‘Tis the season, and I’ve noticed a definite spike in views of an old post, one of my first, that I wrote way back in April (oh, so long ago!). When I wrote the piece, and posted it, I guess not too many people were paying attention. The first day I had a whopping 18 views, then it dropped into single digits (usually 1) until July when it spiked up to 16, dropping back for a couple of months into the single digits again, occasionally bumping up beyond ten, until a few days ago. On Tuesday, it went to 35, then on Wednesday 213 people viewed the post. Thursday that went to 227, Friday 248, Saturday 262 and so far today 158. Talk about a Christmas spike! Check it out. —->>>
So, as I said, ’tis the season.
This got me thinking, again, about the subject of our favorite seasonal fantasy. You’ll have to excuse me for rambling on here, but I was listening to Santa’s Beard by The Beach Boys on a CD in my car, which contains the lyrics
I took my brother to the department store
He wanted to show Santa his Christmas list
He stood in line and he shook like a leaf
He’s only five and a half goin’ on six
If you know the song, the little kid gets on Santa’s lap, and then
He yanked the beard right on off of his chin
And in his eyes I could see he was hurt
But the inimitable chorus of Beach Boy harmonies reassures the listener that it’s really not Santa, just some other guy and
He’s just helpin’ Santa Claus
So, presumably, the little boy is mollified, though the song ends without that certainty.
What struck me at the moment was that, despite the momentary confusion and uncertainty that this child had to experience, for the most part, children find Santa to be a relatively enthralling concept. We can all think back to when we believed in Santa (or Father Christmas) and bask in the glow of the “reality” of someone who knew you personally, and loved you enough to bring you whatever you asked for, as long as you were a good little boy or girl. Here is the best of all possible worlds, embodied in one fat man in a red suit. He knows, or at least easily finds out, exactly what your most coveted desires are, and he brings them to you just because you are you. No other reason. He accomplishes it in a magical way, with the help of elves, flying reindeer, and a supernatural ability to not only climb down your chimney, but to climb down all chimneys in one night! And for the sole purpose of fulfilling your every desire. Who wouldn’t or shouldn’t be enthralled?
Those desires were for the things your parents seemed to resist the other 364 days of the year. But Santa, he knew your desires were worthwhile, that the mere fact that you wanted those GI Joes and Barbies, those Wii’s and iPods, was reason enough to make sure you got them. No justification was needed, just desire. How much better can it get? Was there any other time in your life when you could get away with that? The rest of the year, you had to convince your parents that whatever it was you were pleading for was good for you. Even when you eventually grew up you had to justify, if only to yourself, every acquisition.
The point I’m getting at is that the idea of Santa, even though we know it is pure fabrication, is benign when viewed in the limited setting it’s placed – childhood. Childhood, that short period of time where everything is possible, where logic and reason don’t need to exist, where fantasy is welcome, even if fleeting. We grow out of it, we learn the truth eventually, we grow up. No harm, no foul, despite the fact that the entire human population over the age of 10 is engaged in a massive conspiracy to dupe us into believing something that is not true.
At times, it’s better than benign, it’s actually good. It does help teach children that good deeds may be rewarded (even if the commercial aspect becomes a bit crass). And it provides opportunities for parents to teach virtues like altruism, selflessness, and charity.
Can the same be said for the adult version of Santa Claus – god? With Santa, this deception can only be sustained until we’ve reached the age of reason. Once our minds have developed to the point where we analyze and dissect everything we sense, in an effort to categorize reality, the idea of Santa then stops making sense. But with god, that supernatural provider of all things we desire, somehow the age of reason is not a line of demarcation between fantasy and reality. Why is this? Frankly, I wish I knew. Actually, I do know, but I wish the rest of the religious world would figure it out.
At an early age, we are indoctrinated with the concepts of Santa and god, yet within a short time, Santa disappears from our sense of reality, while god lingers on, and in many cases strengthens, often until we die. As I mentioned in that earlier post, the evidence for Santa is far stronger than the evidence for god, yet we eventually reject Santa, while continuing on with god. Why?
I think it’s just a form of wishful thinking. With Santa and god, we wish we could have everything we desire, and voilá, we do. With god, our wishes are more adult like. We wish for such realistic things as good health, a good life, a continuation of self after death, and we find that belief in god actually holds out hope that someone greater than us can provide it. Super Santa, with out the red suit. With no evidence to support it, however, it becomes less viable than our belief in Santa Claus. At least with Santa, we actually got a lot of things we wanted. With god, if we really believe we receive something from him, it’s because we talk ourselves into believing it. We don’t have the excuse we had as children for such self-delusion – naivety – prior to attaining the ability to reason and logic.
Is our health good? Thank god! Not our doctors, our good nutritional sense, our exercise program, our genes, or just plain dumb luck at having been born in a first world country. Do we have a decent level of income to help provide a comfortable life? Thank god! Not our own hard work and education. Is mom’s back still in good shape? Thank god! (Or perhaps our ability to avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks.) Will we live on after death in heaven? Thank god!
Wait. That last one we’ll just have to wait and see about, now, won’t we?
I wanted my children to enjoy The Santa Delusion (Richard Dawkins next book?) while they were young. I wanted them to then learn the truth, and realize that we are not given anything in this life. We have to work for it. It’s really a great lesson, a wonderful way to teach children about life, but it only is effective if you create the illusion, then pull out the rug from underneath it, and show reality for what it is. Reality is much clearer, more easily understood, when compared to a fantasy once thought to be real.
This is a lesson that seems to be forgotten when applied to religion. This is the lesson I learned when I realized I was an atheist. God belief keeps us in a perpetual state of delusion and selfishness, where everything we do is for the precise purpose of obtaining the favor of a non-existent entity, so that in the end, we (hopefully) get what our hearts desire. We don’t treat our fellow man as we want to be treated for the pure sake of doing so, but because we want to chalk up brownie points that we can cash in at the end of our lives. If we don’t pull the rug out from underneath this delusion, will we ever learn the lesson?
No. We’ll simply remain in perpetual childhood.