The Problem of God and Santa
Atheism is the belief that gods don’t exist. However, when confronted by the vast religious majority of the planet, we atheists often say things like ‘I don’t think god exists, but provide some evidence.” or “I don’t deny god could exist, but he probably doesn’t.”
Why do we say things like that?
Is there any adult on the Earth right now who does not know that Santa Clause doesn’t exist? We adults don’t say things like “Santa could exist, we just don’t have enough evidence.” or ‘Santa might existence and just stay hidden.” We don’t spend time arguing with children (i.e. Santa believers) that reindeer just can’t fly and can’t lift a fat man and presents for everyone. We don’t develop elaborate proofs that a giant toy factory at the North Pole can’t exist.
Yet, to the believers (i.e. children), Santa has much more evidence than God does. Santa actually delivers… there are toys on Christmas morning. The milk glass is empty and the cookies and carrots are eaten. He threatens, but never carries through with those threats. This is unlike god (any god) who does not deliver.
So why do adults, including skeptics, reject Santa unashamedly and yet still (sometimes) provide qualifiers for the existence of god?
I think that the cultural meme of a deity is so powerful, even in atheists, that we have to give some benefit of the doubt to the religious.
One idea I’ve been thinking is that we know, for a fact, that Santa is fictional. Those who are parents know this. We know he’s made up, because we made him up. We pretty much know, to the day, when the jolly, fat guy in a red suit appeared in our culture.
But religion has been in our culture since (in all probability) before writing. Much like modern religious folks (and children), they couldn’t imagine how certain features of their world came to be naturally. So they create something to explain away the things that they can’t control. Thunder and lightening, the apparent complexity of living things, and toys on Christmas morning are all real things that are difficult to understand for some groups (in this case ancient humans, creationists, and children respectively).
The other issue that may be relevant is that Santa is very specific with a limited purview. He has one job, to bring toys on Christmas morning. That’s all. Religions (and the gods therein) have been co-opted into thousands, if not millions, of roles, policy decisions, human rights issues, freedom statements, and the personal worldviews of the vast majority of the people on this Earth.
If Santa isn’t real, then some kids will still get toys on the morning of Dec. 25th. If god isn’t real, then a bunch of people (according to some religious leaders) will suddenly become mass murders and rapists. Even if that doesn’t happen, people will be forced to admit that they were being dorks for no good reason. At least with a god, they have an excuse to be a dork.
Author’s Note: I’ve been struggling with this post for days. I have removed paragraphs, made strategic word edits and generally gnashed my teeth while writing this. Frequent readers will note that my usual ‘stream-of-conciousness and damn the edits’ style combined with my constant fiddling may have produced a post that’s nearly unreadable.
And I’m not sure why… no, I do know why. I do know why, but I don’t want to admit it. You see, if all of the above is true (including that self-justification piece that exists in the middle there), then I’m not following my own rules. It’s the cognitive dissonance that’s driving me nuts with this post.
You see, I love Christmas. It’s, by far, my favorite holiday and time of the year. Santa is a part of it. While I know I should, I’m not willing to give up the look on the boy’s face when he hits living room on Christmas morning. I don’t think that it hurts him, it didn’t seem to hurt me… but then, I’m not wearing a Burqa either.
Is Santa a harmless bit of fiction for young children (and no different than watching Wild Kratts) or is, for all intents and purposes, lying to my child?
I try to rationalize this by it being a family tradition or saying “look how I turned out”. But the boy isn’t me and just because something is tradition doesn’t mean it’s right.
Regardless, I do think that there is a curious dichotomy, even among avowed atheists that we must (or should) give religion the benefit of the doubt and couch our disbelief in qualifiers. There’s no rational reason for these qualifiers. Yes, we could be convinced with evidence, but it’s been thousands of years and nothing.
Feel free to discuss any of these points in the comments section.
 Yes, this is a privilege statement. I am glad that I can provide presents to my child.
 Side note: I once actually did get coal for Christmas, but it was part of a rock set that I had been wanting for years.
 See, atheists can be nice even when we want to be mean.