Monday, 19 July 2010

Santa, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit

In a recent blog post Leah at Unequally Yoked asks Christians whether or not they would raise their children to believe in Santa. Does lying about Santa make children wonder whether they're folks lie about God? Or does belief in Santa differ from belief in God? Below is what I posted. I might expand later.

Believing for a time in Santa actually improved my intellectual faith. I thought that Santa gave toys not to children who behaved but to children who believed in him. My folks warned me that some other people did not believe in Santa, and they would try to convince me to disbelieve, too. I wasn't to listen to them; they did not believe, so of course they would see no evidence, because he didn't bring them presents any more. I was to examine the evidence I received. Eventually I realized Santa was a physical impossibility. For a while I believed in him anyway, but some time in the middle of elementary school the evidence in favour of "my parents are Santa" outweighed "Santa physically exists". Since my Dad was usually the school Santa, and was sometimes identified as Santa by small children, I might easily have believed that my Dad literally was Santa... but the evidence pointed to my Mom, really, so that didn't jive. Instead, I believed that "the spirit of Santa", derived perhaps from St. Nicholas but perhaps instead for a concentration of jovial kindness, inhabited generous people like my parents and made them give gifts. Some point later I believed that Santa was a social reality if not a physical one (not that I'd have articulated it in that way, but the idea was there), and later I disbelieved entirely.

Losing Santa was a process, not an event; my belief in fairies, leprechauns (how I wanted to see one of those!), the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Travel Fairy, pre-Ark dragons and unicorns, and assorted other things went as part of a general questioning of beliefs. (I had an ontological house-cleaning, if you will.) My Christianity transformed many times over since then (from materialism to dualism to other things), but the lessons I learned from my Santa apologetics stuck: there are multiple ways to believe, I had learned in my child-brain, and so I never lost Jesus altogether. (And, anyway, the closest I ever came was to falling from the church was over moral questions concerning salvation, not over metaphysical/epistemological concerns of possibility.)

For me, as a child, the physical Santa helped me understand Jesus; the ethereal Santa helped me understand the Holy Spirit. That process helped me hone apologetics, and I learned early on that other people's beliefs ought not to interfere with mine. For me, Santa, whether or not he exists, was and always will be a servant of Christ.


yolanda said...

i never believed in santa. in fact, i've been a staunch anti-santa advocate from an early age, and remain so today.
would elaborate but i'm jet-lagged and have not much original to say on this topic.

Christian H said...

What are your concerns, Yolanda? I have heard anti-Santa arguements vaguely expressed before, but I imagine your explanation would be more lucid than any I have encountered.

I think my concern with Santa as a parent would be that my children (if I had/have any) would not benefit from Santa in the same way I did. There is a lot of fun in the Santa mystery, to be sure, and Santa did help me quite a bit in developing thinking skills. Further, I like the Santa story as a story for a number of reasons, mainly allegorical ones. That all being said, it is a genuine concern that encouraging literal belief in a mythical person undermines trust, challenges religious orthodoxy, and espouses greed and consumerism in those children more interested in what Santa does for them than in who Santa is. It depends on how the child reacts to Santa, and this isn't something that you can know ahead of time. If you fear that the risk is not worth the cost, then I suppose it makes sense to avoid the jolly red-coated man.

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