Reading Time: 9 minutes Just remember: literally pissing on a flag is bad because it's a symbol. Figuratively pissing on what it stands for is OK.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hello and welcome back! In honor of Christmas, I thought it’d be funny to show you something that happened to me as a child. See, Christians love to boast about how they would totally never deny Jesus. No way! They’d stand strong and be brave! And in exactly the same fashion, I discovered that standing up for my beliefs could earn me shame and mockery from those who just didn’t understand the wonderful Good News… about Santa Claus.

little cas as a kid with her christmas presents
Me at about 5 or 6. I couldn’t begin to tell you what most of the stuff in this picture is/was, but I do know that’s a Richard Scarry box book set I’m exploring. Wish I still had it! Notice the tank top: this was in Hawaii.

No way we are not ashamed, of the gospel or his name…

Sorry for the earworm.

Set the Wayback Machine for 1978.

It is likely no accident of fate that this humiliation occurred in the winter of 1978, right around the same time as the release of The Star Wars Holiday Special.

At the time, my military family lived in Corpus Christi, Texas. Our apartment was miserable and small, but at least a lot of other kids lived nearby. While my dad finished up some kind of training, my mom and sister and I had previously lived with our grandparents in Baltimore, and I’d had almost no playmates my age there.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t had a lot of playmates in Hawaii, either. So very suddenly, I had an embarrassment of riches in that department.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to socialize with other kids.

No Way I Was Not Ashamed, Of the Gospel or His Name.

One day, my little clutch of friends got interrupted in our play by a small bunch of older kids. They invaded our little patch of grass at the playground and did their best to interrupt and short-circuit whatever game we had going on.

We were frustrated and angry, but we couldn’t do much about it. These were Big Kids, in our parlance of the time–they had easily 10-20 pounds, six inches of height, and a year or two of schooling on any of us.

Finally, I reached for the only thing I thought I had in my toolbox. I flung it as hard as I could:

“Stop this and go away, or Santa won’t bring you any presents!”

Everything froze.

The Authoritarian Child’s Mind.

Authoritarians gonna authoritarian. And I’d grown up in a deeply authoritarian home. In a lot of distressing ways, threats, fear, and violence were the currency of my childhood.

When an authoritarian deploys a threat, you may rest assured that the person doing it either considers this a valid threat that they themselves fear, or is one of those sociopathic types who’s noticed that a lot of people do indeed fear it and is willing to go there in order to manipulate others.

In this case, yes, I’d drawn upon a threat that I myself feared. This threat had been used on me in the past, and it had worked. Naturally, I assumed it would work on others exactly like it had on me.

Also, yes, even at almost nine years old, I still believed in Santa Claus.

cas at 3 in hugely flared pants
These are probably the most flared pants I have ever worn in my entire life. Every day takes us further and further away from the 1970s, and I’m thankful for it.

I Did Not Deny Him.

Belief in Santa at almost-9 is not super-duper-unusual in much of the world. In the United Kingdom, apparently 8 or 9 is the usual age to stop believing in Santa. But in the United States, most kids have stopped believing in Santa by then.

So even the kids my age, my playmates in this scene, stopped and stared at me when I triumphantly delivered that threat.

The main Big Kid turned and rounded on me. I barely knew her, but what I did know about her wasn’t good. She could be violent and thieving, but the adults around her ate out of her little cupped hand. “What did you say?” she asked, her eyes narrowing, a smile starting to form on her lips.

I stood my ground.

Oh, how brave was our little Child Cas! How strong and bold! How firm in her beliefs!

Indeed, I gave her my best attempt at a steely gaze. “I said, if you don’t stop being mean to us, Santa won’t bring you any presents on Christmas.”

For a moment, everything went perfectly quiet.

In retrospect, I suspect the other Big Kids had decided without words to take their cues from this leader of theirs. Her response would determine their own.

This is right about when I began to realize I could end up pounded into the dirt. But I’d gone all in already, with no turning back.

I’d made a statement of faith, and now I needed to stand behind it.


Christians love love love love imagining themselves being persecuted for their faith. It’s downright grotesque to see how detailed these fantasies can get.

Rowdy John Piper writes about a question posed by one of his listeners:

Pastor John, the Oregon shooting [link to info and further reading — CC] really shook me up. I turned my life over to Christ a little over two years ago. I’ve learned a lot but I have a lot left to learn. I am trying to strengthen my faith, but in the meantime I asked myself, ‘What would I do?’

Her chances of facing a situation like that must be astronomically small, but she wouldn’t be Christian at all–especially not evangelical–if she couldn’t vividly imagine threats that were absolutely impossible.

If they’re not imagining threats, they’re completely distorting situations to sound like real live persecution. Recently, for example, a college campus told a young woman to stop handing out religious tracts. This is why she said she fought their ruling:

“What motivated me the most to not give up and not cower to the school’s bullying was the fact that they wanted me to apologize for Jesus’ name,” Olsen, who attends Jacob’s Well Presbyterian Church in Green Bay, told The Compass. “I will not deny Jesus in any way,” she said, “so I guess [my message is], ‘stand up for Jesus no matter what.'”

SOOOO BRAVE! Reminds me of the fundie conjob who declared that the reason he got punished for violating zoning and safety regulations was really because his town hated him for his Jesus Aura.

