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Undying (and Unrequited) Love for Santa Claus

My dad has more love for Santa Claus than he does for me.

Let me explain: my parents are both fundamentalist Christians.  Before I get ahead of myself, I should clarify what the term “fundamentalist” means for those who may not be that familiar with religion.  Of course, you probably recognize the term as characterizing a belief in God that is devout, strict, and revolves around a literal interpretation of the Bible.  But the definition extends beyond that to become relevant to this particular argument.  Being a fundamentalist Christian (at least in my house) means that God is not merely a part of your life but the absolute and unquestionable core around which your life must be centered.  Fundamentalist Christians are told that they must put God above work, friends, recreation, themselves, and family—no exceptions.  My dad takes this very seriously.

Now, if you haven’t already noticed the name of the author of this post, take a quick look now. Yes, as if my parents couldn’t take this seriously enough, they gave me a name that blatantly demonstrated their full intentions of facilitating my own embrace of the Lord Jesus Christ (amen).  Unfortunately for them, they failed.  I gradually became an atheist towards the end of high school, and by college I had abandoned any of my Christian beliefs.  Though my religious deterioration started with the commonplace teenage objections to the social and moral implications of my parents’ faith, my complete acceptance of atheism came when I realized that the only tool through which we as humanity have a snowball’s chance in Hell in answering the almighty question—is there a god?—is science.

After recognizing that the issue with the notion that a creator (let alone one that fits the Christian mythos) exists is simply that we don’t have sufficient and robust evidence to support it, the cultural, social, and moral perspectives lost their relevance to me.  That is, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter if we think God is saving his wrath for homosexuals, or if he’s actually quite pleased with Planned Parenthood.  Without any evidence, the hypothesis of a socially accepting god is no more “correct” than one that proposes a bigoted god.  And thus when you strip away the arguments that simply don’t matter—cultural context and social morality—then the difference between God and Santa Claus is nil.  So it follows that love and awe for an entity that, as far as humans can empirically deduce, does not exist is indefensible no matter what we label the entity.  Chew on this a little.  The next time you hear someone profess love for a god, try mentally substituting Santa (or the Easter Bunny, or Cupid—it doesn’t really matter) for whatever deity is named.  You’ll soon realize how disturbing it is.

But why is this even important?  Can I really justify being disturbed by this observation?  From my own experience, I can tell you that there are consequences to loving an abstract idea over the real human beings around you.  To be fair, I don’t have permanent and debilitating daddy issues, and I don’t pretend that is the case.  I love my dad—he’s the most sacrificial person I know, and he has demonstrated his vast breadth of love for me over and over again.

And yet… I cannot deny that there is a sting that comes with his faith and love for God.  Consider what it would mean to you if your father, or someone else whom you love and care about dearly, found great virtue in the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which a father seeks to prove his love to God by sacrificing his son.  Or for those who may have struggled with mental illness, imagine a father that, despite his best intentions, continually undermines your efforts to improve yourself by reprimanding you for not embracing faith enough.  On top of that, my father’s belief is so strong that it is the reason I cannot possibly bring myself to tell him about my atheism, because I know that what he will hear is that his only son is going to burn in Hell for an eternity.  Under these circumstances, it is difficult not to feel a continuous, tense pressure any time I am around him.  That pressure escalates when we enter into conversation, as I cannot help but listen nervously for the mention of the sour subject of faith.

In the context of the entire human experience, these grievances could seem minimal.  But the sting is felt in the dynamic they collectively create, one that is marked by lingering disconnection, misunderstanding, and even anxiety. Such damage cannot be humbly justified on the grounds of faith, because there’s no consolation for the faithless in that defense.  This is precisely what has happened between me, the closet atheist, and my dad, the proud Christian.  As I get older, I pick up on qualities of my father as a parent that I believe are worthy of emulation for myself in the future.  But I cannot imagine having a child for whom my love is secondary to a love for a nonexistent being, no matter what I call the latter. I believe I could do better than that for my child, and that’s exactly what I want to do.

I hope you can understand now why I chose to use jolly old Saint Nick to demonstrate the absurdity in my father’s priorities.  The difference between Santa Claus and God is truly negligible where it really matters, and love for either is misguided and even destructive.  Before I close, I’m going to ask that you briefly picture several of the people you love the most.  Right now, you can call to mind faces, body shapes, fashion styles, voices, memories, and more that remind you of how very real these people are.  You connect with them on such a deep and incredibly certain and substantial level that it would be a heartbreaking disservice to label them as less important than an idea with which no such tangible connection is possible.  If I am wrong, and this is just an idea steeped in the most heretical blasphemy, then I might expect to see a crucifix next to the lump of coal in my stocking this year as a grave warning of the poisons of my infidelity. …Oh, for the love of humanity—I’ll take my chances.

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Hi, I'm an atheist named Christian. I'm a science-loving college student at the University of Rochester, currently focusing on Neuroscience. When I'm not engaged in academics, I'm almost certainly being lazy and watching shows/movies on my laptop or reading (on a good day). I have an undying admiration for Penn Jillette and Carl Sagan, which I indulge in by rewatching Bullshit! and Cosmos over and over again. My sibling interest to scientific skepticism is most definitely civil liberties, and I am constantly consolidating those interests in my head somehow. Talk to me!

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