. Lobdell and Mr. Flew intersect is in believing there may be a creator God, but He has created a hell on Earth where evil people reign, good people are powerless and compromised, and prayer doesn’t work.

My own research leads me to believe there are a lot more people in Mr. Lobdell’s position - ready to ditch their faith altogether - than there are in Mr. Flew’s shoes. The number of Americans unaffiliated with a faith has zoomed from 8 percent to 14 percent in the past 10 years. The pat answers and spiritual bromides of the past aren’t working anymore.

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Sundays and Thursdays. Contact her at [email protected]

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