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Jesus and Santa

If you're determined to believe myths like Santa (or Jesus), it's not too hard to delude yourselfHarriett Hall (the SkepDoc) wrote a clever story about two kids trying to figure out whether the tooth fairy really exists or not. Inspired by that, and in keeping with the season, I’d like to imagine two kids arguing about Santa.

It was early December, and little Jerry had begun to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. He made his case to his younger brother Kyle.

“I don’t think Santa is real. I think it’s just Mom and Dad buying us presents,” Jerry said.

“Prove it,” Kyle said.

“Okay, why are there all those Santas on the street corners ringing for money? How can Santa be at all those stores at once?”

“They’re not the real Santa, just his helpers,” Kyle said. “And maybe they’re just testing us to see if we’ll still believe. I’m going to believe, because if you don’t, you don’t get presents.”

“But I recognized one of them—it was the father of one of my friends.”

“Then those are just ordinary people imitating Santa, raising money for a good cause. Anyway, I’ve seen Santa on TV at Thanksgiving—everyone has.”

Jerry sees that he’s not making any progress, so he gives up. On Christmas afternoon, he’s alone with Kyle and tries again. “Remember that video game that you told Mom about and then you forgot to tell Santa?” Jerry said. “But you got it anyway. Mom must’ve bought it and written on the package that it came from Santa.” 

“Mom just told Santa,” Kyle said. 

“But how can Santa get around the world in one night?”

“My friends all say that Santa is real. Anyway, Santa has magic. And the cookie plate we leave out for Santa always has just crumbs on Christmas morning.”

“With the Junior Detective kit that I got this morning, I dusted the cookie plate for fingerprints, and they were Mom’s.”

“Mom set out the plate, and Santa wears gloves.”

Jerry gives up for the year. On Christmas afternoon the next year, he tries again. “Lots of the older kids don’t believe in Santa. They say that their presents only come from their parents.”

“Sure,” Kyle said. “Santa only gives presents to those who still believe in him.”

“A few months ago, I was snooping in Dad’s sock drawer, and I found every letter we ever wrote to Santa.”

“Why not? Santa didn’t need them anymore and each year just gives them to Mom and Dad for keepsakes.”

“The only fingerprints on our presents were Mom’s or Dad’s.” 

“Mom and Dad always get up early on Christmas. They could’ve rearranged them.”

“Last week, I found all our presents hidden in a corner in the attic.” Jerry pawed through some of the torn wrapping paper. “I wrote my initials on the bottom of each package. And look—here they are. That proves that Santa didn’t bring them here last night.”

“I asked Mom, and she said that Santa is real. Anyway, how do I know you didn’t write your initials on the wrapping paper this morning?”

Like little Kyle, if you’re determined to believe something, you can rationalize away any unwelcome evidence. (By rationalize, I mean taking an idea as fact and then selecting or interpreting all relevant evidence to make it support that idea.)

Christians rationalize, too. They rationalize away contradictions in the Bible, the oddity of a hidden God, or why so much bad happens to the people God loves. They can find a dozen reasons why a particular prayer wasn’t answered, even though the Bible promises, “Ask and ye shall receive.” But the Christian says that he’s simply defending the truth: “I’m not rationalizing; I’m right.”

In five minutes we can see flaws in others that we don’t see in ourselves in a lifetime. Perhaps this episode with Jerry and Kyle will encourage us to see our own rationalizations.

I recently came across the Galileo Was Wrong; The Church Was Right blog. That’s right, it argues for geocentrism, an earth-centered universe. With a little work, even the nuttiest theory can be given a scholarly sheen, so imagine what a few thousand years of scholarly work can do to a religion. Any Christian can point to centuries of scholarship to give a patina of credibility to their position (but, of course, so can Muslims, Hindus, and those in many other religions).

I can’t prove Santa doesn’t exist. Nor can I disprove leprechauns, Russell’s Flying Teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or God. The thoughtful person goes where the evidence points rather than accepting only the evidence that supports his preconception.

Jesus is Santa Claus for adults
— bumper sticker

(This is a modification of a post that was originally published 12/9/11.)

Photo credit: Robot Nine

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Kodie

    If they can’t rationalize it until it fits, they call it a conspiracy meant to separate them from their faith.

    I notice for example that many theists understand evolution and do not deny it but rationalize even parts of the bible as allegorical so there’s no conflict. Other theists deny evolution because it doesn’t fit in at all with what the bible tells them.

    • Greg G.

      I notice for example that many theists understand evolution and do not deny it but rationalize even parts of the bible as allegorical so there’s no conflict. Other theists deny evolution because it doesn’t fit in at all with what the bible tells them.

      I notice that each of those two groups consider their in-group to be mainstream and the other is the fringe group.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        I notice that each of those two groups consider their in-group to be mainstream and the other is the fringe group.

        Statistically, the “it is allegorical” argument holds majority. Not only does that have the benefit of having a more historic approach than Biblical literalism, it also happens to be more-or-less the official position of the majority of mainstream denominations. It also happens to be the de facto Catholic position, and, as they outnumber(*) all of the rest of those involved(**) combined, arguments that the allegorical approach are “fringe” are not numerically justified. And while a fundamentalist may argue that Catholics are not Christians, it is impossible to deny that we are theists who look to the Bible.

        (*)I may be off a percent or two. Either way, if they are not majority they are close.
        (**) It should be noted that in this context non-Christian and non-Jewish theisms should be discounted as the topic is “how do theists interpret the (Hebrew) Bible?”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          It also happens to be the de facto Catholic position, and, as they outnumber(*) all of the rest of those involved(**) combined

          Roman Catholics are 17% of the world and Protestants are less than 6%. You’re right–the Roman Catholic position is the dominant one.

          If I’m complaining about something that Catholics don’t do, then obviously I’m not pointing the finger at them.

          I think Greg was simply saying that, from any one perspective within Christianity, I’m right and the other guy is wrong; I’m holding the correct view and the other guy is fringe.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Roman Catholics are 17% of the world and Protestants are less than 6%. You’re right–the Roman Catholic position is the dominant one.

          ‘s what I get for not checking recently. I thought that Protestants were higher. Do you know if Anglicans were counted in that stat?

          I think Greg was simply saying that, from any one perspective within Christianity, I’m right and the other guy is wrong; I’m holding the correct view and the other guy is fringe.

          My point was that in a battle of “we’re the true believers”, Catholics should not be considered fringe nor are they justly discounted. If anything, there is far more justification to argue that the literalists are outside of the mainstream than to believe them when they claim that they are the norm.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Do you know if Anglicans were counted in that stat?

          They were not. Anglicans 1.25% and Orthodox 3.5% round out the Christian category. Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007.

          in a battle of “we’re the true believers”, Catholics should not be considered fringe nor are they justly discounted.

          Sounds good to me, but I think that a Baptist living in a very Baptist state might think otherwise.

  • Tony

    I think that what I find even more frustrating than the rationalization is the blatant emotional manipulation of young minds by theistic parents via these otherwise charming and harmless myths. Kids’ minds are filled with all kinds of mythical creatures and characters, from Santa and The Tooth Fairy to leprechauns and the Easter Bunny, and at some point they learn that these are all fictional. But what theistic parents do to them after they pull the mythical rug out from under their kids is to tell them “Oh, but don’t worry…Jesus IS real and He loved you so much thatHe DIED for you!” and let them fall into and become emotionally dependent on the comforting-yet-fictional embrace of Jesus.


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