Great Epsiode of This I Believe on NPR

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.


11 Replies to “Great Epsiode of This I Believe on NPR”

  1. …listening now online…i love it…I am a Christian and think that what people don’t understand is that Christians – even within the “group”; believe so many different things…Ultimately, your experiences confirm/strengthen your faith – or totally oppose it. MY experiences confirm my faith. Trisha will have her own…as you…
    And the other funny thing that I think happens in the world of Christianity is that many try to BEAT it into people who don’t believe or have different experiences instead of focusing on living a life that would draw people as opposed to repelling them. For example, what is it about picketing funerals and calling people names would make someone want to worship your god?And if you truly believe in a God that is all-everything, as I do, I simply pray that He will help me live in a way that draws people, not be judgemental, and give me the right particular things to say to THAT particular person who may have questions such as Trisha.
    Have a great day!


  2. I’m sorry about the loss of your daughter. As a parent myself, it is my worst nightmare. My parents also lost a daughter and I can’t even begin to fathom how horrible that must have been.

    Personally, I agree with you, I find the concept that things randomly happen for no reason to be quite freeing. Did my sister die of leukemia at the age of four for a reason? I don’t think so. Shit happens.

    The big thing I have never gotten is that if this so-called loving God kills your child, He has a reason for it and it’s okay. On the other hand, the same actions when performed by a human being (made in that god’s image, I might add) would be (rightfully) considered sick and psychopathological. That’s something that’s impossible to reconcile in my mind.


  3. Hi CC. It’s too bad more Christians aren’t live and let live as you are. I had “committed Christians” threaten me, put religious tracks on my desk at a former job,and snub me one they find out I’m not Christian. So now, when someone makes a big deal about being a Christian in front of me, I’m understandably wary of them. I don’t trust someone like this at all.


  4. Hi Rebecca. Yes, it’s very freeing and makes the universe more understandable. I don’t have to worry about pleasing a capricious and unpleasant super being.

    You never really “get over” the loss of a child, but time brings acceptance.


  5. Anna: Hey there, thanks for your nice comments about the story. I’m sorry that some of the Christian people you’ve known were nutters because several of the Christian people I’ve known in my life would also consider themselves to be freethinkers. You can read more about my stance in my blog. And thanks again for listening.


  6. Hi Trisha

    Thanks for reading my blog. That was a very moving interview on NPR. I know lots of Christians, who wouldn’t in this culture, and most are very nice people.

    Unfortunately, even the most easy going ones I know tend to make excuses for the nasty ones. It’s like they are afraid to criticize fellow Christians, no matter how obnoxious they are. It’s kind of the opposite with atheists, we aren’t usually reluctant to criticize someone when they are being a jerk.

    Personally, I think we only live on in the memories of people who know us or of us. And that’s okay with me. I’ll go and take a look at your blog.


  7. I heard your story on Friday. I am sorry that you have not found a satisfying answer. It is commendable that you are still searching for the answer.

    Many people like yourself ask similiar questions as Why Does God Permitt Suffering, Why do bad things happen to Good People, and What is the purpose of life? Most people give up and settle for what sounds the best rather than searching for the right answer.

    God Provides and answer and it is in the Bible. Prov 2:4-7.

    Do you have an e-mail address where I could forward more information that would answer your question?


  8. Trisha…I am sorry about your lost of a dear friend. What is more commendable is your quest for truth. Jesus himself mentioned that “the truth shall set you free” John 8:32.

    The bible makes it clear why God allows suffering…but more important how he will resolve the problems we see today. Rev. 21:3,4.

    It is definetly worth your inspection for yourself, and not what someone thinks the bible says.

    If you would like a free publication in which you can get your bible answers questioned, send me your email address.

    What Hope for Dead Loved Ones?
    “If a man die, shall he live again?” asked the man Job long ago. (Job 14:14, King James Version) Perhaps you, too, have wondered about this. How would you feel if you knew that a reunion with your loved ones was possible right here on earth under the best of conditions?
    Well, the Bible makes the promise: “Your dead ones will live. . . . They will rise up.” And the Bible also says: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Isaiah 26:19; Psalm 37:29.
    To have real confidence in such promises, we need to answer some basic questions: Why do people die? Where are the dead? And how can we be sure they can live again?
    Death, and What Happens When We Die
    The Bible makes it clear that God did not originally intend for humans to die. He created the first human pair Adam and Eve, placed them in an earthly paradise called Eden, and instructed them to have children and extend their Paradise home earth wide. They would die only if they disobeyed his instructions.—Genesis 1:28; 2:15-17.
    Lacking appreciation for God’s kindness, Adam and Eve did disobey and were made to pay the prescribed penalty. “You [will] return to the ground,” God told Adam, “for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) Before his creation Adam did not exist; he was dust. And for his disobedience, or sin, Adam was sentenced to return to dust, to a state of nonexistence.
    Death is thus an absence of life. The Bible draws the contrast: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life.” (Romans 6:23) Showing that death is a state of total unconsciousness, the Bible says: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) When a person dies, the Bible explains: “His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.”—Psalm 146:3, 4.
    However, since only Adam and Eve disobeyed that command in Eden, why do we all die? It is because all of us were born after Adam’s disobedience, and so we all inherited sin and death from him. As the Bible explains: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.”—Romans 5:12; Job 14:4.
    Yet someone may ask: ‘Don’t humans have an immortal soul that survives death?’ Many have taught this, even saying that death is a doorway to another life. But that idea does not come from the Bible. Rather, God’s Word teaches that you are a soul, that your soul is really you, with all your physical and mental qualities. (Genesis 2:7; Jeremiah 2:34; Proverbs 2:10) Also, the Bible says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) Nowhere does the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body….this is just a sample of bible truths…look forward on hearing from you.


  9. Anne, I am sorry for your lost. We just had our first child, and couldn’t imagine. I agree with you about more Christians standing up and criticizing other Christians. There has been developing in American Christianity a certain Manicheanism < HREF="" REL="nofollow">(I think born of the cold war)<> The result is stripping of orthodox Christianity into a watered down version bent less on love and more on being right, or less on Jesus and more on rightwing values. If you take St Paul’s word of knowing Christians by their fruit, ie their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5.22) then Christians are rarer in the America than we think, and a very small population.


  10. Thanks Tito, it was a very difficult time for me and the hubby when we lost our daughter. But I’ll have to disagree with your position that these people are not Christians. There are jerks in all groups of people. Christians are not superhuman and are capable of making the same mistakes as any one else.

    When you claim that only those Christians who are just like yourself are the only true Christians, you’re are making a logical fallacy. This is called the No True Scotsman fallacy. In effect, you are rhetorically removing those in your group who you disagree with, regardless of their own personal beliefs, which may be identical to your own. But because they act in a manner which embarrasses you, you want to remove them from being “True Christians”.

    This type of argument will result in you removing more and more people from the group as I point out more and more behavior that you personally disagree with. If someone tells me that they are a Christian I accept that they know their own beliefs better than I do.


  11. Wow Anonymous, drive by random postings of bible verses doesn’t really do much for me. You know, I’ve read a couple of versions of the Bible before. The main reason that I’m not religious is that no religion has met my standard of evidence that they are true.


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