Santa destroys Christianity?

Winding down for a very quiet Christmas allows me plenty of time to read and one of my favourite places to read for news and comment is the Guardian. I like it because it was founded in 1821 as a moderate pro-business paper and morphed into a more radical stance with the arrival in 1872 of C. P. Scott as editor and later owner. Later, ownership was transferred to the Scott Trust (now the Scott Trust Endowment Fund) to ensure editorial and financial independence. That the online version is fully-financed and free to all is a bonus, too. I should declare a personal interest as a fourth generation descendant of C. P. Scott is a family friend.

This article set me wondering about credulousness, belief and scepticism. Regarding Santa’s visits, my older brother punctured my belief in Santa but suggested we should keep quiet as we risked the possibility of presents not turning up on Christmas morning. Unlike the author of the Guardian article I don’t recall the revelation that Santa wasn’t real as sudden or traumatic, though I do recall being, as a child, sceptical of stories I was told by children and adults. I’m not sure whether Santa was pivotal or peripheral in the development of that scepticism in my own case but the article author suggests her lack of religious belief was influenced by her Santa experience.

I wonder whether learning stories in childhood presented as true (with snowy footprints and carroty teeth marks as evidence) that we later discover are myth is an element in decisions to reject the religious faith of our family and culture. Is that why young Earth creationism is such a heavily ring-fenced culture? Pull out a stone and the edifice crumbles?

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20 thoughts on “Santa destroys Christianity?

  1. I don’t know about Santa destroying Christianity.

    It seems to me that Christianity has demonstrated that it is quite capable of destroying itself.

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  2. I think that discovering that Santa or the Easter Bunny are made-up would affect one’s belief in God only if one lacks any serious theological education. Theologians are very clear on why God is completely unlike fictional beings like Santa.

    Then again, a lack of serious theological education is also why creationism persists.

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  3. Before my daughter had her kids she had decided she would just be honest right from the start that the Santa story was just made up. This changed when she became a mother. She could not bring herself to shatter her kids sense of wonder and excitement around the theme of Santa.

    Under normal circumstances a float comes round the streets here with Santa on a sleigh and elves collecting for charity. We didn’t expect that to happen this year so we weren’t prepared for their visit. One evening the other day my wife heard the procession in the distance and assumed they must be coming after all. She phoned my daughter and asked her to bring the kids round so they could see Santa. She dropped them off and they were full of excitement and eagerness to see ‘real’ elves.

    As it happened Santa never appeared at our house. We found out later that they only went past the houses that requested it and had taken part in a competition for the house with the best Christmas lights.

    The kids were a bit upset so we decided to have a drive round and if we didn’t find the procession at least we could see all the beautifully lit up houses. We never did find Santa but the kids enjoyed the tour. We did pass one house where an ‘elf’ was coming out of the door. We said to our grandkids, ‘Look, there’s an elf!’. Our granddaughter turned round and said, ‘That not an elf, it’s a man dressed up as an elf’. So it seems that she’d have been disappointed even if they had turned up at our door. Believe it or not there would have been no real elves coming to our door. I think the kids will come to realise the truth of the matter in their own good time without any prompting from us. And it might teach them that everything they are told need not be true. Personal beliefs form slowly as we mature and very young children are not naturally sceptical. They need to reach a certain stage of maturity before they can become discerning in what to accept as fact and what they should question.

    Let the kids be kids and don’t force them into becoming mini adults.

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  4. CharlieM: Let the kids be kids and don’t force them into becoming mini adults.

    Sure…

    But how complicit should we adults be? With my daughter, my personal rule was don’t lie when faced with a direct question.

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  5. Neil Rickert: It seems to me that Christianity has demonstrated that it is quite capable of destroying itself.

    Authority can resist reality for a while. For those of a religious inclination, isn’t it better for the reed to bend?

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  6. Alan Fox:

    CharlieM: Let the kids be kids and don’t force them into becoming mini adults.

    Sure…

    But how complicit should we adults be? With my daughter, my personal rule was don’t lie when faced with a direct question.

