Santa, God and the Problem of Certain Belief

I once knew a family that didn’t do Santa Claus with their kids at Christmas. The reason they didn’t do Santa Claus was because they felt it might lead their children to doubt the existence of God. You see, Santa is basically an old man living far away at the top of the world. He gives you what you want because he loves you. But nobody ever gets to see him. And many children think of God as an old man living far away in heaven who answers our prayers (gives you what you want) and you never get to see him either. So their concern was that when the kids discover that Santa isn’t real (sorry if that’s a shock to you), that would sow the seeds of doubt about whether they were being similarly bamboozled when it came to believing in God. No seriously, that’s what the mom told me. I’m not making it up at all.

I actually think that the experience of finding out that Santa isn’t real, when handled decently well, is a good thing for kids. It’s a safe way to teach them that sometimes you believe things that aren’t actually true. And it’s OK. Life doesn’t end. The presents don’t stop coming. Yeah, you lose a little bit of the magic. But it’s not the end of the world. The real fun of Christmas doesn’t come from in believing in magic; it comes from expanding what brings you joy beyond just receiving. Christmas is much bigger and richer than presents that show up by magic if you’ve been good. It’s just like Christianity that way.

Unfortunately, this whole “never allow doubt, never consider that you might be wrong, never question the reality you’ve be taught” mentality is exactly how a good number of people teach their kids to approach the faith. I know that the people who do this and think this way believe they are doing the right thing. But the hubris of it is astonishing.

In order for me to teach my child never to doubt, question or challenge what they have been taught about God, I have to be confident that what I have taught them about God is 100% accurate and complete. I have to be so certain that my faith experience and theology represents the pinnacle of the Christian faith that it would be foolish and dangerous us for them to ever seek anything better than what I’ve got. And if you believe that about your faith, um, well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, hmmmm . . . how to put this delicately? Maybe if I pet your unicorn while I figure out how to say this without sounding like a jerk? I know they must exist somewhere in your world, because your world clearly doesn’t work the way my world does.

In my world, God is bigger than I can imagine. In my world, we have barely begun to grasp his goodness. In my world, we’re still struggling to live according to his Kingdom ways. In my world, the way we’ve been doing it hasn’t been universally embraced and resulted in the meeting of heaven on earth, so clearly it’s not good enough. In my world, what I know and what I have experienced is the jumping off point, not the end destination.

If you think that what you know about God and how to live according to his Kingdom ways is good enough, well, flowers better be springing up around you everywhere you walk. Because that’s a mighty big claim to be making. Big claims require big proof. If the faith you are passing on is so delicate that learning that Santa’s not real might threaten it, that’s big proof alright. Just not the sort of proof that points to you being right.

It occurred to me this morning that our problem is that we are looking for a once and for all solution to everything. We want to get our theology right once and for all. We want to get our parenting right once and for all. We want to get our governments right once and for all. We want to get our sexuality right once and for all. We want to get our economies right once and for all. We want to get our laws right once and for all.

But this runs utterly contrary to how God created the world to work. There are no once and for all solutions on planet earth. You can’t water a patch of earth once and for all. You can’t grow food once and for all. Everything changes. What was once a jungle is now a desert. What was once a dominant male lion is now a fallen carcus being eating by scavengers. There is no once and for all. There’s only a process.

Then I thought, “but God does promise a once-and-for-all, doesn’t he? He promises salvation and redemption once-and-for-all. Right?”

And then I had one of those ah-ha moments. We want a once-and-for-all, but God gave us a process. There’s a Way of doing things. It’s why Christianity was called The Way very early in its development. It’s a way of doing life. A process for challenging the powers and principalities which rule this world. The process IS the once-and-for-all solution we’ve been looking for.

The process works when we are continually looking for a better way. When we are driven to do better and expect more from ourselves. We can always love better. We can always find better solutions. We can always learn from errors. We can always go deeper into God. We can always become more of who He created us to be. We can always experience our salvation more fully. We can always grow in deeper unity with each other. To embrace this process of continually learning better ways to follow Jesus’ teachings is to embrace God’s once-and-for-all solution.

The moment you insist that your way is THE way, that what you know about Jesus is what there is to know, that your theology is not only good enough, but unable to be challenged, you are cutting yourself off from God’s solution. You are like a child who refuses to mature. It’s not a good look, frankly.

Learning to be wrong is a skill. Most of us weren’t taught it. In fact, the more religious your upbringing, the less skilled you are likely to be at it. But refusing to be wrong doesn’t make you right. When I confront my children about their unwillingness to admit when they are wrong, I sometimes remind them of someone I knew growing up. He would never, ever admit he was wrong. He believed that it was his job to never be wrong and that to admit error meant he was failing at his job.

I ask my kids, “do you think he was ever wrong?” And of course they say yes. Everyone’s wrong sometimes. Then I ask them, “do you think that him never admitting when he was wrong fooled us? Do you think that we actually thought he was never wrong?” And of course they say no. We knew he was wrong even when he wouldn’t admit it. “Do you think you’re going to convince us that you’re never wrong just because you are unwilling to admit it? Do you think it will work better for you than it did for him? Or do you suppose we’ll all just think you’re kind of an idiot for never being able to admit when you’re wrong?,” I ask.

What I don’t tell them is that this person actually did manage to convince some people that he was as perfect as he claimed to be. It was shocking and hurtful to them when they finally had to face the reality that he was just as, if not more, prone to error than the rest of us. Even sadder was that he wasted many years dedicated to never being wrong that he could have been using to learn better ways of living and being.

So, I suppose that all of this is to say, there’s nothing wrong with your kids finding out that Santa isn’t real. And refusing to ever allow for doubt, questioning or error isn’t going to make you right. It’s just going to turn you into the kind of idiot who teaches their kids that God is like Santa Claus in the sky. Which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not nearly good enough for me.

*Originally posted May 2014.

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Check this out!

One of the frustrations of writing my poor, little blog is that sometimes I write something that I think could be really important to people and because of my tiny reach into the blogosphere, it passes by mostly unnoticed.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote an essay on what I called New Fundamentalism which was one of those posts.  See, over the years I have often been accused of not taking the bible seriously or treated as suspect by fundamentalist/conservative evangelical types.  They disapprove of my rejection of literal creationism or of the subordination of women or some such sacred cow.  But as anyone who has read the things I write here can tell, I take the bible very seriously.  I have devoted a ridiculous amount of time to study, prayer and research in my quest to understand the bible better.  The real problem, in my opinion, is that traditional fundamentalists take the wrong things literally.  So, I pulled out a list of often quoted but usually ignored verses which I proposed be taken literally by all believers, regardless of denomination or doctrine.  But, like a lot of what I write, it mostly disappeared into the vapor of cyberspace.

I think that this matter is too important to allow it to just disappear like that without a bit of a fight.  So, I have created a page dedicated just to this list of fundamental bible verses.  It is called A New Fundamentalism.  All it consists of is the essay and list of scripture verses I posted earlier.  I’m simply looking for people to “Like” the essay and if they choose, pass the link around.  Perhaps in a few days, I will be able to put together a button for people to put on their own blog pages to link to the site.  I have also created a facebook page for the site that you can like and share with your friends.

This isn’t an attempt to compete with or displace anything.  I really do think that the verses I collected represent an excellent starting point for anyone who is serious about their faith – from a homeschooling, creationism, complementarian fundamentalist Christian to a liberal miracle doubting, gay marriage supporting believer.  As for the rest, God holds truth.  We will continue to disagree about many things, but as one of the verses listed says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35.  At this point, the body of Christ is known for many things, but love is rarely at the top of the list.  And if love is not at the top of the list, then the world is right to wonder whose disciples we’re supposed to be.

So, please head over to the New Fundamentalism site and check it out.  If you can abide by what is said there, like it, tweet it, share it!  But let’s try not to let these vital fundamentals of our faith disappear into cyberspace.

A New Fundamentalism

I, Rebecca Trotter, hereby declare that the time has come for a new form of Christian fundamentalism.  It is my belief that this new fundamentalism is needed in order to preserve what is most sacred and true to Christianity against assaults from without and within the Christian church.  Although there is freedom in Christ which allows for a variety of ideas and understandings to be held by those who follow Jesus, there are certain fundamentals which all believers must adhere to according to scriptures.  As such, I nominate the following bible verses to be considered literally true by all believers and defended against all challengers:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:37-40

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:20-21

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48

the LORD said to Samuel, “. . . The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. – Deuteronomy 1:17

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 1 John 4:16-17

And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.You are my friends if you do what I command.I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.This is my command: Love each other.  – John 15:12-17

“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:34-40

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

If you agree with this (admittedly partial) list of fundamentals for Christian life, please join me in promoting a New Fundamentalism.  Pass this list around.  Link to this post. Tweet it.  Put it up on your facebook page.  Email it.  Let’s take a stand for our faith and the fundamental, unchanging truths that must be preserved and acted out if we are to call ourselves people of God!