Earlier today I read a witty bit of satire on the blog de-conversion, in a post entitled “Salvaging Santa.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the approach to Santa depicted in that post – and the approach to faith it was intended to parody – is in fact one that I’d advocate and view positively.
I think it is the fact that some people still approach the Bible or other aspects of traditional religion differently than they approach Santa that is at the heart of the problem – and its solution.
Most people find that they can indeed embrace both science and Santa. Many of the “new atheists” criticize liberal Christians for saying that their religion is not about fact-claims, and is neither against science’s conclusions nor subjectable to scientific verification. Yet many of those same individuals are, I imagine, able to incorporate Santa into the lives of their families. The assumption that Christian faith and Christmas celebration involving Santa are fundamentally different is not necessarily correct – although I can already hear conservative believers and atheists lining up together (as usual) to disagree with me.
Including Santa in Christmas celebration is a way of symbolizing generosity and the “magic” of “the most wonderful time of the year.” But most of us can see that it is a combination of individual, family, community and cultural effort that enables us to have that special feeling at this time of year. One can find places in the world where December 25th is just another day – nothing special, no special feeling. We create that feeling through tradition, ritual, and music – and of course gift-giving and having at least one day off work. But should we allow the fact that one can study Christmas scientifically, sociologically, historically and musicologically – and find no actual literal magic therein – lead us to give up “believing in” and more importantly practicingChristmas? Or is such a conclusion unnecessary, and Christmas – including Santa – something that might be worth preserving even though it can be subjected to the same rationalistic analysis as faith traditions – and seem to come up short in many of the same ways when thus analysed?
For at least many liberal Christians, even many of those who continue to pray as though expecting some outside source to intervene and change things, in fact are reconciled in practice to the fact that, if “miracles” are to occur, it will be through human beings acting and not some inexplicable occurrence. Some of us even consider humans caring for others in some ways “more” of a miracle, but that’s another story.
Of course, as with God, so too with Santa there is a danger that we will use him for ideological or commercialistic ends.
What do you think? While some view similarities between Santa and figures from this or that faith tradition as reasons to reject religion, and others try to emphasize that their central figure is not really like Santa, it seems to me that the similarities in fact do clue us in to what religion is all about – and why it can be worth hanging on to.