Santa Claus: A Web of White Lies

Although with respect to religion I've gone from devout believer to devout skeptic, I've always opposed encouraging children to believe in Santa Claus. It has always struck me as very strange that parents spend so much money on gifts for their children and then lie to them by saying that a magical elf snuck into their house in the middle of the night to drop them off, thus giving him all the credit for their work. I don't like the idea of lying to children in general, but this seems like a rather odd lie. I understand that some parents truly enjoy playing along with the idea of Santa Claus and sometimes use him as an unassailable authority when kids whine for a toy late in the year, but it seems that children would enjoy the holiday just as much if they knew their parents were responsible for all their gifts; older children and adults certainly like receiving presents despite knowing where they came from. As a Christian, I wanted to avoid lying as much as possible and I was concerned that children who learned that Santa Claus is imaginary would then start to think that God is imaginary as well. As an atheist, I also feel uneasy about lying unless truly necessary, though I certainly don't lament any nascent skepticism created in children about what their parents tell them about invisible beings. Still it strikes me as a bad idea to build and maintain this web of white lies for children.

Despite what some readers may suppose, I myself didn't have a negative experience with belief in Santa Claus. As is common, I believed in him as a young child and stopped believing in him sometime in elementary school. I don't remember being at all upset when I learned the truth. I didn't feel disappointed, deceived or disillusioned. I've heard stories, however, about children who do experience some amount of grief and who do sincerely struggle to accept the truth for some time. No, it's not a tragedy, but it is completely avoidable simply by not perpetuating absurd stories about an ageless magical elf who lives where there is no land, who can make deer fly, and who can deliver free toys to hundreds of millions of households in a single night though still unable to give nice presents to poor children.

I don't want anyone to get the impression, however, that I have some sort of weird vendetta against Santa Claus. It's not something I spend much time thinking about and it hardly even qualifies as a minor issue. Since I don't intend to have children, the question of what to say will probably never arise, but I decided long ago that I wouldn't lie to any children that I might end up raising one day. I certainly don't interfere with anyone else's parenting choices by telling children the truth about Santa Claus. When children talk to me about him, I listen attentively, but I don't ever say anything to suggest that he's real or that I myself believe in him. It's actually completely identical to my personal policy regarding children when they talk to me about God.



Bah Humbug!

I don't really like Christmas, but my reasons are mostly unrelated to religion or consumerism. Maybe I'm just a scrooge, but I dislike how Christmas dominates the month of December such that one can hardly think of the month without thinking of the holiday. I'm just tired of Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas sweaters, Christmas cookies, Christmas candy, Christmas drinks, Christmas songs, Christmas poems, Christmas TV specials, Christmas movies, Christmas parties, Christmas travel and the incessant chatter about Christmas. I don't inherently dislike any of those things; it's just that it's too much for too long. We have other holidays, of course, but Christmas is unquestionably the holiday of the year. I would prefer to have several smaller holidays throughout the year during each of the four seasons rather than focusing so much energy on one particular winter day. One of the primary reasons that New Year's Day is one of my favorite holidays is that it's the unofficial end of the Christmas season and that our lives can return to normal after a little more relaxation. I'm already looking forward to it.



Religious Justification for Bigotry

I've only recently begun to fully realize the oddity of the obsession that certain religions have with homosexuality. Since I was raised as an observant Catholic and grew up in a relatively traditional society, I used to unreflectively consider homosexuality abnormal and homosexual acts morally wrong. As a heterosexual, I didn't really give the topic much thought during my religious years, but I assented to the teaching that to engage in homosexual behavior was gravely sinful and I opposed efforts to grant all persons the legal right to marry whomever they choose. To be fair, I in fact believed that every sexual act except that within a sacramental marriage and without contraception was gravely immoral, so homosexuality wasn't particularly singled out and was never an issue of much personal concern, but I still certainly thought it was immoral. All of that changed when I rejected the authority of religious leaders to dictate to me what was and wasn't acceptable. This change of opinion regarding homosexuality upon deconversion seems to be almost universal; I can't recall ever encountering any unbeliever who objected to homosexuality or to granting everyone the same legal rights with regard to marriage. And it's not that secular arguments against homosexuality are fallacious; I haven't even ever seen one. The only objections to homosexuality are religious and authoritarian and they exemplify the problems caused directly by religion.

It seems that the primary reason that many believers still consider homosexuality so morally abhorrent is that they personally find it disgusting, unlike other sins that also once received strong public disapproval. Fornication, i.e., sex between two unmarried persons, is equally condemned in the scriptures, has traditionally been regarded as taboo, and is still considered gravely sinful by the Catholic Church and certain other Christian sects, but there are no political efforts to prevent unmarried heterosexual couples from living together or to deny them certain legal benefits, at least after a certain number of years. What was once forbidden has become perfectly normal. Today it's not at all uncommon for even church-going Christians to live with their boyfriends or girlfriends while dating. Society has shed some of its former moral restrictions and most people today seem happy with the change as it grants them more personal freedom to indulge their natural sexual desires. The change happened quietly without becoming a political issue. Unlike with the situation with homosexuality, the majority of the population is composed of heterosexuals who by definition find straight sex appealing, so there was no issue of disgust or otherness to impede this repeal of the former moral code.

Where exactly does this feeling of disgust originate? It seems to me that the initial negative feelings were the result of simple xenophobia, i.e., antipathy toward anyone who is different from oneself or one's group, and that these feelings have been sustained by culture, especially by religious dogma. For my own part, I can't remember what I thought the first time I saw a homosexual couple together, but I definitely can't remember a time when I was aware of homosexuality when I wasn't also aware that it was considered strange and objectionable by most people. I know that I learned it from others, some of whom must have given an explicitly religious justification for their intolerance toward people who are different from themselves, for there are no other reasons to object to what sex of person mature adults choose to associate with. Since the time I cast off the heavy chains of religious devotion, however, my reason and my compassion for fellow humans have overridden any prior feelings of uneasiness about homosexuality. It seems high time that American society as a whole discard its religious obsessions, overcome any involuntary distaste it still experiences, and fully acknowledge the rights of all people. We do seem to be moving in that direction, but as is often the case, it's primarily religion that's hindering social progress. Whether religion actually creates bigotry or simply provides hypocritical justification for it, irrational belief is the enemy of human advancement.