We’ve also discussed at length one Christian urban legend regarding a young woman murdered during the Columbine Shootings. Christians quickly created a story about her having been literally martyred for her faith. Predictably, we discovered that the truth came nowhere near that legend. Similar distortions abound in that end of the religion pool.

If Christians lost dishonesty, what on earth would they even have left?

Why These Fantasies Appeal to Terrible People.

There are probably a lot of reasons why so many awful Christians love to use martyrbation fantasies as fundie fap fodder–and why so many Christian leaders teach their followers to embrace these fantasies.

One thing that’s very important to understand here is that toxic Christians think that persecution validates them. Almost all of the people buying into these fantasies believe that pushback represents a concession that they are totally right about everything. So if they face persecution, it means that obviously they’re doing the right and most Jesus-approved thing possible in their situation. It’s an amazingly petulant way to go through life, but petulance is one of the most important of all the fundagelical virtues.

These Christians also believe that persecution fits in with their silly predictions about the future. The more persecution they experience (or more accurately pull out of their nether regions), the closer they think the Endtimes are.

The titillated Christians who buy into these false stories then get the frisson of fear and outrage that they love so much. Through these false stories, they get to see themselves as put-upon underdogs fighting a valiant crusade against innumerable evil enemies. And they get more reasons to hate the people their leaders have designated as their enemies.

I see these fantasies as a way for TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to further divide themselves from folks who don’t share their beliefs. Even some Christians think so! Martyrbation makes toxic Christians aggressive and braced at all times for defense. And that tension in turn makes it all but impossible for them to engage sincerely with anybody outside their tribe.

It’s got to be just exhausting.

Attention-Seeking Missiles, Locked and Loaded.

Most importantly, Christians get a lot of attention by claiming persecution these days.

Attention-seekers love fundagelicalism, and I can’t blame them at all for gravitating to it. Fundagelicals don’t question much of anything they’re told, especially if the source is a tribemate–even more so if it’s one of their Dear Leaders.

If one of the tribe claims persecution, the whole tribe gets to enjoy those feelings of rage and fear that follow in the made-up story’s wake. They won’t apply any critical thinking to it. Instead, they embrace whatever interpretation its tale-bearer offers–or however their Dear Leaders spin-doctor the story–and run with it. Once a given interpretation becomes canon, it never leaves again.

The Greatest Command embraced by these Christians is to revel in the destruction of their enemies, to brutally punish them for any show of dissent, and to strike at them whenever possible. Their Great Commission involves screwing over whoever they must to GET THEIRS.

Jesus actually told them to do all kinds of stuff, but they clearly think it’s boring to obey him.

Back to the Playground.

Of course, at 8 years old in that playground in Corpus Christi, I knew none of my fellow Christians’ fascination with false persecution stories.

What I did know was that I’d just been challenged about my belief in Santa. As uncomfortable as I was admitting that I believed in him still, I drilled down.

That Big Kid and I met and locked gazes for a moment.

Then she laughed.

It was an honest laugh. Her friends relaxed.

With a roll of her eyes, she waved me off.

“Fine, go be a little kid with your friends,” she said, and she and her whole posse just melted away.


I felt nonplussed and unsettled and tense, however.

Sure, I’d escaped harm. But that girl had insulted me for believing in something I knew, just KNEW, was true. 

Why had she insulted me by implying that this belief in Santa was something only for small children? She clearly didn’t believe Santa brought children presents.

I didn’t mention the incident to my parents, I don’t think. My dad would have been very riled up by it, and I’m sure I’d have remembered that. But it did lead me to a lot of questions. I soon tested my belief about Santa, determined quietly that my loved ones were doing all the Christmas present-giving, and then let the whole idea of belief in him just fade away. My parents tacitly let the pretense fade as well. We never discussed any of it; it just stopped being something we did. They still wrote “Santa” on the packages, but they didn’t use him as a threat anymore–or ever again indicate that he was a factor in gift-giving.

Looking back, I think my sister had already lost this belief, because they sure didn’t wait around at all for her to start ghosting Santa.

Eventually, those questions turned into critical inquiry and examination. And eventually, critical inquiry and examination melted away my false beliefs in Christianity itself.

It sometimes takes me a while, but I do get there eventually.

my aunt the nun reading to me and my sister
BONUS NUN SIGHTING. This was in late November, probably Thanksgiving break for her parochial school, but it was close enough to include here. <3 my aunt

Oh, and one other thing happened after this incident: I never, ever again used unsubstantiated threats to manipulate people. It’s so TACKY to do that. I’m so glad that I got broken of that notion very early on. I feel unclean just talking about having done it once.

Jesus = Santa for Adults.

I know it riles Christians up when ex-Christians talk about all the similarities we perceive between Jesus and Santa Claus. But those similarities exist all the same. What happened to me on that playground is exactly what Christians fantasize about happening to themselves, just with way smaller stakes.

I wonder now if that incident helped inoculate me against those bigger claims Christians made even in my day about persecution. I never went there myself.

Still, I have to laugh that the biggest episode of persecution I ever faced for my beliefs involved Santa Claus, not Jesus.

Who wouldn’t believe in Santa? Look, he was RIGHT THERE!

Merry Christmas, friends! However you spend this day, may it be with people you love and doing the things you enjoy most.

NEXT UP: Christian hucksters love to claim that everybody would benefit from the purchase of their product. But this claim simply isn’t true, and I’ll show you how tomorrow! See you soon!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...