Host Ira Glass talks with Stephen Nissenbaum, author of a history called The Battle for Christmas, which explains when people started believing in a Santa who arrives Christmas Eve carrying presents. It was in 1822, and incredibly, the poem that created our modern idea of Santa is still around, known by heart by tens of millions.
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This American Life host Ira Glass and producer Susan Burton spent a week in August recording a suburban Chicago youth group at every stage of their very first mission trip. The teenagers were from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Chicago.
These teenagers are the children the Christian right has in mind when it holds conferences on what's at stake in America's culture war. On the fourteen-hour drive to West Virginia, we listen to the Backstreet Boys and talk about Dawson's Creek. One of the things that's so interesting about these teenagers is the odd mix of Christian and secular pop in their lives.
The teenagers arrive in West Virginia and take a look around.
Hardships begin. Their leader gets sick.
One great thing about staying in a camp of 130 other Christians is the much-better-than-in-school chance of meeting a nice, cute Christian boy.
The teenagers try to get to know the locals, without a lot of success.
Some improvements in their missionary work.
When she was 21, Julia Sweeney got a job as a bartender's assistant and stole between ten and fifteen thousand dollars in cash. She describes the thrill of stealing, and how she justified her thefts to herself, and—oddest of all—how she became a more religious Roman Catholic during her crime spree.
In this act we hear two stories of people who stumbled upon a place where they instantly and instinctively felt more at home than in their real homes. Stephen Dubner, author of the memoir Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family, talks about an encounter with a Jewish man named Irving that changed his life.
When the end of time comes, what videos will we watch? Under fundamentalist Christian doctrine, the first thing that will happen during the End Time is that all the good Christians will be whisked suddenly to heaven. We hear clips from Left Behind—a video designed to be played after all the Christians have vanished, by all the people left behind.
How fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews are combining forces to breed a perfect red cow that could bring about the end of the world. Ira talks with cattleman and minister Clyde Lott, and with New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright.
The story of how an understanding of Bible prophecy by the FBI could have prevented the tragedy at Waco at the Branch Davidians compound.
How believing in the end of the world can be the best thing that ever happens to you. Writer Sarah Vowell talks about three end-of-the-world groups she comes to know.
Both Bonnie Gaunt and Marilyn Agee have been counting the length of time of all the events in the Bible, and through their calculations, they believe they have individually discovered the exact day that good Christians will be raptured directly to heaven. Bonnie's date: September 11, 1999; Marilyn's date: May 21, 1999.
Host Ira Glass with Robert Lundin, who talks about a time in his life when he felt too alive, and how much more sane he feels now, though his life is less exciting.
There's the pretending we do as individuals, and there's the organized pretending that happens in group therapy sessions, in the roleplaying games that are done in some clinical settings. Jack Hitt tells the story of the Mother of All Roleplaying Games.