The God-Santa Comparison

One of the common attacks on Christians is that “God is just an adult version of Santa.”

This potshot makes people upset. I remember it getting me upset.

In retrospect, I think it’s upsetting because it hits too close to home. There is no practical difference between God and Santa. Sure, some people think one’s real and the other isn’t… but there’s no tangible difference. Both are invisible, both take personal requests, both watch you and know if you’re naughty or nice, and there is nothing but storytelling about either. No real presents, no real tangible things that aren’t done by some other person.

It just has to be different, though. One is so serious, the other so obviously silly. How could the whole world, with all its cathedrals and serious institutions, fall for God, while Santa is but a children’s tale?

The fact is that Santa exists to bring presents. We don’t really need a supernatural being to bring us presents or explain where presents come from, because we make and buy them ourselves. Only a child benefits from that story. However, all people will always benefit from a supernatural being who explains why the universe is here, and helps us with circumstances that are beyond our control. So there will always be, at least for the foreseeable future, a benefit to believing in a story about God.

Yet the Santa comparison remains embarrassingly, painfully germane. My mom never told me about Santa, because she was worried it would cause problems with what they were telling me about God. Should that not raise red flags? The fact that it even can cause problems is telling.

The below is pasted from a Ray Bradley writeup:

“It all began with Santa. In hindsight, I see that it was questions about him that primed the pump of critical inquiry for me. Up until the age of 6 or 7, I believed in Santa just as fervently as I believed in Jesus and the nativity stories, in Heaven as a place from which my grandfather–along with God–watched my every move, and in Hell as a place where the bad people go.

If anything, my belief in Santa was even more vivid, and more compelling, than these other beliefs. After all, I’d actually seen and talked to Santa every Christmas when we went to the Farmers Trading Company on Hobson Street. And sometimes I’d seen him, half an hour later, in Milne and Choyce on Queen Street.

But soon I started asking questions. How many Santas were there? If–as my parents explained–the Hobson Street Santa and the Queen Street Santa were only “pretend” Santas, where was the real Santa? Was there, in fact, a real Santa as well as the pretend ones? If so, where did he live? How did he manage to visit all of the children in the world on the very same night? How did he get down our chimney without getting covered with soot, or visit my bedroom without leaving visible footprints? It seemed to me that his ability to do all these extraordinary things made him something of a miracle-worker, a bit like Moses and Jesus.

More worrying were some ethical questions. Why did Santa discriminate so blatantly by giving rich kids things like bicycles when my stocking contained trinkets like lead soldiers, a bag of lollies, and a few pieces of fruit? Why did he reward some of the nasty kids that I knew more than he rewarded good little boys like me?

I was troubled even more when I discovered that some of the kids at school didn’t believe in Santa anymore. They said it was my parents who’d filled my stocking.

When finally confronted with the whole package of my perplexities, my parents confessed that Santa stories were just pleasant make-believe. But that, too, troubled me. They had lied, I insisted. So how could I trust the other stories that they told me? And how could I trust my own beliefs if in this instance they had proved to be false? How much of what I believed was myth? How much was based in reality? I resolved never again to believe just on the basis of someone else’s say-so. Many of my questions about Santa later found clear parallels in questions about religious matters.”

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2 Responses to “The God-Santa Comparison”

  1. I’m now even more unsure of how I’m going to handle The Santa Thing with my kids. Ray Bradley pointed out a pro and a con: learning to question what people say and losing trust in his parents. I’ve had this fantasy about letting them ask their questions and leading them on a deductive chase to arrive at the truth, but I have no idea how that will pan out.

    I also need to dissociate myself from “wabasso” once they are online so that they can’t Google my trickery.

  2. Just teach your kids to question things some other way. Don’t do the Santa thing. It becomes less and less plausible as fewer people have houses and more people pack themselves into condos anyway.

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