Op-ed: Santa is nothing but a sinister gateway to preposterous beliefs

Op-ed: Santa is nothing but a sinister gateway to preposterous beliefs December 27, 2018

Donald Trump and his consort Melania of that ilk took part in a White House Christmas ‘tradition’ on December 24 by talking to children on the phone about ‘Santa Claus’. It has to do with another tradition, in which NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command – claims to ‘track Santa Claus leaving the North Pole and delivering presents to children around the world.’

It’s impossible to tell this story without a surfeit of quotation marks, but I’m not about to say that NORAD actually does track Santa Claus leaving the North Pole, am I? We have here nested silly traditions in which adults pretend to believe in Santa Claus because it’s oh so cute to tell silly lies to small children.

So anyway, there’s this tradition in which President and Consort play along with this silliness while cameras record it, and out of nowhere Trump had his first recorded moment of rational skepticism – at a time and place in which the only possible response was to laugh. He chose this public moment to ask a seven-year-old child:

Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at seven it’s marginal, right?

He’s not wrong, but it’s hilarious because it’s so thoroughly not what he’s supposed to be doing at that moment in that chair. But the reality is, he’s not wrong.

Why do we do this? Or rather why do they do this, because I personally don’t. Why do parents lie to their children about something they know will be revealed as a lie sooner rather than later? It annoyed me as a child, and it annoys me now.

Responses to this question are often along the lines of: why are you so literal, why so humorless, why so joyless, why such a scrooge? But that’s nonsense. It’s perfectly possible to appreciate fantasy without pretending it’s real. We do it any time we read a novel or see a movie or a television serial. We do it in play, we do it with children, we do it in daydreaming, we do it in a thousand ways, and it does not depend on believing the fantasy is literally true. Temporary suspension of disbelief, anyone? There’s no reason Santa can’t be just one more thing we pretend to believe in but don’t really, including the small children.

I have a feeling it’s all part of the god-conspiracy. Nobody is going to confuse the Easter Bunny with “God” but Santa Claus is another matter. That flowing beard? Very Jehovah, but cuted-up for the tinies.

If you get them young, and you train them in belief by telling them a silly lie year after year until their classmates start making fun of them, you’ve softened them up for belief in the much more serious, deep, spiritual version of the chubby guy in the red knitted outfit.

I remember making a theological argument to myself along exactly those lines when I was a child. It went: Santa seems like magic but Santa is real, so God must be too. I think I found it persuasive at the time, although not so persuasive that I can recall any actual, warm, emotional belief in the god-fella. I thought of “God” as distant and unpleasant, as opposed to cozy and goodies-dispensing like Mr Claus. Maybe that too is part of why the belief is promoted: SC is like a friendly bridge to the colder, more minatory patriarch-deity.

Image via YouTube

Then again, famous godbothering Mike Huckabee, above, father of mendacious press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and former governor of Arkansas, doesn’t see it that way – or at least so he pretends when he’s defending Trump.

“What is wrong with people? It wasn’t like he was boiling the little girl’s bunny rabbit in a pot on the stove or something, I mean, he asked a simple question. You never can find a way that President Trump will make some of the people in the press happy. It doesn’t matter what he does. If he didn’t make the call, if he didn’t talk to the little girl, they would say he was curled up in a fetal position in the White House and was unwilling to come out and talk to anybody. I mean, the man can’t catch a break.”

He “asked a simple question”??! He asked a question about her faith. If it were anyone but Trump doing such a thing Huckabee would be outraged. Here he is talking about atheism on Facebook in 2013:

Atheism doesn’t have a prayer … We keep hearing that religious belief is a dusty relic of a bygone time, irrelevant to our modern age. Well, nobody told the rest of the world. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity in Massachusetts reports that we’re experiencing a worldwide boom in religious faith. One major reason is the death of Soviet communism and more freedom in China. Turns out once oppressive governments stop forcing citizens to say they’re atheists, belief in God skyrockets.

Belief. It’s not about observation or discovery, it’s just belief; an act of cognitive will. If it’s serious business when it comes to Mister God, why isn’t it serious business for Mister Claus?

One flippant answer is that Thomas Aquinas didn’t write seventy million words about Santa Claus. There are more serious answers, I suppose, though it always seems to me that they break into fragments when they crash into the fact that the god most people believe in has nothing to do with first causes or ontological arguments. Really it seems to be just a matter of custom. Santa is a fairy tale for children, God is the same thing but for children and adults.

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  • Broga

    Trumptnutter demonstrates his priorities. I wonder he if has heard that Vladimir Putin says he has now a super nuclear weapon which will allow him to snuff out the USA, and the rest of us, if he so decides. Vlad has about twice the intelligence of Trump and has been having a joke by giving him the run around while he gets on with developing his super weapon while Trump regards him as his best Buddy.

    I read that the most used word amongst the educated in the USA is “impeachment.”

  • Raging Bee

    Actually, the way I see it, LOSING our belief in Santa is a sinister gateway to giving up other preposterous beliefs.

  • adhoc

    I’m going to guess the seven year old is more mature than Trump. I bet she has a better grasp of reality than our President does.

  • Broga

    I prefer Santa.

  • Fred Tully

    Is it right to lye to children? The categorical imperative suggests that it is not, for if it is right, then we become a nation of lying to children about anything. Cognitive dissonance is a serious problem enough growing up. They do not need any commercial marketing as well.

  • Harry Kays

    Josephus and Origen both state in their writings that Jews and Christians did not celebrate their day of birth . So………. Do the extremely simple math?

  • barriejohn

    Returning once again to my own rather strange experiences, I was taught that there are two birthday celebrations in the Bible – Pharaoh’s and Herod’s – both resulting in executions, and maybe a reference to Job’s sons indulging in excess and “sinning” during birthday celebrations, so God obviously frowns upon such activities. (Fundamentalists believe, in any case, that life commences at conception, and not at birth.) Typical of Christians, once again, to be looking over their shoulder in case they “offend” their god; and JWs ban birthdays outright, just to be on the safe side!

  • Harry Kays

    Have no idea what you’re talking about . I didnt reference The Bible or JWs you did.
    Truth can be found anywhere

  • Priya Lynn

    ” I suppose, though it always seems to me that they break into fragments
    when they crash into the fact that the god most people believe in has
    nothing to do with first causes or ontological arguments. Really it
    seems to be just a matter of custom.”

    You nailed it. People believe in god because that’s what they’ve always done since they were children.

  • barriejohn

    And I have no idea what YOU are talking about!

  • GalapagosPete

    I like Santa way better than Jesus. Always have.

  • Raging Bee

    Which version? That character has a long and interesting history, with Pagan as well as Christian roots, dating to LOOOONG before the red-suited incarnation standardized by Coca Cola ads.

  • Broga

    It is the one who comes down the chimney at Christmas and I have evidence that he exists. My young grandchildren spent much time leaving cake, milk and carrots for the reindeer and in the morning they were gone. If the Virgin Mary bleeds then my Santa eats cake. The evidence is about as strong for both of them.

  • Raging Bee

    …just as long as you don’t belch when you’re describing your proof…

  • Broga

    I was recalling Christmas two years ago. It was soon game over. Questions: how does he get down the chimney? how can he visit every child at once? there is no snow so how does the sledge work? etc. Bit of fun when very young.

  • E.A. Blair

    There are times when it might be justifiable to lie to children, but giving them lye is, in most jurisdictions, criminal child abuse.