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Rob Landley

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Which religion is Santa Claus the god of? [Dec. 23rd, 2007|11:03 pm]
Rob Landley
[Current Location |Austin]
[mood |groggygroggy]

Something I wrote last year, but never posted...

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Personally, I consider Santa (and frosty, rudolph, the elves, scrooge, etc) to be a separate pantheon. Zeus had Mt. Olympus, Santa has the north pole. The sacrifices (milk and cookies) are pretty benign. The altar's a tree (gilded with tinsel and lights and colored balls). The vestments are red suits, white beards, and green elf costumes. The collection plate's a kettle. The confessional is at your local shopping mall where Santa Incarnate sits on his throne in front of a long line of supplicants. (The priesthood here is very very part time, but every parent gets in on the act so it works out.) And the hymns (jingle bells, frosty the snowman, rudolph the red nosed reindeer, I'm dreaming of a white christmas, let it snow, santa claus is coming to town, here comes santa claus, and many more) are quiet catchy and singable. There are even participatory rituals (caroling, candy canes, hang your stocking)...

Does Santa have godlike powers? He flies through the air with magic reindeer to visit millions of houses in a single night and distribute thousands of tons of presents. It's all based on a "naughty and nice" list that every spy agency on the planet, working together, couldn't compile.

And yes, Santa's an omniscient enforcer of morality. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good... Although he's more a positive reinforcement type rather than fire or brimstone, so he'll just give you coal in your stocking if you've been bad rather than condemning you to eternal fiery torment.

And when you're a kid there's plenty of evidence for Santa. You see Santa in the mall, in the thanksgiving parade, on television and in movies. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. The history goes back hundreds of years, and you even get real presents, under your tree, showing up on Christmas morning saying they come from Santa! The whole society, from major institutions to your own parents, conspires to perpetuate the Santa Mythos. Everywhere you turn, people tell you about Santa! And how good he is, and generous, and kind. Your classmates may doubt, but they have no _proof_ he doesn't exist, and if you don't believe will you still get the presents? The reindeer have names!

As with all religions, the message that's repeated, over and over, is "believe". Santa Claus _is_ Coming To Town. Long before the Polar Express's magic bell, you had to learn from Scrooge's experience and keep christmas in your heart. The little girl in Miracle on 34th street, "I believe, I believe, it's silly
but I believe" and bang she got her house, because true believers are rewarded.

Eventually, your parents come clean about the whole Santa thing. It's part of growing up. And it can be a valuable learning experience in critical thinking, parental fallability (if not outright deception), and the ease of self-deception. Learning that with enough external reinforcement, you can talk yourself into almost anything no matter how silly it sounds. And that people who have your best interests at heart can not only be wrong, will not only suppress their own doubts, but will knowingly _lie_ to you "for your own good"... That's a valuable life lesson, that is.

Each of us can firmly believe things that turn out to be wrong. This doesn't mean we were stupid, it means that when literally millions of people participate in a vast (if well-intentioned) conspiracy to maintain an edifice of belief based on deception, it is easy to be fooled. And it can be hard to make your own choices and have the courage of your convictions when you're so obviously swimming against the tide. Belief is not the same as truth. "Are you sure?" is not the same question as "Are you right?"

Does all this mean that Santa is a less valid pantheon than the "official" one? Why would it be? The same parents who taught you about Jesus (walking on water, turning water into wine, bringing Lazarus back from the dead, loaves and fishes, virgin birth) and the corresponding pantheon (father/son/holy ghost, angels, saints, etc) taught you about Santa. Generally at about the same age.

No, comparing their validity or relative merit is left as an exercise for the reader. Comparing Santa and Jesus side by side and asking "Ok, now, which one seems more plausible?" That's frowned on in our society. Especially with "faith based reasoning" holding high political office. (And admittedly, each one is said to be based on a historical figure...)
linkReply

Comments:
From: skirtman
2007-12-24 05:48 am (UTC)
We recently had a letter come across one of our faculty mailing lists with this story. The poster also provided a copy of the same text replacing "Santa" with "God" (and a couple of minor editorials to make it read properly).

It's enough to make me wish I could hack the msnbc site and do the same replacement.
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[User Picture]From: cathyr19355
2007-12-24 06:08 pm (UTC)
Though there's one difference between Santa and God.

