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Alan E.

In all movies involving Santa Claus, it's the a-Santa-ists that are seen as the bad guys. Many times, these people are pressured into a belief in Santa through many of the same arguments that religion uses, especially this one.


You're slightly misaiming your criticism here. Most of those making this argument are non-believers who generally consider it a non-issue whether religion is true. This does indeed point to another problem: religion is made into an instrument for controlling the masses, and something the elite can do without. Indeed these same people usually accept that atheists are those to whom it is no longer useful; which makes the whole argument one of status quo ("people should believe, except for the ones who don't").
(Theists don't make this argument, they do a slightly different one: The fact that religion is useful shows it is true. Which works fine up until someone gets some evidence.)
But nonetheless, it is true that just as Europeans started to leave religion many embraced the new dogmas of Communism and Nazism, which were just as much about putting ideas above lives, while embracing new technology and not anchored by tradition. Hopefully other areas of the world will not go through this phase.


I vividly remember the day my mother sat me down and told me that Santa Clause didn't exist. It may seem silly, but I think it completely changed the way I viewed my mother.

I was 10 years old when my mother finally told me he didn't exist. From what I gather from friends and family,this is a pretty late age to believe in Santa Clause. I had very very strong suspicions for years that he didn't exist, but why would my mother lie? My mother whom I thought was infallible and would always tell me the truth and show me what is right. Now she is telling me she had lied right to my face for many years. It was the first step in growing up and the first time I ever thought my parents may not be perfect. I was very upset, I cried, I was made fun of by my siblings and cousins for "not knowing". They were mistaking my tears for the loss of Santa, what I was actually upset about is the person I trusted the most making me look like a fool.

Lying to your children should never be viewed as a good thing and I don't intend on lying to my children about any fictitious characters.



It's funny. My family did the santa-thing when I grew up, as I now see my brother do with his kids (I have no kids of my own), but myself I have no memories whatsoever of believing in Santa, or of finding out it wasn't true.

Either I must have stopped believing extremely early, or, which is more likely, I didn't care and the whole thing must have made such little impression on me that I simply forgot it rather soon.

Besides, it was always pretty clear it was my aunt's good for nothing husband who was "Santa", we kids could see that from the way he always passed out drunk on the couch after passing out the presents, the beard slipping off :-)

Thinking more about it... It could be that differences in culture plays a role here?? As I understand it, in countries like the USA kids never really see Santa leaving the presents? He is said to come down the chimney during the night, and you leave cookies and milk for him, and such things?

In Sweden it is much more common that a member of the family (usually the father) or another relative, or close friend of the family dress out like Santa and comes into the home with a big sack to deliver the presents directly to the kids. The cheap Santa suits often used, bought at the closest supermarkets, are atrociously bad :-) and it's often pretty easy to guess for the kids who's behind the false beard, even if he tries to speak in an old man's voice, and things like that.

Maybe it simply makes it easier to figure it out earlier that way?


Another funny thing, which might be a bit about cultural differences as well, is that in Sweden Santa is really a mix of the classic Coca Cola Santa and an older Scandinavian folklore leprechaun-like being. Which means that if you ask enough adult Swedes if they believe in 'Tomten' (the Swedish word for Santa) you will find a few who will, in all seriousness, answer 'yes' to that question!


I see this same attitude sometimes in discussions about alt-med practices like Reiki, homeopathy or acupuncture (indeed alt-med and religious superstition meld in the form of faith-healing). People sometimes argue that it doesn't matter whether the treatment actually does anything. If the patient thinks it does and feels better (or at least thinks they feel better) then why pop their bubble?

I have to admit that for years I was one of those people who thought I don't believe or need religion but I'm glad it's there for the folks who do. I now realize what a condescending and dangerous attitude this is. Purveyors of snake-oil and god pushers both benefit from the millions-of-satisfied-customers ploy.


Belief in Santa IS a religion, one designed for children. Sort of faith-with-training-wheels, that prepares kids for the magical thinking they will be expected to practice as adults. Rewards for being "good" (good presents at Christmas are replaced by promises of eternal rewards in the afterlife) and punishments for being "naughty" (lumps coal in one's stocking are replaced by eternal damnation in Hell). When the children are deemed old enough, Christian parents are supposed to let their offspring in on the secret, and transition them to the mature version of the faith.

When my daughter Erica was nine, I used the opportunity to initiate a discussion about atheism instead. She was an amazingly smart kid, and had pretty much figured out the whole Santa thing on her own, but was happy to have her suspicions confirmed, and agreed not to spoil it for her younger sister Jessica. She understood that it was OK to maintain the magic for another year or two for Jessica, since it would only make her unhappy to reveal the truth to her before she was ready. Besides, it gave Jessica a reason to try to be good, at least later in the year.

