Last time I mentioned Santa in passing. But since it’s the holiday season, I figured I might as well write a post about the big guy.
When I was a small child I believed in Santa Claus. I believed there was an obese old man in a red suit with a white beard who lived at the North Pole with a workshop full of toy-making elves and drove a giant sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, one of which had a red nose that glowed. I believed that once each and every year this man would visit the homes of all the children of the world in a single night and leave behind either gifts or lumps of coal for the children, depending on the moral behavior of those children throughout the preceding year, which he had knowledge of by virtue of an all-seeing magic snowball.
And then I found out that Santa wasn’t real (Spoilers!).
As I imagine is the case with most children when they make this discovery, this was not a fun revelation. I even spent the next several days trying to convince myself that I had dreamt up my parents telling me the truth. But eventually reason won out.
I have since then come to regard the whole Santa Claus thing from a different perspective. You see, my realization that Kris Kringle was a fictional character didn’t stop presents from being under the tree on Christmas morning the next year, or any year after that. As I grew up, I came to understand that there was still a reality to the whole Santa thing; it was just different than I had thought as a child.
So I no longer believe in toy-making elves, or a workshop at the North Pole, or flying reindeer. But I do believe in love, and generosity, and good will toward others. And isn’t that what mom and dad really had in mind when they refer to Santa Claus all along?
Now the God Part
Okay, so what does this have to do with anything? Well, often the correlation is made between belief in Santa Claus and belief in God. Folks who have made the transition from theism to atheism often couch this conversion in the language of finding out there is no Santa Claus. In fact, I know many Christian parents who begin very early on making sure their kids don’t believe in Santa, just so this move away from believing in Santa doesn’t create a mental pattern that their kids might follow later with their belief in God.
I understand this analogy; though I think it is worth mentioning that I have never actually met someone who stopped believing in God because they no longer believe in Santa. I’ve met plenty of people who retroactively apply their lost belief in Santa to their loss of belief in God. But, these anachronistic projections aside, people don’t actually move from no Santa to no God. Remember, correlation does not equal causation.
Even so, it seems to me that there is a good analogy to be made here between God and Santa when it comes to beliefs. In brief, just as I grew up in how I believed in Santa, so too did I need to grow up in how I believe in God, and especially how I read Scripture.
So I no longer believe in an old man with a white beard floating on clouds, or that all creation was brought into existence in seven literal days, or that God once flooded the entire earth, or that God sometimes commands or condones very heinous things in the Bible, or that God knows all future events as certainties, or that men are naturally meant to hold a position of authority over women, or that gays and lesbians are all going to hell, or that everything happens for a reason.
But I do believe in transcendence, and hope, and a better world to come, and a Spirit of radical, other-oriented love that permeates throughout all the universe. And isn’t that what all the best spiritual gurus and traditions really had in mind all along when they wrote their myths, and told their parables, and crafted their art, and talked about the big guy with a beard who cares about all his children?
I choose to believe so.