No, Virginia; God is not like Santa Claus
“I dunno,” says young Charlie to his dad Scott Calvin in Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause, when asked why he doesn’t believe in Santa anymore. “It seems kinda babyish to believe in all that stuff.” C’mon, Charlie. You’re only, like, six yourself kid.
The idea for the story you’re reading came from an early-November headline that caught my attention. (I tried to get this piece published by Christmas, but alas, time slipped away. I think we can still take a look though, eh?) The headline grabbed me because it oozed with the author’s incredulity, and the article itself, I think from the Hill, felt more op-ed than pure reporting. The piece was on President Trump’s “faith advisor” praying for “angelic reinforcement” toward Trump’s bid for reelection.
Now, I am no fan of the theological views or practices of Paula White, this so-called advisor. I am also dubious myself as to whether Trump was getting, or should be expected to get, angelic reinforcement. Those are my personal views. And likewise, the article’s author could have understandable reasons to be incredulous too. For example, she may think Trump is an enemy of God and is therefore not likely to get any reinforcement.
But I was unconvinced that this was the whole story. Instead, I suspected at least some measure of incredulity would also be present in a headline about a “faith advisor” to Biden — specifically, I had a hunch that the snarky skepticism was aimed more toward the idea of “angelic reinforcement” in general.
The question then arose: would the same glaring doubt have existed if this were, for instance, a news writer in the 1800s covering a story about a Christian on Lincoln’s campaign team, praying for God’s hand in his election? And conversely, is it now the case in our post-modern times that the default position has become one where a belief in God and in God’s ability to work in this world (through angels or otherwise) is “kinda babyish”?
If you’ve read my other writing, you know that my personal convictions are distinctly Christian — and are so for reasons well beyond my upbringing or environment. Thus, I am always prepared (as the apostle Peter instructs believers to be, in his first letter to the early church in Asia) to give an account to anybody who asks me to give a reason for the conviction and hope that is within me. In other words, if my research had not convinced me that the tenants of the Christian faith were intellectually fulfilling and historically accurate, I would never have arrived where I am.
My point is that Christianity is not intrinsically a dumb person’s game. (I qualified it as intrinscally because I know there are unintelligent, ignorant, uneducated persons in every worldview, Christianity included.)
Mind that fact while considering the two most likely outcomes for you these days if you say something that publicly makes it clear you believe in the God of the Bible, and do so in the presence of a non-believing audience.
First, if you’re well-liked by your audience, you’ll get a condescending pat on the head and words of gladness that you’ve “found something that works for you” — as if belief in God is like finding relief in a pair of pressure socks you ordered in Skymall.
But second, if your audience is either apathetic or antagonistic toward you, you might be in danger of losing your job; your tenure at a university; your chance at getting your research published; or, at the very least, any prior respect you had gained from your audience members.
This is well documented. In pop culture, try to think of an accurate, charitable representation of a Christian character in any tv show or movie that is not meant to be in the ‘faith’ genre. Seriously; if you can think of one, please comment below, and I’ll update this story. I can only think of those that characterize Christians as daft, arrogant, bigoted, or simply comedic relief. Flanders from the Simpsons. Angela from the Office. The warden in Shawshank. Kenneth from 30 Rock. One-quarter of the Christmases in Four Christmases.
Worse, anecdotal and research-based evidence abounds that religious bias exists against Christians, especially those labeled as evangelical, in academia, when it’s made known that their convictions include the truth of the Bible. And if tomorrow’s leaders are being taught less and less by practicing Christians, and peer-reviewed material is missing out on the writing and research of those same minds, then it stands to reason that the equivocation of Christianity with something like Santa belief is only going to grow.
Am I offended? I don’t know; I suppose honest assessment would say that I am a bit. But my own pride has no bearing on the standing of my bigger concern about this situation:
It’s just wildly inaccurate.