    I suppose if they’re old enough to question reality then they’re old enough to get straight answers. With my grandkids the question has never come up yet. I’m sure their parents will be honest with them when it does inevitably arise.

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  7. The knowledge that Santa only brings presents to good children seems to have been lost on our six year old granddaughter.

    They had been asked to tidy their toys and her little brother did as asked but she refused. Later on while she was playing with some toys her mother began to explain to why she should have done as she was told. She looked up at her, put her hands to her ears and twisted her wrists, and said, ‘ears off!’, and then proceeded to carry on playing ignoring her mother. We haven’t a clue where she picked that up.

    My daughter said that it’s hard to be firm when your trying to suppress laugher.

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  8. Kantian Naturalist:
    Theologians are very clear on why God is completely unlike fictional beings like Santa.

    You should specify that you mean Christian theologians. Other faiths, some with multiple gods, also have theologians, equally skilled at explaining why all of their gods are real.

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  9. Flintto Kantian Naturalist: You should specify that you mean Christian theologians. Other faiths, some with multiple gods, also have theologians, equally skilled at explaining why all of their gods are real.

    John Chapter 10:

    33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

    34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

    35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;..

    The ancient Indian tale of the blind men and the elephant

    So, oft in theologic wars
    The disputants, I ween,
    Rail on in utter ignorance
    Of what each other mean;
    And prate about an Elephant
    Not one of them has seen!

    People may see the same thing differently from their own individual point of view. That doesn’t nullify its reaity.

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  10. Flint: You should specify that you mean Christian theologians. Other faiths, some with multiple gods, also have theologians, equally skilled at explaining why all of their gods are real.

    Fair point. If I felt like being really argumentative I might try for the claim that there’s something really distinct about theology as a Christian project.

    In any event, Christian (as well as Jewish and Muslim) theologians have developed some pretty sophisticated arguments as to why God is not a god — why the God of those Abrahamic traditions is different in kind from Thor or Baal.

    The “we believe in one less god than you do” schtick of the new atheists is supposed to look slick and clever, but it’s not. It’s condescending and quite frankly, just really stupid.

    I’m not trying to defend Abrahamic theology — far from it! — but I think it’s important to understand what one tries to criticize. I’m old-fashioned that way.

    +1
  11. Kantian Naturalist,

    My original point is that however subtle and sophisticated, if religious ideas have no basis of fact, then they are prone to refutation when facts are examined. I was suggesting that honesty may be a better policy than made-up stories if you want to avoid the disillusionment and subsequent scepticism.

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  12. Alan Fox:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    My original point is that however subtle and sophisticated, if religious ideas have no basis of fact, then they are prone to refutation when facts are examined. I was suggesting that honesty may be a better policy than made-up stories if you want to avoid the disillusionment and subsequent scepticism.

    I quite agree, insofar as religious narratives are presented as factual. But what kind of moron would make that mistake?

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  13. Another thought. Is it possible that “Santa” is a misspelling? Or perhaps an anagram? Let’s see: permuting the last three letters to put “t” before “a” before “n” …

    +1
  14. The admin who holds this blog together, in lieu of Elizabeth, apparently doesn’t believe in “Santa Claus”. Hmm, well, I suppose that’s one form of apatheism; the Santa as Dawkinsian-level thinking class of ‘god’ form of apa-SantaClausism.

    Don’t let it trouble you so, Alan. It’s not like Nietzsche was tormented by such thoughts of what couldn’t possibly have been real, like the story of St. Nicholas of Myra suggests either. It’s all just fabrication, psychological crutches, and “fake news” about a single “miracle” 2000 years ago, at the end of the day, right?