Religions are kind of like that, I explained. Some people, in fact most people, like to believe in a grownup version of Santa, called God, for their whole lives, because it makes them feel better, and they think helps them to be better people.

There's nothing wrong with this by itself, I assured her, it's just that I don't believe in God myself, and I think you can be a good person without expecting to be rewarded, or being threatened with punishment. The problem comes when people use their beliefs to judge others, rather than just to give meaning and comfort in their own lives. That is why you must never tell someone that what they believe is wrong,even if you don't agree with it. And if anyone ever tells you that what you believe (or disbelieve) is wrong, or "sinful" or "evil", she should just ignore them, and make up her own mind.

So sharp she was--really an amazing kid. She got it. She understood, and took it all in stride. She had a naturally inquisitive mind, and often asked insightful questions about religions and atheism. If I ever could have believed in a loving God (and I don't think I could have--I've been an atheist since I was about that age myself), I would certainly have lost that capacity once and for all when Erica was killed in a car accident less than a year later.


The religion of "Santa-ism" has all the features of a "grownup" religion, so its adherents will be well prepared upon graduation.

Besides rewards and punishments, we have the deity, Santa Claus himself (who, with his long white beard, even resembles your standard, Charleton Heston image, though admittedly jollier); his saints or demigods with magical powers (the elves);and lesser, but still supernatural minions (reindeer). There are also ritual observations, (letters and visits, wherein the supplicant assures Santa he has been "good" and enumerates specific wishes for his reward) and sacrificial offerings (cookies and milk left by the tree, and carrots for the reindeer).

Santa also has the supernatural ability to travel the world in a single night, carrying the equivalent of an aircraft carrier battle group in tonnage,and distributing it to all his faithful followers almost simultaneously.

Santa has all the features of a deity except creation (his own origin myth is itself a bit sketchy): He is all-knowing ("He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake" I have to admit I found this aspect of the dogma pretty creepy, even as a kid), and his judgement is absolute and irrevocable. Only "nice" children are rewarded, and Santa knows which ones they are because, hey, he's Santa.

Every believer also knows that the one sure-fire way to be crossed off the Nice List--forever!--is to doubt his existence. Most kids know, or at least suspect, deep down, that the whole thing may be a fake, but they also know that if they dare to voice their doubts, there will be no more extra gifts under tree from Santa. So they keep up the pretense for as long as they can, to keep the XMas gravy train rolling. Sort of a Pascal's wager, Junior.

That is why you must never tell someone that what they believe is wrong,even if you don't agree with it.

Steerpike, I hope you're planning to explain later that it actually is okay to tell someone that their beliefs are wrong, provided that you do so in a civil way, and only at times when it's socially appropriate to get into arguments.


I thought about that wording after posting, and if I could, I would edit my comment to read " must never tell someone that they are wrong to believe as they do." I'm not sure which exact wording I used at the time (our conversation was about 4 years ago), but I think the distinction is important, and it was one she understood.

I remember another talk we had about the subject sometime later. She asked me if I would be mad if she decided to join a church someday. I reassured her that I would love her no matter what, and wouldn't mind if she decided to embrace religious faith, as long as she didn't try to make me join too.

"But always remember," I told her. "If you decide to go to your friend Theresa's Catholic church, for example, then you will have to believe that the things they teach Rebecca at her Mormon church are wrong. There are a lot of things that Catholics believe that are completely different than what Mormons believe; they might both be wrong, but they can't both be true. If you decide to join one or the other, then you would have to believe that what other people believed is wrong. By being an atheist, you don't have to believe that either of them are 'wrong'; you simply decide that you don't any reason to believe either one of them."

Michael Neville

Whenever someone uses the utility argument for religion to me, I tell them I reject its validity. Serial murderers feel good about killing people, so the whole "it makes people feel good" is a non sequitur. Eating liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti can make people feel good.


I have been told by an atheist friend that it is actually cruel to argue the existence of god with others, because messing with their sense of security is mean and I won't change their minds anyway. My friend's second point was that I have no more evidence for the non-existence of God then a religious person has for God's existence so I have no basis for being confrontational (never mind we never properly defined what "God" was...God to some religious people I know is so fuzzily defined it is totally useless). All and all an extremely maddening conversation.


Phil Zuckerman's work really should be read more widely, especially in the US.


I got in HUUUUGE trouble as a kid for taking it upon myself (I was around 10 or so, I think) to let my younger sister in on the fact that Santa was a big, fat, lie, and that I had SEEN all the stuff that wound up in our stockings in a (poorly hidden) box in the basement.

That didn't go over so well.

I wound up spreading "reindeer food" (read: oatmeal and glitter) over our front lawn on Christmas Eve for the next 5 years while my younger brother watched me from the front window, eyes rolling in his head with glee.

What a waste of perfectly good oatmeal! And glitter!

(Great post, btw.)

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