Monday, April 20, 2009

This I Used To Believe

I happened to be in the car Sunday when This American Life way playing on my local NPR station. The episode was titled "This I Used To Believe." It was a spin off of the recent series called This I Believe.

The second story was about a woman who was agnostic but reached out to thank the coach of a Christian high school football team for his effort to help an opposing team made up of kids from a correctional facility.

The woman, Trisha Sebastian, mentioned in an email to the coach how she was leaning toward agnosticism and the coach responded by trying to bring her back to faith.

It's a good story, though unresolved, that I think both religious and non-religious might enjoy. You can still download the audio through their podcast or from their web site. Perhaps you should listen to it before reading my commentary. I wouldn't want to poison the well.

You don't get to hear all of the conversation between Trisha and the coach but he comes off like every other southern protestant I've ever met. And when he pulls the Nazi card he just about lost her. Let that be a lesson for you fledgling preachers: If you want to convince an atheist that God is the right path then don't stray into Godwin's Law territory. Even the Jews don't find Darwin as the cause for Hitler's atrocities.

I think we've all heard his other argument before: We live in a fallen world, and this is the reason for all the bad in the world today. He finds comfort in that while we scratch our heads at how completely illogical the whole free-will/original sin arguments are. But this doesn't bother him because his reward is beyond this world. So, he's willing to shrug off all of the suffering in the world because he already has a ticket out of here, or so he thinks. And I imagine his good-will effort with the kids from the juvenile correctional facility were to bring them to God, because that is the only way he thinks their suffering will end.

After seeing how the world according to the bible makes no sense except that we are in the hands of a schizophrenic dictator who demands our worship, I don't know how I could ever go back to believing in him. It just doesn't make any sense.


Strider said...

I'd love to write Ms. Sebastian and tell her to hang on; that coach was a monster.

Doubting Foo said...

Yeah, I kept wondering "if this is his good side, if this is the personality he uses to persuade people, I wonder what he's like in private when nobody is listening."

But for all we know the audio interview may have been edited to paint him in a negative light. Without hearing the entire conversation its impossible to say.

You could hear something in her voice, though, when she was asked if his answer was helpful. Her reply was "a little bit". Maybe I'm analyzing it too much but it seemed like she was being generous with even that reply.

I wish she had asked him "Why should my friend die horribly for someone else's sin, especially when Jesus already died for her sins?" His reasoning that sin in general is responsible for the suffering today makes no sense, especially in light of the story of why Jesus died on the cross.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if we can't understand why bad things happen to good people, there must be a higher power that does. And because it seems to unfathomable to us that an innocent girl would die from cancer, it must be a God that is that much greater than we are. For me, that's where my faith starts. The bible, church, pastors, priests... that stuff is all a physical, human way to create a picture of this big idea. I think many get frusterated taking that stuff without really believing the big picture behind it.

As I see it, the only other option is that our world is meaningless chaos. Either our struggles have meaning or they don't. It seems like a human need to have hope that it is more than that. Call me delusional, but I just won't let myself think that.

Doubting Foo said...

anonymous, I only find her death "unfathomable" when it is explained by original sin. I find it quite acceptable, though no less saddening, that given the limitations of our bodies we have things like cancer and we die from it. I don't need to propose something as ludicrous as original sin.

The god you propose is not the Jewish or Christian or Islamic god. I don't know enough about other religions to guess as to what your belief system is. Perhaps you are a deist, and to that I am open to the idea, but I don't owe this person anything for planting me in this world.

Strider said...

