I dunno about you, but I had a fantastic weekend. I got so much done, swam some laps, cleaned house and even painted a portrait of Anthony Bourdain. The highlight was probably when I taught my kiddo how to play The Settlers of Catan and he proceeded to school the adult Catan vets. By Sunday night, I was exhausted and dropped into my cozy bed for a deep, satisfying snooze.
Yesterday morning, I finally sat down at my computer again and was quickly reminded why it’s so nice to get out from in front of the screens. A wave of nonsense came rushing at me so fast, full of missionaries selling salvation who couldn’t be saved by Christ themselves and videos of Americans elbowing each other for the Samsung Smart TV they’ll replace in a year. There were trolls and anger and shaming and, of course, the usual messages in my inbox damning me to hell. In and amongst it all, I found this meme being shared:
and I thought, to myself, “self, that’s a darned good question. Let’s discuss it on the ol’ bloggerooni” and so, here I am.
Why is it that kids appear to grow out of Santa with ease but so many cling to Jesus for the remainder of their lives? What are the differences between the Santa myth and the Jesus myth? Here are some of my ideas:
Their parents don’t believe in Santa – Mom and Dad already know that Santa isn’t real, while they may still believe in Jesus. So, when little Timmy finally says he doesn’t believe in Santa one day, they’re less likely to react poorly and more likely to accept that their little dude is just doing some growing up. Reversed, if Timmy comes to Mom and Pops and calls Jeeby a pile of hogwash, there’s likely to be tears, punishment and anger.
Their parents are in on the ruse – Keeping up the fib all those years, making sure you’re not leaving clues revealing the true identity of Santa can be exhausting and eventually, you want your babies to sort it out. In fact, if they seem to be taking longer than other kids to figure it out, some parents might get concerned. They might start dropping hints or they might just sit the kid down and tell him outright. With Ol’ Jeeboner, though, Mom and Dad are being duped themselves!
As you get older, questioning Santa’s existence is welcomed – When you’re a kid and you go to your parents with questions about the truth behind Santa, they’ll welcome it. They’ll likely be honest with you. They might feel some pride that their little dude is clever enough to sort it out. But question Jesus in a religious household and you’re going to be met with, at the very least, disappointment. In almost all of the stories you send me for Your Stories of Atheism, you mention that your questions about God and the Bible and religion etc. were often met with the brush off or hostility. As a child, you learn pretty quickly to stop asking about those things.Santa doesn’t threaten eternal hellfire – If you question Santa’s existence, the worst outcome is that this happy part of your childhood is over. That, or you get a lump of coal in your stocking. If you question God and Jesus, you face being brutally tortured for the rest of time. You can see how one might be a little scarier than the other.
You won’t lose family or friends over your loss of faith in the fat man – people who stop believing in Jesus often find themselves on the outside of a community that encompassed their entire world before. Sometimes, they get disowned and shunned. Friends who once meant the world them no longer want to have anything to do with them. If you stop believing in Kris Kringle, on the other hand, no one judges you at all.
You don’t have to change much about your worldview to accept Daddy Jingle Bells ain’t real – Nothing much changes when you finally know the truth behind where the gifts come from. There are still gifts. You still tell the same people what you want for Christmas and you still hope those same people get them for you. If you stop believing in Jesus, however, your prayers are just floating out in the ether, directionless, with no one to hear them. You no longer have an eternity of bliss awaiting you after you die and you have to accept that this life is the only life we truly know we have. You have to accept responsibility for your own actions and can no longer leave things in the “hands of God”. You must plot your own path and write your own story because there’s no magic man in the sky to do it for you. This is a much harder pill to swallow than knowing the man in red doesn’t bring the prezzies.
Nowhere in the world is it punishable by law to stop believing in Jolly Old St. Nick – In 13 countries in our modern world, people who no longer believe in a supreme being can be killed for it, by law. In 40+ countries, they can be imprisoned and beaten for it. You stop believing in Santa and there might be a slight sadness at most. No one will hurt you for it. No one will threaten you for it.
You can prove Santa is a lie – as one of my Twitter friends pointed out yesterday, Santa is a falsifiable claim. You can catch your parents in the act. You can set up a GoPro before bed on Christmas Eve or you can test Santa’s in-depth knowledge of you at the Mall. There are a hundred and one ways to sort out the truth behind Santa, but the Jesus myth is crafted in such a way that there’s no way to prove it wrong. He’s invisible! He works in mysterious ways! Sometimes his answer to your prayer is no! No matter your objection, there’s always some absurd way around it.
I don’t really see many parallels between the Santa myth and the Jesus myth. That’s why I never had a problem doing the whole Santa thing with my babies. I think sorting out who Santa really is can serve as an excellent critical thought exercise for kids when they’re rewarded with the truth for asking good questions. Jesus, on the other hand, doesn’t like critical thought at all.
Why do you think kids grow out of Santa but some don’t grow past belief in Jesus? Let me know in the comments!
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay