Religious totalitarians

NPR : Walking the Faith Line with Eboo Patel

Religious totalitarians have the unique advantage of being able to oppose each other and work together at the same time. Osama bin Laden says that Christians are out to destroy Muslims. Pat Robertson says that Muslims want only to dominate Christians. Bin Laden points to Pat Robertson as evidence of his case. Robertson points to bin Laden as proof of his. Bin Laden says he is moving Muslims to his side of the faith line. Robertson claims he is moving Christians to his. But if you look from a certain angle, you see that they are not on opposite sides at all. They are right next to each other, standing shoulder to shoulder, a most unlikely pair, two totalitarians working collectively against the dream of a common life together.

Religion reporter loses faith

William Lobdell was already a serious Christian when the LA Times assigned him to the religion beat. But eight years of reporting on the church shook his beliefs.

Religion beat became a test of faith

At the time, I never imagined Catholic leaders would engage in a widespread practice that protected alleged child molesters and belittled the victims. I latched onto the explanation that was least damaging to my belief in the Catholic Church – that this was an isolated case of a morally corrupt administration.

And I was comforted by the advice of a Catholic friend: “Keep your eyes on the person nailed to the cross, not the priests behind the altar.”

Like Charlie Brown and the football

For the past week or so, I’ve been avoiding water cooler conversations at the office, so as not to spoil the surprise. I really don’t want anyone telling me how it all ends. I have to cover my ears and scamper back to my desk, shouting “I’m not listening to you, la la la …”

I’m sure others around the country are doing the same thing. We’re all caught up in this together. No, I don’t care what happened to Tony Soprano or Harry Potter. I’m referring to the Tour de France.

I’ve been recording the Tour on a friend’s DVR, and watching a couple of stages every few days or so. Which means I’m always a few days behind the news. That’s bad enough when there’s a major upset in the race. (Like Vinokourov coming back from the brink to win the Stage 13 time trial, and to conquer the mountains in Stage 15).

It’s a lot worse when there’s a scandal. And boy, do we have a scandal now. First Vinokourov fails a blood doping test. Not only that, but his entire Astana team was forced to withdraw from the Tour. (Taking out a couple of other top riders with him).

Well, that’s a shame. I had been rooting for Vinokourov for a couple of stages. He had come back from a bad crash, rode hurt, cracked in the mountains on Stage 14, then come back from defeat to win a really tough mountain stage.

I cheered him on – just like I cheered for Floyd Landis last year when, after a tough loss, he came back from behind to win a mountain stage, and eventually the tour. At the time, it seemed impossible that he could recover so much time, and reclaim the lead. Maybe it was. Only a few days later, Floyd failed a drug test. And the 2006 tour has been without a winner ever since.

So once again, justice was done. And the Tour caught one of the few cheaters.  Just one bad apple, right?

It got worse. The next day, the Cofidis team withdrew from the race when one of their riders tested positive for synthetic testosterone. And today, the other shoe dropped. Michael Rasmussen, the tour leader, was dismissed by the Rabobank team for failing to take drug tests this past Spring.

What happens now?  The Tour continues, but it’s a shambles. It’s hard to imagine how professional cycling can recover any credibility, after the past few years of drug charges and two disastrous tours. It’s hard to imagine sponsors will continue to fund the teams. Already T-Mobile is rumored ready to pull their support.

And it’s hard to imagine fans will continue to watch, wondering who is juicing, and if anyone is riding clean.

Just a few more bad apples? A few isolated cheaters? Doesn’t seem that way  anymore. And now I felt cheated, for having cheered on these guys. Fool me once, fool me twice…