    As it is, if you’ll allow history to impinge on the fantasy you’re currently holding for a moment (like what is done regularly to the “creationists” here, who don’t seem still to “get it”. Why? Because they’re convicted self-labelling & righteous creationists), National Geographic addressed your probe here, in their own largely irreligious way, though they acknowledge St. Nicholas was “a fiery defender of Church doctrine”. It has 25 likes to every dislike, so maybe you’ll like or at least trust it as an answer to your question from a source you trust more than theological “storytelling”. https://youtu.be/3jLO6A2NpPU

    This source is even newer, and a bit longer. Myths, legends, stories with truth to be uncovered, with digging and some elaboration available to sincere seekers. In the case of St. Nicholas, it’s difficult not to be sincere with his story, unless one is in the (post-)modern sense a “scrooge” type of person. https://youtu.be/AV_joy9iH8s

    For a different source than Wikipedia, here is a historical assessment:

    “The historical Saint Nicholas, as known from strict history: He was born at Patara, Lycia in Asia Minor (now Turkey). In his youth he made a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Palestine area. Shortly after his return he became Bishop of Myra and was later cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian. He was released after the accession of Constantine and was present at the Council of Nicaea. In 1087, Italian merchants took his body from Myra, bringing it to Bari in Italy.”

    Do you question any of this “history” as something other than “history”?

    The main point is that St. Nicholas of Myra pointed not to himself as the ultimate Giver of gifts. Who he was pointing to is the “real meaning” of “Christmas”, not “Clausmas”.

    “as a child, sceptical of stories”

    That’s sad that you’ve been a skeptic your entire life, lacking inspiration or even (much) curiosity in it. It would seem that the main moderator/admin at TSZ believes “socially” & perhaps economically in Clausmas, but not “spiritually” in Christmas. I hope you’ll eventually heal from that if it bothers you, as the OP title suggests, Alan.

    So, Alan, the question for you in light of the above is: do you believe 1) Nicholas of Myra existed, and 2) that at least some of the stories about him are “true” in the sense of “most likely happened in history”? Yes or No to each question will suffice. Thanks & good seeking.

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  15. Gregory: As it is, if you’ll allow history to impinge on the fantasy you’re currently holding for a moment…

    Ah, no. The historical Saint Nicolas never owned reindeer, let alone reindeer that flew, I contend. I don’t doubt he existed as a human within the normal range of capabilities.

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  16. Joe Felsenstein:
    Another thought.Is it possible that “Santa” is a misspelling?Or perhaps an anagram?Let’s see: permuting the last three letters to put “t” before “a” before “n” …

    Or simply move the ‘n’ to the end.

    That works when dealing solely with the letters and words. But it ignores the concepts behind the words. One word (Santa) will usually bring up the concept of the good and joy, the other (Satan), of evil and misery. Should we go by the letter or by the spirit of these words? I think most enlightened children would be able to distinguish between the two names. As in genetics, we can see that manipulating the basic symbols can make a great difference to the final meaning of a sentence.

    And when children reach a certain point in their development they should be told of the link between Santa and St Nicholas as Gregory has brought to the fore.

    Santa does not destroy Christianity, he just tells the story from a very materialistic point of view. It was inevitable that this would happen. But material gifts only give people short term satisfaction.

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  17. CharlieM:
    That works when dealing solely with the letters and words. But it ignores the concepts behind the words. One word (Santa) will usually bring up the concept of the good and joy, the other (Satan), of evil and misery. Should we go by the letter or by the spirit of these words?

    Children might draw either conclusion. They might see their parents celebrating Christmas a bit too enthusiastically, and then being hung over and bleary-eyed in the morning. Many’s the child who shook their parents awake at 6 o’clock in the morning, eager to open presents, only to find that their parents are a bit short of the Christmas spirit, owing to too much Christmas spirits the night before. Sort of like what Satan has in mind.

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  18. Gregory (and to a lesser extent Charlie) seem to me to have missed the point, i.e.

    I wonder whether learning stories in childhood presented as true (with snowy footprints and carroty teeth marks as evidence) that we later discover are myth is an element in decisions to reject the religious faith of our family and culture.

    Presenting the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy (and Santa) as real is likely to lead to a certain cynicism, as noted by Lemony Snicket’s literary representative, Daniel Handler:

    For the most part, it seems that children are quite used to adults standing in front of them, calling for attention, and telling them a complete lie. So they usually have figured out what the gig is.

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