Friday, December 10, 2010

Santa and God: The Nature of Belief

For most adults the Holiday season is a stressful one, most of us are clamoring, shopping and are forced to spend time with family members we ordinarily wouldn't need to interact with. For children, however, it is a very magical time and for small children it marks the arrival of Santa Claus aka Saint Nick, aka Chris Cringle, aka, you get the picture. Santa is a magical being who grants good little boys and girls gifts on Christmas. There aren't many adults who actually believe in Santa, instead superstition of another kind takes the place of the Santa story for many adults.

Sometimes people ask me why I, as an atheist, like to poke fun at religious beliefs - in particular those of the Christian faith. Why not just leave well enough alone? I reply, "Wouldn't you poke fun at an adult who still believed in Santa?"

Some are likely to be offended by comparing belief in God to belief in Santa but I'm going to show that there is no real difference in the fundamental nature of the belief and that God and Santa have an awful lot in common.

The Santa Comparison:

God is a supernatural being.

Santa is a supernatural being.

God lives in Heaven but when we look up into space we don't see him or any evidence of him.

Santa lives at the North Pole but when we look at the North Pole we don't see him or any evidence of him.

God has supernatural helpers called angels.

Santa has supernatural helpers called elves.

God takes Elijah to Heaven in a flying fiery chariot.

Santa delivers presents in a flying sleigh.

God punishes the wicked for their misdeeds and rewards the righteous. He knows the inner workings of your mind and knows everything you do and say.

Santa punishes the naughty for their misdeeds and rewards the nice. He sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good.

God can be prayed to in order to gain things. Ask and you shall receive.

Santa can be written to in letters. Ask and you shall receive.

God must be believed on Faith.

Santa must be believed on Faith.

God is offered money and was, at one time, offered animal sacrifices.

Santa is offered milk and cookies.

God can be in all places at once.

Santa can visit all houses in one night.

You get the idea, the similarities are numerous. Why is it that as we grow up a belief in Santa is discarded but the belief in God is not? Obviously both beliefs are similar in nature and both are irrational. They are not based in evidence but in faith. So why is faith in Santa, at a certain age, deemed absurd but Faith in God not?

We would ridicule a grown man or woman who sincerely retained a belief in Santa Claus yet MANY actually revere and respect people who hold strong belief in God. Why? Surely the story of Santa brings hope, as does the story of God and Jesus but hope is not a good reason to believe the story is true. The fear of punishment is also not a good reason. If I disbelieve in Santa I might get coal in my stocking, if I disbelieve in God I might go to Hell but surely the threat of punishment isn't a good reason to accept an irrational belief. If, for instance, I was told aliens would probe me if I decided not to exist in them I wouldn't be justified to start believing in aliens. Fear is a tool of ignorance, to sway people in believing something when there is no good reason for them to do so, it is an appeal to emotion and a basal emotion at that.

[ The only real difference between Yahweh and Santa is that Santa is far more benevolent and doesn't murder children (at least as far as we know). ]

The Santa story contains many supernatural and unbelievable elements and when faced with these adults rightfully make the distinction that the story is made up. One of the main reasons why a belief in Santa is discarded but a belief in God embraced is because of conditioning. After a certain age retaining a belief in Santa is something to be ridiculed and shunned by society but in many places around the world the more tenaciously you cling to faith in God the more respect you gain in the community. If your parents instill you with religious beliefs they will likely offer positive reinforcement, congratulating you when you say a prayer, take Communion or get baptized and shunning you when you question, rebel or do something contrary to the beliefs. This positive reinforcement for an irrational belief cannot be a good thing and is, in my mind, a form of brainwashing. It should be desired to stop believing all irrational things or at least to eliminate as many irrational and unfounded beliefs as possible.


So this Holiday season what will you be celebrating? Which irrational belief about a magical being will you be believing? The one about a guy born of a virgin or the one about an elf and a flying sleigh? Both are absurd and I for one won't be believing either of them. I urge you to take my advice... this Holiday season USE REASON and leave childish beliefs behind.