Friday, January 06, 2006

Santa Claus, Atheist Myth

There is a myth that certain people believe. It is a myth about a person, who watches them constantly, preparing judgment for their actions. Those who behave properly are richly rewarded on the last day of an age. Those who behave poorly get nothing but hot coals. This person is described in glowing terms as being just, highly powerful, definitely worthy of admiration.

However, as people advance and mature, they lose the ability and the need for such childish myths. They discover that the myth is not, in fact, true. It hurts for a time, but in the end, mature individuals have no need for it. They move on to bigger and better things.

I am referring, of course, to Santa Claus.

I'd be willing to bet that every religious group has celebrations and symbolisms that are designed to transmit their values to children. The Jews, for example, have Passover, so that "when your children ask" why they do all these things, they can tell the story of the first Passover. Christians have the Christmas pageant as a way of focusing their children on the Christian alternative to the materialistic celebration that happens at the same time. I am here to talk about Santa Claus, a tradition that suggests that western culture doesn't merely permit atheism, it has a strong strand of atheism woven deeply within it.

Here's how it works. A child starts out with the myth of Santa Claus. His parents go to great lengths to ensure that the myth is believed for as long as possible. They go so far as to co-opt his older brothers and sisters in this deception, getting them to "go along with it" even though they no longer believe. However, as a child gets older, he gets smarter, craftier. He discovers "Santa's" presents in the closet. His friends at school, having decided on unbelief, make fun of him for continuing his belief. He reads. He might even attempt to test the belief, by sneaking out when Santa is supposed to arrive... only to discover his parents putting out Christmas presents. A really crafty pair of parents might go so far as to do the "Santa" act in a costume, but as children age, such deceptions no longer work.

And so, the child reaches an age where he no longer believes in Santa. And, he ages. Absent a positive affirmation from his parents of the existence of God, he begins to connect the two belief systems--believing in Santa, and believing in God. He realizes that there are adults who believe in God, and adults who do not believe. Even if his parents do believe, he may believe that God is like Santa--a myth to keep him in line, that mature individuals do not believe in, and that honest individuals do not perpetuate. He learns that there are priests and pastors who come out proclaiming their unbelief, that they have had their doubts for years--and remembers his brothers and sisters participating in the game.

Thus, he comes to the opinion of atheism, or at least gains a significant dose of doubt. Santa Claus is where we learn how the game is played, so we can spot it when others try to hoodwink us in similar ways. Thus, Santa Claus is the Atheist Myth--that ritual and story by which atheist beliefs and values are passed along to their children.

If I have any readers, I do hope this will inflame some controversy. :)

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