God vs Santa Claus

So, a few times I’ve been asked why arguing against the existence of God is so important to me as an atheist. Most recently, my sister Grace (who, by the way, is awesome, and is one of the very few to respond to my apostasy with genuine questions, rather than blind assertions), asked:

if God is just a magic man and/or type of Santa Claus… why all the fuss in arguing His non-existence? If He truly does not exist why are people so passionate about denying Him? What is the point on your end? people don’t write about denying Santa Claus, because they don’t believe he is real but even if some people do believe in Santa no one spend their time trying to convince them.

The response I gave, that I’m actually not passionate about denying God, and that the concept of God doesn’t bother me, is true, but also potentially misleading and may have been missing the point. As I also said in the response, there are things I’m passionate in arguing against, and while I may feel indifferent about the actual existence or non-existence of God, I feel very strongly about particular conceptions of God, or certain arguments that are built on the premise of His existence, and I think I can state my position a little more clearly as follows:

  • If you’re naughty, Santa Claus gives you coal in your stocking; he doesn’t torture and maim you for all eternity because you didn’t accept his only begotten elf as your personal savior (and after having created you in such a way that you would be “naughty”).
  • Santa Claus never told women that they must be submissive to and obey their husbands, respecting their authority.
  • Nobody uses Santa Claus as a pretext to determine who is allowed to fall in love, marry, and have a family, and who is not allowed.
  • Santa Claus doesn’t make anyone feel torrents of guilt just because they notice that a member of the opposite (or, same) sex is very, very attractive.
  • Santa Claus is used to manipulate you into buying things; God is used to manipulate you into supporting evil wars and evil leaders.
  • Belief in Santa Claus means you might remain ignorant about where your presents really come from; some beliefs about God mean that you remain vastly ignorant and deceived about where we come from… and where we are going—and are compelled to strive to keep everyone else just as ignorant.
  • There are a number of people for whom God does not fit any of the above at all. I have no quarrel with them. Some atheists claim that “liberal” religion is bad because it provides a sort of safe haven for fundamentalism, but I have yet to see a strong case for this. If all your God does is provide you with hope, and a motivation to do what is right as determined by your own conscience, and to love your fellow human, then good on ya. I could care less about convincing you He or She isn’t real. It’s when belief in God begins to convince you that what is evil is really good, or that some factually-supported knowledge must be untrue just because it contradicts what your God said that I become indignant. And yes, that’s the sort of God-belief I will be somewhat passionate about: because, unlike Santa Claus, it has a very real and direct impact on the world in which I live.

    7 thoughts on “God vs Santa Claus

    1. Jacob

      Hi Micah long time no see. I agree with most of what you have to say in your rant, though I would point out the fact that erasing god does not stop wars, manipulation, ignorance, lust, etc., it merely places the blame for these “sins” on the individual instead of the creator. Whic in me eyes we could use a little bit more of. Responsibility for ones own actions seems to be a dying trait.

    2. Micah Post author

      Hi Jacob, long time no see!

      Yeah, I agree that it would be far from stopping wars, manipulation, ignorance, etc. However, war-mongers would lose one of their favorite means of justifying war (not forgetting that it was used as justification for our actions in Iraq), and specific large and pervasive institutions of ignorance (anti-evolutionary movements, for instance) would disappear. Misogyny and homophobia would at least have one of their core foundations utterly shattered, and people would no longer have any reason to feel guilt over biological reactions.

      I never claimed that theistic faith is the only source of these things, or even that it necessarily has to be; but it’s clear that it frequently is. Again, I have nothing against belief in God; I have much against certain specific beliefs about God (and their societal consequences). The reason it matters more to me than belief in Santa Claus, is that I have yet to see a single ill consequence from that belief… apart from the emotional devastation and lack of parental trust that results from discovering the falsehood, which is enough reason for me at least to not try to toy with my own children that way (nor did my own parents).

      Society’s problem isn’t belief in God, and eradicating theistic belief is not an admirable goal. If someone were to successfully eliminate all God-belief tomorrow, some other superstition would immediately arise to take its place, and become the basis for various travesties. The problem, then, is in our willingness to accept superstitious, unverifiable beliefs as not only a replacement for, but actually superior to verifiable evidence, and not with any one such superstition that may happen to be a current favorite.

      The consequences of the actions we take should be commensurate with the firmness of our beliefs; the firmness of our beliefs should be commensurate with the quantity and reliability of the supporting evidence. I have no problem with belief in God that is honestly ready to shed itself in light of contradictory evidence, and I have little patience with atheists who lack that same readiness.