The general consensus is that we *know* that Santa does not really exist. On the other hand, debates continue to rage till this day not only whether God exists, but whether it's even possible definitively to prove God's existence or nonexistence.

However, I do think that the exercise you propose would be highly educational, and somebody should publish some version of it.
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[User Picture]From: landley
2007-12-25 01:20 am (UTC)
> On the other hand, debates continue to rage till this day not only whether
> God exists, but whether it's even possible definitively to prove God's
> existence or nonexistence.

Er, which one? Zeus? Odin? Horus? Vishnu? Jehovah? Coyote? Quezcoatl? Buddha? Anansi? L. Ron Hubbard?

Modern science hasn't spotted any of them (it's even been a few years since anybody saw L. Ron), and "what your ancestors told you" differs based on who your ancestors were. Most of religions talk about physical interaction with their pantheon once being a common occurrence (as with Zeus fathering kids and Athena and Ares personally fighting in the trojan war according to the Illiad). Apparently these days, God is reduced to appearing in potato chips/mold splotches/cloud formations, and occasionally making statues drip.

When's the last time a scientific discovery came from studying ancient scrolls containing wisdom handed down from historical contact with someone omniscient? Why don't ancient obscure religious passages ever wind up telling us something concrete that we don't already know? They're usually chock full of assertions that wind up being provably wrong once the technology exists to check them, you'd think that occasionally you'd get a cleverly encoded periodic table of the elements or something, bits that unexpectedly match up with stuff we've learned since. (The closest I can think of that is "let there be light" possibly sounding like the big bang, if you squint.)

Going the "it's a metaphor" route doesn't explain why it would be less valid to worship Dr. Who. If it didn't actually happen and it's just a bunch of stories to teach morality, then we're in Aesop's fables and Brothers Grimm territory, and nobody ever asked you to give 10% of your income to those or erected a special building with full time staff in their honor.

Santa has bell-ringers and mall kiosks. He's may only be a seasonal god, but when the time comes he has shrines, priests, and collection plates. All the accoutrements.
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[User Picture]From: cathyr19355
2007-12-25 04:01 am (UTC)
Er, which one?

Any one. The name, form, attributes don't matter that much to the general proposition "Is there a Supreme Being?".

Modern science hasn't spotted any of them (it's even been a few years since anybody saw L. Ron), and "what your ancestors told you" differs based on who your ancestors were. [snip]

I quite agree, but that still doesn't prove that there is no god/s, just as the absence of evidence (until recently) didn't prove that there was no planet in this solar system beyond Pluto. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that I think God exists. I'm saying that there's still no good way of *proving* or disproving the proposition "God exists."

Santa has bell-ringers and mall kiosks. He's may only be a seasonal god, but when the time comes he has shrines, priests, and collection plates. All the accoutrements.

He sure does, and if this were the Discworld, that might be proof enough, since out there having believers is enough to guarantee your existence. As you've noted above, the same isn't true here on Roundworld.
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[User Picture]From: landley
2007-12-25 04:57 am (UTC)
> Any one. The name, form, attributes don't matter that much to the general
> proposition "Is there a Supreme Being?".

That's a separate question from saying "does specific religion X match reality".

If I get Nigerian spam telling me I've won a lottery, and I say "I doubt it", arguing about the existence of lotteries in general or even the existence of a specific lottery and it having a drawing on a given day and giving out an actual prize... Those are separate issues from whether or not what _this_ guy is telling me is true.

> I'm saying that there's still no good way of *proving* or disproving the
> proposition "God exists."

And I'm saying the question isn't relevant when examining any specific existing religion. You don't have to disprove the existence of God to show that the scientologists are full of it.
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[User Picture]From: cathyr19355
2007-12-25 05:10 am (UTC)
That's a separate question from saying "does specific religion X match reality".


Correct, but I wasn't talking about whether a religion matches reality. That subject raises too many side issues for me to handle within the confines of LJ's limits on comment length. I'll say this much, though; it's a mistake to assume *any* religion is consistent with objective physical reality, as opposed to personal, psychological reality.


> I'm saying that there's still no good way of *proving* or disproving the
> proposition "God exists."

