Confession of an Atheist Santa
First published: 20th December 2014
My daughter's school asked for volunteers to play Santa, touring classrooms during the Christmas party and handing out presents. Surprisingly, my name was drawn so yesterday I dressed up in red, put on a false beard and gave a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho". How does pretending to be Santa sit with my ranking of 6 on the Dawkins spectrum of theistic probability?
In one way, it is very simple: no-one else who donns the red-and-white jacket and beard believes in Santa, either. We are all play-acting, pretending to be a non-existant person for the purpose of entertainment. Or, to put it in a more sinister conext, we are participating in a global conspiracy of adults to lie to the most vulnerable members of our Society, people that our instincts direct us to protect and care for.
Another criticism is that we are teaching children that it is OK to lie. I suspect that even the youngest Primary School pupils are aware that the person handing out presents is not Santa. After all, they carried the school notice asking for volunteers home themselves, and you would have to be very unobservant not to notice the surfeit of red-clad men with badly-fitting beards around the city. Yet, they willingly participate, perhaps pressured by the assumption that, if they don't pretend to believe, they might not get a present.
I prefer to think of it as an entertaining exercise in critical thinking and practice in overcoming our beliefs. A child who first believes in Santa begins to observe more of the world and notices discrepencies... there is more than one person dressed as Santa, so perhaps their belief changes, the ones with the false beards aren't the real Santa. Later, they gather more data, perhaps parents are seen shopping and belief in a real Santa disappears entirely. Evidence has overturned belief. However, what is left is that ordinary people can make something magical and generous, if they try. Perhaps we can build Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All People.