Against Santa Claus

Call me a curmudgeon for saying so, but Santa Claus does not exist. And I believe we do a disservice to our children by trying to convince them otherwise. First of all, we lie to our children, exposing the fragility of human trust and language use. But secondly, and at least as importantly, we instill poor intellectual habits. The attempt to believe in Santa requires us to ignore all evidence to the contrary and to improperly weight verbal testimony. The self-reports of parents, as in the case of police reports and eyewitness testimony in criminal cases, should not be left to stand without, or even contrary to, established facts.

Am I calling you a liar? It certainly seems so. But this is problematic for someone such as me, a Christian, and a rather orthodox one in some relevant and important respects. As my wife, a scientist and a skeptic, is fond of pointing out, there does not seem to be a significant difference between believing in miracles, such as the Resurrection, and believing in a jolly old elf who makes his way most wondrously around the world delivering toys to all the middle class girls and boys.

How to reconcile Christianity with the virtues of intellectual honesty and integrity is not easy to see. I do, in fact, believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. And yet, if you ask were to ask, I do not believe in miracles nor do I experience such things. A friend has a fondness for the story of when he wiped out on his motorcycle a year or so ago. According to him, he heard a small voice whisper to him to don his helmet just before taking that ride. I don’t ever ask if the small voice is meant to be understood metaphorically or not; I don’t want to make a liar out of him.

It is not unusual, I have found, for people to have their little miracle stories; and, generally, they are best left unchallenged. If experience is my guide, then such stories, at best, stretch the facts. How else can we explain widespread disease, war, hunger, and poverty. God does not intervene in history.

My 3-year old daughter knows I am a Christian and she knows that I believe in his resurrection. But one day she asked about the meaning of Easter. So I explained its significance, and she responded, “People don’t come back from the dead.” I could only respond that she was right and very insightful. People don’t come back from the dead. Regardless of my beliefs, the general rule still stands. And this is how I approach the miracles in Scripture. For whatever reason, I find myself inclined to accept the historicity, more or less, of the New Testament. But I do not accept that its miraculous stories are the rule. In some way, at that time, I imagine there was something like a rupture; the divine and the natural drew so close to one another that they became interpenetrated. Now, though, and in general, we live within nature. The natural rules. To pretend otherwise is to lie.

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