And I'm saying the question isn't relevant when examining any specific existing religion. You don't have to disprove the existence of God to show that the scientologists are full of it.


I agree. However, I wasn't really interested in the question of whether any particular religion is full of it, because I expect people to pick religion on grounds that have nothing to do with logic, and I don't care whether they do that or not, so long as they don't attempt to force *me* to follow their religion. I was interested in the similarities between Santa and Jesus as god figures, and what the implications of that similarity are for religion.
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[User Picture]From: kb8zrc
2007-12-25 06:12 am (UTC)
Well, L. Ron Hubbard is still publishing....
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[User Picture]From: cathyr19355
2007-12-24 06:14 pm (UTC)
One answer to the question with which you began your post is that Santa is the God of Capitalism. Given how often His Image is used to plug products (go to any UA chain theater, for example, and you'll see him shilling for Coca-Cola), that answer is awfully tempting.

But I think that in this case the easy answer is the wrong one. I think that, as a practical matter, there's no real difference between Jesus and Santa considered in the context of Christmas, because as far as their places in the Christmas story goes they serve the same purpose--as "enforcers of morality." There's a post I've been meaning to write about the meaning of Christmas that explains what I mean by that a bit better. Hopefully, I'll get to write it tonight.

By the way, it's worth remembering that "part time" priesthoods are no less real. In ancient Roman societies the (male) head of household had specific, priestly functions that were only his to perform. Definitely a part-time role, but no less important for all of that.
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[User Picture]From: bunrab
2007-12-25 06:43 am (UTC)
And a merry secular christmas to you, too! Did you guys hang your stingray ornaments up to show your christmas spirit?
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[User Picture]From: landley
2007-12-25 09:07 am (UTC)
Um, Fade might know where those are.

We need to have kids so we have an excuse to put up a tree and everything. Cats don't quite cut it when it comes to actual christmas celebrations. (We gave each other our presents earlier in the month.)
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[User Picture]From: subnumine
2009-08-24 06:38 pm (UTC)
Cats will enjoy a tree; some of them even enjoy tinsel. Not, perhaps, in the Christmas spirit, but still...
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[User Picture]From: landley
2009-08-24 10:33 pm (UTC)
Barfing up Tinsel on Fade's laptop bag isn't really an improvement over conventional hairballs, festive or no.
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[User Picture]From: subnumine
2009-08-24 11:29 pm (UTC)
I think all my various cats would have thought of it as a cat-toy, not something to swallow; but you know your own household best.
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[User Picture]From: landley
2009-08-27 02:25 am (UTC)
Aubrey's favorite food is scotch tape. I have no idea why.

They also tend to chew and eat cat toys, given unsupervised time. A number of dangly string items have been lost this way.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-12-19 03:28 am (UTC)
Santa: Rewards good people by the labor of elves.
Jesus: Rewards wicked sinners by the sacrifice of His blood.
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[User Picture]From: landley
2010-12-19 08:54 am (UTC)
What really impresses me about this comment is how you're comparing Jesus and Santa's relative records on an equal footing.

You're not arguing that Jesus is superior because Santa doesn't _exist_, but that the elves travel around the world delivering presents themselves without any effort on Santa's part, while Jesus is merely a delivery boy for Jehovah's magic, or some such.

Apparently the whole "being made up" thing is is not a distinguishing factor between them. Let's throw some Klingons in here, shall we? And Darth Vader, since it's all the same...
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[User Picture]From: irishgirl1984
2017-12-24 04:06 pm (UTC)

Which Religion Is Santa Claus The God Of?



To me, Santa Claus isn’t a god. He is the bringer of good things—when we all believe that he is real. I don’t think you have to be really young to have childlike dreams. We should all live in the moment—not worrying about what the future may hold.
That’s what I try to do.
The things I wish for from Santa have changed from the past. My Christmas wishes aren’t necessarily for myself; I want others around me to be happy. I don’t need a lot to make me happy—like the newest things.
I simply want to make others happy by giving them what I don’t have—even by giving away hugs for presents.
Today, for instance, is simply a good day to celebrate with family—watching the snow fall, transforming the earth into a festive beacon to let Santa know that we’ve all been good throughout the year, and we can’t wait to see if our wishes have actually come true.
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