Often, ex-Christians describe deconversion as being very similar to children realizing there’s no Santa Claus. I know that comparison irks a lot of Christians. And I wish we had a better comparison to offer, because hands down that is the best way I’ve ever heard of describing deconversion. Today, I’ll show you what I mean–and perhaps reveal some details about that comparison that might be new. The big furry boot fits–and it fits perfectly!
(Disclaimer: #NotAllChristians. Generally speaking, the Christians I criticize are culture warriors who seek domination of everyone possible. For them, Christianity represents a fast ticket to dominance. See: Toxic Christians.)
A lot of folks think children are gullible and easily convinced of things. But they’re not. In a very real way, they stand at the mercy of trusted adults–and their own developing minds.
Think about it:
They’re given books and movies full of magical messages and impossible beings and situations.
Trusted adults tell them to clap for Tinkerbell so she’ll survive.
These same adults have them write letters to Santa, bake cookies for him, and even stay in their rooms on Christmas Eve with threats that if this magical man sees them out of their rooms, he might leave without putting out their presents. For that matter, many parents hold the threat of NO PRESENTS over their kids’ heads for months before the holiday.
Santa Claus, in particular, represents a firmly-entrenched belief in America (and probably a lot of other countries). Most parents wouldn’t even think twice about encouraging belief in the fellow for at least a while. I found tons of parenting guides online to guide parents in how to reveal to their kids the truth about Santa Claus.
If you’d spent your whole life being told by literally everybody around you that an impossibly-wise magical man could see everything you ever said, did, or thought, and that he would reward or punish you accordingly in the future, chances are good that you’d believe these ideas for quite a long time.
It’d feel almost like betrayal to all of those trusted adults to even question this belief. Children adopt nonsensical beliefs and customs almost reflexively, as self-protection. To differ too much from the parents might mean disaster. Indeed, many older kids find out exactly how serious this threat is–way too many TRUE CHRISTIAN™ parents abandon, abuse, and reject their children for revealing their atheism or coming out as LGBT.
And yet the whole while, even in the thick of parental indoctrination about Santa Claus, children seek the truth. Things don’t add up. Hints tantalize them. They know something’s not right about what literally everyone around them tells them about Santa Claus.
So they test and they probe and they search. Meanwhile, parents consider when to let them in on the joke being told largely at their expense.
I’ve said for a while now that belief can’t be commanded or consciously created from nothing. Something has to be there to fan it to life and maintain it. It doesn’t matter what the belief is:
- Our romantic partner loves us and wants the best for us;
- Studying hard and working hard will bring us success;
- Our morning commute runs much faster if we take this road instead of that one;
- The State of Wyoming doesn’t exist;
- A magical man sees everything we do and will judge us for it at some point.
Once in place, reality tests our beliefs. When the idea of losing a particular belief feels scary or threatening, we deploy well-honed antiprocess routines to protect it. These routines help us avoid engaging with challenges to the belief. All the same, maybe we keep noticing details that simply don’t fit with the belief. Or perhaps something traumatic happens to bring the falseness of the belief home to us in an undeniable way.
Similarly, children discover more and more facts and details that contradict the existence of Santa Claus. Perhaps they find a bright-red costume tucked away in a closet. Or maybe they discover a cache of wrapped presents! Or maybe they innocently question the logistics of him getting to every single home in the world in one night. Maybe they even wonder why he gives inexpensive and fewer presents to poor kids, but expensive and numerous gifts to rich kids.
Or maybe an adult accidentally (or intentionally) reveals the truth.
My Childish Faith.
I maintained belief in Santa Claus for a longer-than-usual amount of time. Considering my generally-enthusiastic embrace of magical ideas, that might not surprise anybody.
At eight or nine years old, I told an older kid that if she didn’t stop tormenting another kid my age, Santa wouldn’t bring her anything for Christmas. The older kid and all her friends stared, then laughed at me. That had been the most serious threat I could possibly imagine–and she’d laughed at it. At least their attention shifted for long enough for that other kid to escape. They moved on to other projects, leaving me with my cheeks burning and eyes stinging, wondering why they’d laughed.
I don’t even remember what happened afterward. To be sure, I didn’t carry on the belief, but I don’t remember exactly how the loss of it happened. One moment I believed. The next, I didn’t.
My belief in Santa Claus simply became one of many childish things that I put away as I matured.
Identical Belief Systems.
So yes: belief in Jesus looks identical to belief in Santa Claus to those who’ve deconverted.
Christianity represents an entrenched belief system that we got spoon-fed from birth by entire communities of cooperating adults. These trusted adults told us that this belief was literally true, when it wasn’t. They taught us that all sorts of things happened within the religion that don’t happen, ever, to anybody. And they made us feel that questioning and rejecting this belief system would bring serious repercussions upon our heads.
Slowly, very slowly, we began to sense that something wasn’t quite right about Christianity. We began to notice that miracle claims weren’t true. Maybe we noticed that testimonies were packs of lies, just marketing hype. Jesus didn’t change anybody for the better, not really. Christians tended to be hypocrites, no better than anybody else and very often considerably worse. The death-blow to our faith might well have been learning about the Bible’s origins and history–and Christianity’s, for that matter.