    3. Jacob

      Well I tend to float around with my beliefs without having grasped firmly any one structure of “faith.” Though being an avid fan of science fiction I do tend to believe in the manifest destiny of humanity which I find a lot of people find hard to grasp. The idea that humanity was meant expand and keep expanding into the galaxy much like Isaac Ascimov discusses, butt hen again I also really like Orson Scott Cards,(a latter day saint), idea that everything is connected in a web which he calls the philotic web or twine that binds all matter and all life together. Sort of a butterfly effect or chaos theory I guess.

      The problem with atheism to me is just like religion or faith, it solves none of the problems humans face. I think alot of people try to believe because in a world where there is two options and one leads to an afterife and the other doesnt they would rather try to believe in one that prolongs existence instead of flipping a coin.

    4. Micah Post author

      I think that’s a strange way to look at atheism. Atheism doesn’t solve problems because it isn’t a belief in something. It’s a lack of belief in something: a recognition that the given answers aren’t legitimate. Atheism doesn’t “solve” any of the problems humans face, because it’s not an attempt to solve those things. Atheism isn’t a philosophy or even really a world-view; you want those, you need to supplement with humanism or Buddhism or whatever. So your criticism on this basis seems to me a bit like criticizing an orange tree for not providing grapes for wine: it’s not meant to.

      As to the afterlife being a “coin toss”, I just can’t see it that way. There is as much evidence for an afterlife as there is for the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Santa Claus. I have taken the standpoint from classical reasoning, that when credible evidence for a positive assertion is absent, the appropriate (default) position should be the negative.

      I enjoy Orson Scott Card (and used to love to read Asimov, but I don’t really read much these days)… Ender’s Game was, to me, an amazingly terrific book, and he also wrote the script for my all-time favorite computer adventure game, The Dig, published by LucasArts and produced by Spielberg. But yeah, he’s LDS, and I have to admit my opinion of him plunged dramatically when he said some really ludicrous things about gay marriage (see especially the second-to-last paragraph).

    5. Jacob

      Well your points are valid I guess what I meant to say was more specifically that the argument for either side in my opinion is void of any real advancement because either way their are unanswered questions. Neither side can actually prove anything at all. In situations like these I tend to compromise between the two just like with politics I would be considered a moderate.

      As for the coin toss comment Im not saying that it is my belief or my opinion what Im saying is a lot of humans will choose to believe for the simple fact that the prize for not believing is uncomfortable. I think people tend to look at it this way instead of deciding what is logical they tend to look at the situation in terms of odds.

      As for OSC and his article which I have read before and was appalled for about 5 minutes, who cares. I mean seriously Im sure some of the stuff you write would offend him but in no way when he does his works does he give offense to homosexuals. In one of his books called Treason it is about a boy, Lanick Mueller, who is born a hermaphrodite. Not to say hermaphrodites are homosexuals or, obviously, vice versa but when he writes he is open and honest. In his personal world views, I say those are his and he can believe anything he wants. One of the greatest speakers of all time I think is Fidel Castro, reading his speeches gives me chills. Do I agree with all he has done, absolutely not, but I respect him for the things he is good at.

      By the way I like your blog Micah I find it interesting.

    6. Micah Post author

      Hi Jacob, and thanks for an interesting discussion.

      I guess what I meant to say was more specifically that the argument for either side in my opinion is void of any real advancement because either way their are unanswered questions.

      Well, and in fact there can be no argument “for” Atheism at all, precisely because the existence of God is not falsifiable: no one could ever prove that there is no God (though certain specific concepts of God can in fact be disproved).

      Neither side can actually prove anything at all.

      Right. That’s kind of the point of atheism, as far as I can see. You can call it agnosticism if you prefer (technically, I consider myself an “agnostic atheist”, most atheists I’ve met would probably agree to that description of themselves as well); but I don’t tend to call myself a “tooth-fairy agnostic”, so I don’t see why God should be any different.

      As for the coin toss comment Im not saying that it is my belief or my opinion what Im saying is a lot of humans will choose to believe for the simple fact that the prize for not believing is uncomfortable.

      Well, right. And I can’t fault that. As I’ve said, I don’t have a problem with theism. Quakerism, for instance.

      By the way I like your blog Micah I find it interesting.

      Well, thanks! 🙂

    7. Jacob

      I was reading Yukon Ho last night and in it Calvin says to hobbes that he has decided that he is going to believe in santa claus because he wants presents so even if there is no santa claus he would rather believe then take the chance of losing out on the presents. Classic example of my point.

      But then I always think to myself what about those people on the fence I mean if they truly do not BELIEVE in a literal sense but force themselves to believe I would say that is worse then choosing a logical system that works for you and sticking to it. How many fence riders are out there I can only guess but I bet its a lot more then people think.

      Agnostic would be a better definition for myself I think but then again I could be wrong. I do not necesarily believe in the GOD as defined by our earthly religions but I believe in a connection of power a sort of universal need to live and create and destroy and an overwhelming need to belong to a working and living system. Probably closer to a native american belief system then that of my parents.

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