Doubting Foo. I don't know about the editing being done to paint the coach in a negative light. TAL, as usual, seemed like they were being pretty even-handed in that story and let the guy hang himself. Check out the the cryogenics story in the previous week's podcast for further evidence of their even-handedness in what seems like a pretty clear cut case of fraud.
Anonymous, your reasoning is pretty weak. Because we can't conceive of why bad things happen to good people then goddidit? C'mon. The universe doesn't owe us fairness or any explanations regarding why things occur. Do you think the past five extinction events, or the current sixth caused by humans, that occurred on Earth were fair? How about gamma ray bursts from collapsing stars that could potentially destroy the entire biosphere of a nearby planet? Ms. Sebastian's friend was actually fortunate to have lived at all. Don't get me wrong: it is tragic that her time here was cut short but to have experienced life at all made her one of the lucky ones. See the first paragraph of Dawkins' "Unweaving the Rainbow" for an excellent elaboration on this idea. You don't even have to buy the book, though I'd highly recommend it, because you can look at the first chapter on

Strider said...

Any road, the point I was trying to make to anonymous was that there doesn't have to be a reason Ms. Sebastian's friend died, does there? It just happened and we have to deal with it and move on.

Chrisr said...

Doubting Foo, I was so intriuged by the story. I think I've listened to it 5 times in the last two days on my ipod. I am a Christian but have given up arguing doctrine. Probably because I realized I've sounded like the coach in the past. I realize I've screwed up. But then I hear someone like Trisha say they want to believe and I ache to help them do it. I know it sounds crazy but i've found that Jesus, a guy who lived 2000 years ago, comforts me where I hurt the most, when I hurt the most. So how can I not hold out the possibility that He can do the same for someone like Trisha?

Doubting Foo said...

@strider, I don't think they actually did that, I guess I just said it as a disclaimer.

@chrisr, I guess we all need to get comfort from something. Perhaps what Trisha is feeling is coldness when she needed comfort?

I just don't want false comfort anymore.

chrisr said...

Good for you doubting foo, I don't want any false comfort either.

Acutally, I believe that a seeker after truth will end up finding God in the center of it all in the end. Seek truth don't descend into cynisism and all will be well.

Strider said...

Doubting Foo
Acutally, I believe that a seeker after truth will end up finding Allah/Vishnu/Buddha/Zeus/Ba'al (insert favorite imaginary being here) in the center of it all in the end. Seek truth don't descend into cynisism and all will be well.

Trisha Lynn said...

First off, thanks to everyone for their thoughts and encouragement.

You wrote: "So, he's willing to shrug off all of the suffering in the world because he already has a ticket out of here, or so he thinks. And I imagine his good-will effort with the kids from the juvenile correctional facility were to bring them to God, because that is the only way he thinks their suffering will end."

You know, after 2 separate phone calls and 2 hours of tape, I did not get the impression at all that Coach Hogan was being opportunistic at all, beyond knowing that there was someone who was very sad about having lost her faith in God and wanting to help. It didn't make it to the air, but I remember saying to Ira Glass after the first phone call that once he found out that I was a writer and a journalist, it seemed like that was all he could focus on, so that's why he tried to approach me from that angle. It really isn't his fault that it's an angle that didn't work, and I'm actually still touched and grateful that he tried.

I also still believe that Coach Hogan's good deeds are attached to pure motives: he wants to reach out to people he thinks need help because if there's something positive he thinks he can do, he will do it. I wish that there were more people like him who had those impulses, regardless of what they choose to believe in regarding God or what their thoughts are about religion.

As for the rest, you can check out my blog for more.

Doubting Foo said...

Trishia, thanks for stopping by and clearing that up. Hope you're doing well.

Elizabeth said...

I think you saying he was willing to "shrug" off the evils of the world was a bit much and unfounded. This show touched me as well, and while I wanted to stereotype him as any "southern protestant" I've ever met as well, I had to restrain because at least he reached out to her...unlike most people. Most people would "shrug" this off because it's not their problem, and while he didn't necessarily go about it the way most of us thought he should have, he made an attempt with good intentions.

As far as Trisha, I am a Christian, and I just don't understand why people hold God accountable for these things. Does nature not run its course, or should we all just blame God for everything? Yes we live in a fallen world, but I don't think that the things we endure are direct consequences to the evils around which we live. Some things just are, and I think that once we learn acceptance, ultimate acceptance of things out of our control, be it nature or God's will, THAT's when we'll be able to grasp better and handle the unfortunate things which befall us.