With the holiday season upon us, I want to discuss Jesus and Santa Claus. And The Great Pumpkin. Jesus is much more like The Great Pumpkin than he is like Santa Claus. The reason is that Santa Claus delivers.
Each Christmas, there is physical evidence of Santa Claus. The cookies and milk disappear. The man shows up in shopping centers—with elves and sometimes reindeer. And most of all: presents arrive in the black of night. But don’t get me wrong: children are skeptical. I remember a couple of things that bugged me. First there was the fact that the whole enterprise seemed too large to get done in one night. And then the presents that Santa’s elves built where often in the same packages they were in at the stores. And we did not have a fireplace. But my mother was an excellent Santa Claus apologist, so it was all good.
Compare this to The Great Pumpkin. Linus waits in that stupid pumpkin patch every year and nothing ever happens. But does this cause Linus to renounce His Pumpkinness for the sham he is? No! Instead he blames himself. There was something wrong with his pumpkin patch or he said the wrong thing that offended The Great Pumpkin. It just couldn’t be that The Great Pumpkin doesn’t exist!
One of the biggest religious developments over the past few millennium is the move from magic to gods, or more to the point: spells to prayer. The reason for this is that magic can be disproved. If you cast a spell meant to ensure a good harvest and the harvest is bad: the spell didn’t work. On the other hand, if you pray to a god for a good harvest and the harvest is bad: it’s not the god’s fault; it clearly didn’t find your request deserving. You will continue to pray hoping to get it right. But that holy man who keeps promising food? You can tell he cares: he’s casting the spell. The problem is that he just isn’t any good. (I will allow that from the spell caster’s perspective, it is exactly the same as the prayer: he’s just not saying the right words or some such.)
And that brings us to Jesus. People pray to him all the time for this or that. They even pray for a good harvest! When there is a good harvest it is clear that prayer works! When there is a bad harvest it is clear that prayer works but also that God works in mysterious ways. This works out really well for Jesus & Co. They get all the credit for good things, none of the blame for bad things, and either way the followers are more convinced than ever in the power of their belief.
Atheists often claim that believing in Jesus is very much like believing in Santa Claus. I think this is a great insult to children who believe in gold ol’ St. Nick. If the cookies started collecting ants and the presents didn’t arrive, how long would 5-year-olds continue to believe in him? In fact, most kids do finally figure out that Santa is just a game. There is too much dissonance in the story—too much that just doesn’t add up.
Surprisingly few theists do the same.
The same goes for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. These are myths who produce the goods! By the way, I think the Tooth Fairy rocks. I mean, a real tooth miner would come in at night and yank the teeth right out of your mouth. But the Tooth Fairy is like a recycler. Very cool!
Also: I found this Christian apologia for why believing in Jesus makes sense when belief in Santa does not, Why do you believe in Jesus but not Santa Claus? In a word, it is pathetic. Most of the arguments aren’t even true in the narrowest of terms. The author states, “The writings concerning Jesus exhibit a historical, cultural, religious, and political context…” This is also true of Santa Claus. Has the man never watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town? But what is most pathetic about the article is that its main argument is, “But Jesus is real and Santa Claus is not!” And that is an argument any 5-year-old could make the other way around. Just because you just know something is true is not evidence for its existence.