On Episode 378 of This American Life, Ira Glass has a very moving conversation with Trisha Sebastian. She relates the story of a close friend, Kelly, who died from cancer and how she wanted to believe in God again.
This past Christmas a story swept the internet about a football coach at a Christian high school in Texas who inspired his team’s fans to root for the opposition: a team from the local juvenile correctional facility. Among the thousands of emails that the coach received in response to his actions, one stood out to him. Trisha Sebastian mentioned her loss of faith, and coach Hogan got a message from God that he was meant to bring her back. We eavesdrop on their phone calls. (19 minutes)
Trisha tells how she tried to have a conversation with the coach, but was ultimately he was unable to really relate to her. From the bits of conversation played on the show, it appears Coach Hogan was more interested in scoring debate points than in really talking to Trisha.
Trisha was interested in discussing why her friend died, and wanted someone who could relate this to God and faith. Instead Coach Hogan was more interested in gaining another conversion for Christ.
My favorite part:
Ira Glass: Is there any small part of you that thought he might be able to put the religious part of his message in some way that would finally make some sense to you? Like he would say to you…
Trisha: Yeah, I really did hope that. Deep down and I’ve said that to so many friends of mine, why? I really wanted to believe again.
Ira Glass: So you really wanted him to bring you back to God?
Trisha: Maybe, possibly, most likely.
Ira Glass: But the way he was doing it wasn’t a way that really talked to you.
Trisha: No. No.
Ira Glass: I wonder if the problem with that was the way he was going about it, the arguments he was using. I wonder if there is nothing really that anyone could actually say to make you believe this thing that you say you no longer believe in.
Trisha: I don’t know. If someone were to just tell me this is why Kelly died and they were able to relate it back to God, I would probably respond to that better.
Ira Glass: And when you asked him this, what did he say?
Trisha: We never got to that point, … we never got to that point. I couldn’t get him there. I couldn’t ask him the questions I really wanted to ask.
Ira Glass: But what if it is as simple as for people that believe in God, God takes people at different times, and that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have some plan for you, you know.
Trisha: See, that makes more sense to me than anything he ever said in our conversation.
Ira Glass: That’s very sad because I actually don’t believe in God.
It’s hilarious that an atheist has an example of a comforting religious message, whereas the “committed Christian” did not. Ira mediates the second call with the coach and they bring up the topic of why bad things happen to good people. Coach Hogan immediately goes into how it’s “anti-god” to simply ask the question. Wow.
Although Trisha’s conversation with the coach, I felt that I was hearing over and over, why it is so hard for religious and non-religious people to communicate sometimes. The premises are just so far from each other. The coach says we live in a fallen world, that explanation is a comfort for him. It’s comforting to think that he doesn’t have to make sense of everything, injustice and every terrible thing that happens on this earth. It’s messy on this earth. Things will be better in heaven. Because God understands the details of cancer and why one person dies and one person lives, he doesn’t have to. The coach has a hard time, I think, seeing why this explanation isn’t a comfort to Trisha.
Trisha explains that after her friend died, she felt that things happen for no reason, they just do, that the universe is a random place. I felt exactly the same after my daughter died as an infant. It was more comforting to believe that the world was a random place. Things simply happen and sometimes we have no control over them. There is no god or force making things happen for a reason. For it would indeed be an evil god who would punish the innocent to teach a lesson to someone. Good and bad things happen to everyone.