Burnout on the God beat – second top religion writer calls it quits

November 15, 2007

Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.

Bates article in New HumanistStephen Bates, who recently stepped down as religious affairs writer for the London Guardian, has just published an account of his seven years on the beat in an article entitled “Demob Happy” for the New Humanist magazine. Bates followed the crisis in the Anglican Communion for several years and even wrote a book on it, A Church At War: Anglicans and Homosexuality.

“Now I am moving on,” his article concludes. “It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.”

Stephen BatesBates announced his move back in September in another interesting article, this time for the website Religious Intelligence. Writing from New Orleans, where he was covering the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, he said: “Writing this story has been too corrosive of what faith I had left: indeed watching the way the gay row has played out in the Anglican Communion has cost me my belief in the essential benignity of too many Christians. For the good of my soul, I need to do something else.” Bates, who says he still regards himself as a Catholic, said he was turned off by the intolerance he saw towards gays and the self-righteousness of Christians who “pick and choose the sins that are acceptable and condemn those – always committed by other, lesser people – that are not.”

Shortly before Bates called it quits, William Lobdell, who gave the Los Angeles Times first-class coverage of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal in California, threw in the towel with a wrenching story of his own struggle with organised religion. His farewell story in July, “Religion beat became a test of faith was a moving testimony of a journalist who started off as a Presbyterian, was active with evangelicals and seriously considered becoming a Catholic. But, during his eight years on the beat, the Catholic clerical sex abuse scandal put him off religion so badly that he lost his faith altogether. For an example of what he came across, take a look at Missionary’s Dark Legacy, a powerful story from 2005 about the trail of sexual abuse a Catholic missionary left behind after seven years among the Eskimos. Nearly every boy in the settlement was abused.

What do readers think? Can you understand how Bates and Lobdell reacted? Do you think a journalist has to be a believer to be a good religion reporter?


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Dear Stephan and your readers:
Religion poisons everything.

Posted by Michael Carlon | Report as abusive

These reporters have confused religion for
Christianity. They are not the same.

Posted by Dale | Report as abusive

Keep The Faith … Save a reporter


They should not have quit, but kept on reporting on the bigotry of religious people. Now that they are truly independent, they can report without compromise.

But I naturally understand any person who want to remain his sanity. Well done for speaking out at least!

Who’s next?

The person who is really correct is the one that observed that there was a little confusion in biblical interpretation. Where it reads “and man was created in God’s image” it really read “and God was created in man’s image”!!

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I hope this reporter (and other’s) who have become disillusioned continuing writing and exposing the hypocricies of faith. Any authority without oversight has the potential to become abusive and terroist.

That doesn’t say religon has no merit, but if it’s not riegned it with some reason, it will self-destruct. Right now, that’s the trend.

Posted by aikanae | Report as abusive

I read the bible when I was a child in China. It is such a petty piece of business that I was shocked to find, upon my emigration to the USA, that people actually believe in a god that would wipe out his own creations for “sin”.

Posted by Tsee | Report as abusive

“Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.” [Thomas Jefferson]

The two journalists represent merely a small number of the multitudes of people in the Disunited States who have become more and more confused, disgruntled, and disgusted by the sniping and backbiting which has become policy of the American christian right, American catholic diocese, and other organizations which make up the Uber-conservative, Ultra-right wing alliance that makes edicts renouncing the sins of the populace yet trivializes or outright absolves the same sins when committed by influential (read financially solvent) members of their flock.

Modern christianity is a cesspool of lies. The definition of christianity is to be Christ-like, which lead the two journalists to believe that modern christianity has next to nothing to do with Christ other than franchise name recognition.

“Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.” [Thomas Jefferson]

“Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.” [Bertrand Russell]

“Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn’t killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity?” [Arthur C. Clarke]

“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” [Nietzsche]

“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.” [Lincoln]

How can one deny the crucified God? Don’t leave God for woman or man sake.
Richard Howell

I agree these are trying times my brothers and sisters – faith in his noddliness has become more important than ever before. May you all be touched by his appendage as I have been, RAmen.

Posted by Dereck | Report as abusive

noodliness not 2 d’s by the way

Posted by Dereck | Report as abusive

Mr. Bates, Mr. Lobdel,

Welcome to the club.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

I’ve seen some hyprocritical things in my time, but a comment below this one *really* takes the biscuit..

“The love of God… and the holiness of God… are often misinterpreted by Christians… for example, homosexual sex is acceptable to God on one extreme, and judgementalism (we are allowed to judge each other). Both opinions are incorrect.”

I love how the poster thought that criticising judgementalism in the *same sentence* as condemning homosexuals was in no way contradictory. While *at the same time* apparently claiming to know what god thinks!

Religion obviously rocks! I wish I could hold that many contradictory beliefs at the same time!

Posted by James | Report as abusive

sad that so many in christianity have so poisoned the rest of the world against any attempt at spirituality.

Posted by Da6d | Report as abusive

It sounds like neither of these men had much faith in the first place and, as usual, don’t understand the Christian religion very well. The question of “why” these Christians do so many bad thigs is quite simple. When you get “saved or born again” and accept Jesus as your Lord, your spirit is immediately changed, you have eternal life and you can go to heaven. But according to Romans 12:2, you must transform or change your mind or soul by reading, studying, and meditating the Word of God until it fills your mind enough that it will talk to you. In other words, the devil or people’s lust told them to do something and there was no Word of God to tell them “no”. Unfortunately, a Christian who does not have the Word of God (The Bible) living in his heart is no better than someone who doesn’t even know God. In fact maybe worse, because now the devil is out to kill or hurt you anyway he can because he thinks you belong to God and yet you have no protection which comes from God and His Word. These people are called carnal Christians because they live by their flesh not by faith. They are the biggest problem we have in the Christian Church. Those of us who are Bible teachers are working hard to help them but very few Christians are willing to submit to the Word yet I can promise you all is not hopeless for God does have an army of people who do know the Word and live by faith! Pray that the Church wakes up and starts doing what the Word says because we are the only hope this world has. And don’t forget, if you haven’t read the back of the Book; God, His Ways, and the Church WIN! Thank you, Cathy

Posted by Cathy Poland | Report as abusive

The spirit is changed, you say? Prove it.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive