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Santa Claus Lives!

I’ve heard it repeated in a few places recently that atheists can be happy for theists the same way that parents can enjoy their children’s belief in Santa Claus. If it makes them happy, then we should be happy for them.

Everyone is free to believe what they will, but this comparison sounds more than a little patronizing. That’s probably not how it was intended, but that’s how it sounds. It’s not difficult to imagine the person thinking “I’m happy for those poor believers. They’re so cute when they think God answers their prayers. As long as it makes them happy.”

Personally, I can’t bring myself to be happy for someone else’s mistaken belief. I try to help correct that mistake if I can, without being a jerk. I hope they would return the favor.

My reluctance to play along probably stems from my stance on that old question about which is better: happiness or truth? I would generally rather have the truth than be happy. But that’s a personal preference. Other people would choose happiness instead, and I find it hard to fault them for it. It would be nice to ignore the truth in favor of happiness sometimes.

However, I would never put myself in the paternal position of thinking someone is better off blissfully ignorant in their mistaken beliefs. I respect other people too much. This condescending attitude is one of the things that I most resent about current LDS church practice. The LDS church teaches whitewashed history, presumably because they don’t want to damage the fragile faith and happiness of the body of the church with inconvenient truths.

I will try to be civil and polite with believers, picking appropriate times and places, but I don’t intend to ultimately play along with the charade that Santa Claus lives. I think they deserve better than a well intentioned lie or strategic silence.

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  1. Lincoln Cannon said,

    October 1, 2007 @ 3:20 pm

    I am Santa Claus, and I’ve answered more than one prayer.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    October 2, 2007 @ 7:43 am

    Fair enough, but I think I’m in Daniel Dennett’s camp: I think it’s healthier to know and acknowledge the human source of goodness in our lives.

  3. Lincoln Cannon said,

    October 2, 2007 @ 8:54 am

    I fully agree that we should acknolwedge human goodness, and do not see that at all in conflict with Santa Claus or God. I am a religious humanist — as, I believe, all Mormons should be.

  4. C. L. Hanson said,

    October 3, 2007 @ 1:09 am

    I’ve had this discussion with fellow atheists before: that to show respect for theists we should be saying “I think you’re open-minded enough to weigh my arguments, intelligent enough to understand them, and mature enough to accept that I’m right and you’re wrong.”

    Looking at it this way, I agree that there is a very real question of respect for the individual theist’s intellect and character vs. dismissing theists as stupid and juvenile. Yet at the same time, this position betrays a certain degree of arrogance.

    For myself I would rather say the following: “Here are my conclusions about God, and here is my reasoning. The fact that my conclusions make sense is perfectly clear to me, and should logically be clear to you as well. If the logic of my position is not clear to you, I cannot be sure precisely why. I can spend time trying to figure out why, or trying to get you to change your mind, or I can work on strategies to coexist peacefully with you despite our differences.”

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    October 3, 2007 @ 10:05 am


    I’m curious about what it really means to be a religious humanist. What does that mean in your case.

    C. L. Hanson,

    I think you’re open-minded enough to weigh my arguments, intelligent enough to understand them, and mature enough to accept that I’m right and you’re wrong.

    Hmm. If that’s how I come across, then I need to work on that. Someone recently wrote that it’s kind of like having a roommate who always takes the opportunity to tell you everywhere that you’re doing wrong. She may be right, but honestly, do you really care at that point?

    I’m enough of an agnostic that I would characterize my attitude as “I think you’re open-minded enough to weigh my arguments, intelligent enough to understand them, and mature enough to accept that I believe that I’m right and you’re wrong and that honest, intelligent people disagree.”

    It’s not like I go around in real life telling every theist how wrong they are. The Gideons were on campus this morning, handing out pocket Bibles. When they offered me a copy, I politely declined and just kept walking (even after being asked by the third or fourth Gideon on my long walk across campus). This blog is my outlet for the impolite thoughts that are hard to air in person.

    I don’t really need everyone to agree with me in the theist/atheist debate, though that might be nice. What I really want is a community where we listen to each other, engage each other’s views, and allow everyone to think as they choose to. The world is too balkanized, even the internet.

    I believe that the people who offer the Santa Claus analogy don’t generally patronize religious believers (though some do, I’m sure). It’s probably just that the analogy sounds condescending when it’s not.

  6. C. L. Hanson said,

    October 3, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

    Right, that was Seth R., whom I quoted over on MSP! ;)

    I completely sympathize with your position, and I think that in practice our interactions with real-life believers are probably pretty similar.

  7. Lincoln Cannon said,

    October 3, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

    Jonathan, “religious transhumanist” describes me more accurately than “religious humanist”. That said, I understand “religious humanism” to describe religion calculated to exalt humans, as well as their relationships with each other and the world.

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