In the spirit of the Christmas season we’re winding down as I type this, let’s talk about Santa Claus. Santa is chronologically unbound, a jolly fellow who lives at the North Pole with elves, a wife, and, depending on your source material, perhaps heirs to the sleigh. In a period of less than 24 hours, he’s able to deliver presents at a speed of something like 800 houses per second, squeeze down impossibly small chimneys, and enter homes without any chimney at all. He has some kind of omniscience, certainly a bit of magic, and, oh, his reindeer fly.
He is fiction and impossibility incarnate, basically.
But more than that, the logical fallacy that’s never addressed in any movie is how non-believing parents explain away the presence of presents (hoho) in their homes that were not there the prior night, which they themselves did not place.
There is one reason this a comparison between Santa and God is so absurd, and it is the crux of this story:
No mentally competent adult believes in Santa Claus.
On the contrary, as I’ve illustrated, plenty of well-respected, intelligent, educated, and generally thoughtful adults throughout history have believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God who died on a Roman cross, only to be resurrected by God three days later
This is why the comparison of God-belief and Santa-belief is flat-out wrong, and works to reveal the ignorance of the presenter of such a comparison rather than to level any evidence against the existence of God.
The possibility that there is a creator of the universe in which we live (a banger of the big bang), a writer of the universal laws to which we all find ourselves beholden, and a historical source behind the person and the collection of books that have single-handedly changed the entire course of humanity since their arrival… these are all at least plausible, if we’re honest and consistent. And as someone who appreciates regularly exposing his worldview to healthy critique and criticism, I have not heard an argument raised against the existence of the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures that has not been met by an equally potent response, and more often, a solid answer. (Again, I encourage use of the comment section if you’d like to offer one that we can graciously mull over together.)
A final important point to make: there is much more defining Christian theology than just wishing or believing that God exists. It is the entire package — the self-consistency of the biblical narrative, from Genesis’ “In the beginning,” all the way through to Jesus’ declaration, “Yes, I am coming,” at the end of Revelation. The story of reality within the Christian worldview is a beautiful, organized, consistent, intricate, detailed, and deeply explanatory one.
Santa explains… nothing, except maybe how the cookies and milk are gone by morning. To believe in Santa is to believe despite a lack of evidence, and in the face of common sense.
And yet articles like this op-ed in the HuffPost continue trotting out this junk analogy. Linked above, an author starts with the presupposition that God belief is for the uneducated, those whose faith hinges on wishful thinking and emotional appeal rather than facts, then draws the line over to Santa-confidence. You could summarize the article this way: “Why ditch the jolly elf but hold on to the man upstairs? As a crutch! Ha!” And the irrationality train chugs on, unchallenged by supposed higher thinkers.
(As an aside, one thing these skeptics do get right: belief in God is a crutch. Christians should own, rather than resent, that characterization. It’s completely consistent with our worldview. After all, if you have something broken, isn’t a crutch often required? And we are broken. But where we fail, God succeeds. It is His success that we lean on.)
As per usual, there is at least some amount of hypocrisy in these accusations. Consider the ways in which those who disbelieve in God often hold fantastical views themselves:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“My life should mean so much more.”
There’s some pre-determined reason for occurrences in this world? Paths that we’re meant to follow, or designed our lives should live out? Some boomerang-like energy coursing around the airwaves of the universe?
On what grounds are such views held or statements made? There is rarely if ever any substantiation offered for holding ideas of sending positive thoughts, good vibes or energy that can heal, cycles of karma that reward and punish good/bad actions in the universe. I explore this topic in my most highly read Medium Story to-date:
“Sending You Positive Vibes”
When the world doesn’t want prayer, sending positive thoughts is the social-media-friendly alternative that seems to…
So, it seems, even while childlike wonder may be present in the life of a Christian believer, their knowledge of God and His revelation of Himself through the person of Jesus and the words of scripture is about as far from Santa belief as the North Pole is from the South.
Merry (belated) Christmas!