Santa Claus

Santa Claus is a cute little fairy tale for children to believe in.  It's a good way for parents to persuade their children to behave, at least around Christmas time (although, I have to admit I've pulled the Santa card on some kids even in June and it worked).  I have some siblings who do the whole Santa thing and their kids get so much into it, it's adorable to watch.  I have some other siblings who believe in being honest with their children, so they tell them that Santa is just a symbol of kindness and selfless giving, but doesn't really exist.  They also tell their children that some children do believe in Santa and that they shouldn't try to persuade them otherwise--that it should be up to their parents to break the news to them.

My sister tells a story about one of her friends still believing in Santa in middle school.  It was a rather embarrassing situation.  The girl got angry and said "my dad wouldn't lie to me" and refused to believe the truth.  Quite honestly, I think that middle school is probably a bit too old for people to believe in Santa.  (I would also think that they'd have figured it out somehow by that time, even if no one told them.)  Be that as it may, the point is that some learn sooner than others about this sad truth.

For some, the news of Santa's non-existence is inconsequential.  They realize that the presents come from their parents rather than the North Pole, but they still get presents.  For others, the news can be a bit sad, but they eventually move on.  And for some, this news can be rather disheartening or even traumatic.  I know I have seen more than one Christmas movie where there was a "bad guy" who was really just hurt because some time when they were really young Santa didn't bring them what they wanted for Christmas, so they stopped believing.  I hope that there really aren't any adults out there who hold such a grudge against Santa, but I can see that some people would begin to be skeptic after having made such a realization.  I can also see how it would be difficult for a child to trust his/her parents after realizing that they were dishonest about something such as Santa.

And so, if you haven't already guessed, it is time for me to say that this post isn't really about Santa Claus. It is about the Santa-for-grownups that we call God.  Unlike Santa, many believe in him their whole lives.  Many dedicate their lives to him.  People believe in varying degrees of sincerity and devotion--some only tangentially believe, some believe whole-heartedly.  Some people call God by different names, or they have different manifestations.  The Greeks and Romans believed in many different gods, as did other cultures.  Many times, these gods were endowed with human-like traits in either appearance or personality, and other times they were slightly modified, maybe with the head of some animal.  Some cultures worshipped natural phenomena, such as the Sun or mountains.  There have been many different deific creations by men.  Strangely enough, the human tendency to assume that oneself is right and others are wrong seems to be amplified by religious belief.  The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades are examples of this.  The Framers of the US Constitution had grown so weary of having their religion dictated to them that they made certain a stipulation was put in that august document explicitly forbidding the federal government from engaging in similar behavior.  People were to be allowed to believe as they wish, not have their beliefs dictated to them.

Since virtually every child eventually learns the truth about Santa, but not every adult learns the truth about God, it is difficult to describe the parallels in reaction.  However, from what I have seen, the reactions have been just as varied with adults as with children.  There are some people who refuse to believe the information, even when confronted with it.  There are others who simply find the news inconsequential and move on with their lives.  And there are those who become bitter and feel betrayed by those they trusted who taught them that God was in fact real.

Now, I perceive that some people will challenge me and say that I cannot assert that there is no God since I cannot prove his non-existence.  That I cannot prove incontrovertibly that he doesn't exist, I do not refute.  However, I reject the premise that the burden of proof lies on me.  Rather, if you are to assert that God does exist, the burden of proof lies on you.  You must come up with evidence that, beyond reasonable doubt, proves that there is such a being.  If you have no such evidence and tell me that I must simply accept such a thing on faith, then I submit to you that your assertion should not be that God exists, but only that you believe that God exists, since that is what faith is.

I could pose to you the same argument concerning Santa Claus: you cannot assert that he doesn't exist because you have no proof that he doesn't.  You may say, well people have been to the North Pole and have seen no signs of Santa's workshop.  To which I would reply that Santa might have a magical enchantment cast over his workshop that makes it invisible to the human eye.  You might tell me that it would be physically impossible for Santa to visit the house of each child and climb down their chimney (even though most people don't even have chimneys anymore).  I believe I saw a document on this somewhere, written by some physics student no doubt, that said that Santa would literally burn to a crisp if he traveled fast enough to visit each Christian household all in one 48-hour period (he technically has two days, because of time zones).  To which I would reply that he might have some kind of magic to slow time down, so he really has years to deliver all the toys, even though to us it seems as though it only takes one night.  And the arguments go on and on.  So, to each of your attempts to prove Santa's non-existence, I could offer some "believer's rebuttal" and tell you that you just need to have more faith in Santa (otherwise you may not get any toys this year).  I find the argument against atheism equally unconvincing.

I also find the parallels of behavior control to be amusing.  Parents tell children that if they misbehave then Santa will not bring any toys for them.  Church leaders tell their congregations that if they misbehave they won't be able to make it into heaven (or, if you're Mormon, then you have multiple heavens, so you'll just not make it into the highest one).  Rewards are offered for those who do desired behaviors (if you are a "good boy" or "good girl" then you get toys, or if you pay your tithing, then God will bless you) and punishments are offered for those who do undesired behaviors (you get a lump of coal if you're "naughty", or you go to hell if you sin).

So, you may ask, do I have any morals at all?  I don't need to believe in God in order to believe in right and wrong.  I can believe in good and evil without believing in a supreme being who watches the actions of all people and will at some undetermined point in the future exact justice upon all based on those actions.  I believe that there is much truth to be found in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the words of church leaders worldwide of all kinds of religions, but also in secular books--science, math, psychology, literature, and even fiction (of course, I would lump scripture in with works of fiction).  I believe that it is good to love others, to treat them well, and be kind.  I believe it is good to serve others, to do random acts that will lift another person's spirits.  I believe that it is bad to kill, to steal, to lie, to cheat, to bully.  I believe that our system of government should reflect these morals--that each citizen has the right (and the obligation) to effect change in the government whenever corruption is found or justice is lacking.

From what I have experienced, there are more genuinely kind people among atheists than among religious people.  Yes, there are Christians who do good simply to do good, but there are also those who do good because they are enticed by the rewards their religion teaches them are available.  An atheist has no such motivation, since they are not superstitious.  They do good because they are intrinsically motivated by their conscience to do so.  Again, I'm speaking in generalities no absolutes.  There are cruel, vindictive and hateful atheists, just as there are Mother Theresa--saintlike religious people (of all religions).  But the point is that you don't have to believe in God to be good.  Everyone has a conscience (call it the light of Christ, if you like) to tell them right from wrong, whether they believe in a mysterious supernatural being or not.

If you choose to believe in God, that's fine.  As I said before, I feel no need to dispute your belief nor attempt to prove that God does not exist.  I have no motivation to recruit people to my philosophy, other than the built-in human instinct to want others to agree with me.  I present my beliefs for the world to see. I made a decision this year that has greatly benefited me.  I finally decided that I would no longer hide anything.  I will no longer hide the fact that I am attracted to men, as I have done my whole life.  I will no longer hide my feelings.  If it offends other people, I am truly sorry for the offense, but not for the authenticity exhibited by my expression of those emotions.