When Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like appeared on a radio show, a caller talked about her problem with Santa:
One caller said something I have heard often from Christians when it comes to the man in red. She said, “We’re not telling our kids about Santa, because when they find out he’s not real, they won’t believe that God is real when we tell them about him.”
I gotta say, there’s some truth to that. They’re both fictional characters, so if you say one’s not real, why should anyone believe the other one is real?
Jon doesn’t see Santa as a problem, though:
Kids are imaginative, that’s what they do. If I play along with their American Girl Dolls or take my oldest daughter to a Narnia film and she really believes it, I’m not afraid that I’ve effectively prevented her from believing in God. We’d never say, “I’m not taking my son to see Lord of the Rings, because if he ever finds out Gandalf is not real, he won’t believe in God.”…
No one says that. And we’re also not seeing the damage of a generation who grew up believing Santa was real only to learn he’s not. By that I mean there aren’t any books for adults designed to help you get over your Santa problems… There’s not an industry to support the thousands and thousands of 30 year olds struggling with Santa Claus, because there are not thousands and thousands out there who do.
Of course there’s no need for those things. That’s because we expect children to wean themselves off of the Santa myth at a young age — If parents don’t do it, other kids will. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Santa Claus is a culturally-acceptable lie.
However, when people don’t tell you that your belief in god is equally false, you might go on believing it through adulthood. Millions of people are victims of that. We atheists are in the position of trying to remedy that problem.
Back to that lady calling in to the radio show. I think she makes a good point — there’s really no difference between Santa and God. Unfortunately for her kids, she doesn’t want to introduce them to Santa out of fear they’ll equate the two.
I can’t wait to talk about Santa when I have kids.
As Dale McGowan wrote in Parenting Beyond Belief, Santa is just a “dry run” for God.
His essay on the subject is a must-read for any current or future atheist parent:
It’s hard to even consider the possibility that Santa isn’t real. Everyone seems to believe he is. As a kid, I heard his name in songs and stories and saw him in movies with very high production values. My mom and dad seemed to believe, batted down my doubts, told me he wanted me to be good and that he always knew if I wasn’t. And what wonderful gifts I received! Except when they were crappy, which I always figured was my fault somehow. All in all, despite the multiple incredible improbabilities involved in believing he was real, I believed — until the day I decided I cared enough about the truth to ask serious questions, at which point the whole façade fell to pieces. Fortunately the good things I had credited him with kept coming, but now I knew they came from the people around me, whom I could now properly thank.
Now go back and read that paragraph again, changing the ninth word from Santa to God.
Santa Claus, my secular friends, is the greatest gift a rational worldview ever had. Our culture has constructed a silly and temporary myth parallel to its silly and permanent one…
Even if Santa and God aren’t used interchangeably by Christians, it’s easy for atheists to point out the similarities. When those kids get older, our logic is much more coherent than anything their pastors might say — and likely to have a larger effect on them.
If you still choose to believe in god when you’re older, you have to rationalize like crazy to find a difference between the two.