Nowadays, I look at Christians threatening me with Hell in the same exact way those older kids looked at me for threatening them with no presents on Christmas Day.
I don’t (usually) laugh at them the way I got laughed at, but even when I do there’s always this marveling sadness in me for them. They still cling to such childish beliefs and make such childish threats when I know perfectly well that nothing they believe is really real.
Christians Be Maaaaaad.
And WHOA NELLY, gang, Christians get angry about that comparison. They get mad like WHOA.
A couple of years ago, an explosively-angry Christian wrote an outraged piece for Premier Christianity trying to make the case that the two beliefs are nothing at all alike. Alas, the piece backfires. Complete with a face-palming Jesus to express his condescension and scorn, Andy Bannister savagely tears into his tribal enemies for comparing his idol to Santa Claus. He presents his reasons for the difference:
- Tons of people debate the existence of the Christian god. Nobody debates the existence of Santa Claus.
- Atheists don’t write books about rejecting Santa Claus.
- Adults convert to Christianity, but nobody converts to belief in Santa in adulthood.
- Nobody worries about defying Santa Claus, but atheists totally believe in Jesus so they have to insult him.
- Ugh, atheists are so CHILDISH. They should step back and allow the Designated Adults to handle everything.
It’s painfully easy to debunk this self-important blowhard. In fact, I’ll do it right now. (I’m feeling helpful. Must be that Christmas spirit!)
Christians used to be able to murder people for not agreeing with them.
Even nowadays, way too many Christians still retaliate viciously against dissenters while continuing to seek new recruits and honing their brutal threats about noncompliance. So yes, obviously a lot of apologetics literature exists. Yes, obviously Christians still occasionally effectively recruit adults with their childish threats and come-ons.
And yes, obviously Christians like Andy Bannister still feel entitled to abuse their tribal enemies for saying something that profoundly unsettles and upsets them.
Other Christians earnestly try to dismiss the comparison entirely, like David Wood over at the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC’s) unfortunately-acronymed NAMB (North American Mission Board) site. He makes a false comparison of his own about why he thinks children reject belief in Santa Claus. Then he whines that atheism can’t adequately explain everything that Christianity tries to explain, and so therefore atheism can’t be true and nobody should be allowed to compare Jesus to Santa Claus. He writes:
Why, then, do children eventually reject the Santa Hypothesis? As they grow older, they realize that there’s a simpler explanation for the data: parents put the gifts under the tree. This hypothesis accounts for the same data, yet it does so without appealing to unknown entities. . . If the atheist’s comparison between God and Santa is to hold, we should find roughly the same pattern of abandoning one hypothesis in favor of a superior hypothesis when we examine the atheist’s move from Theism to Atheism.
Wood refers here to Occam’s Razor, but poorly–which shouldn’t surprise us, since his paper functions as an apologetics attempt. He insists that atheism, which he (erroneously) maintains is an ideology, must come up with a better explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything than whatever Christianity offers. Since it can’t, obviously everybody needs to become Christian because that’s the Last Ideology Standing.
But that’s not how beliefs get rejected in the first place, so his argument falls apart. He’s just shirking his rightful burden of proof, like so many Christians do.
Missing the Point.
Of course, some Christian leaders suggest that parents not teach their kids that Santa Claus is real precisely because they might start drawing some firm comparisons with Jesus later on.
The issue isn’t “theological confusion,” as a Biola writer insists. This confusion exists for a very good reason, one that should bother Christians a lot more than it does.
Nor is the solution to drill down harder on an equally-nonexistent figure, as a Creationist site suggests. The more literally a Christian takes this mythology, the faster it can be disproven and contradicted by reality. It’s no weird fluke that I fully deconverted as a Pentecostal and not as a Catholic!
These sorts of strategies might delay the problem, but they won’t solve the real, insurmountable problem Christians have.
That problem is that Christians don’t have any real evidence for their various claims.
Why I Stopped Believing.
I didn’t stop believing because I felt angry at Jesus for being in control of everything-including-myself. I didn’t reject Christianity in a fit of pique because I’m just totally childish and hate being told to eat my vegetables by those Christians speaking for a Cosmic Sky Daddy. I’m not lying about not believing that he exists. I say the Christian god does not exist with the same certainty that I say Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
Nor did I come up with a better alternate explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything when I deconverted. In fact, I had no idea what would happen next after deconversion. “Deconversion” means I figured out that Christianity’s claims weren’t supported by reality. That was enough, and it was more than enough. The “better explanation” I worked out is that whatever was happening in Christianity, it wasn’t supernatural.
By insulting ex-Christians, mischaracterizing us, and denigrating us and our experiences, many Christians hope to keep their own beliefs intact and frighten those in the tribe out of examining things too closely. Moreover, they seek to maintain and enforce their imaginary superiority over us. It’s not very loving, but their version of Christianity was never about love.
It’s just so weird that a totes-for-realsies omnimax god can’t rein his “children” in a little better than this.
These Christians’ outrage and apologetics fall apart even harder because they’re comparing apples to avocados. Belief in Santa Claus bears a lot of similarities to belief in Jesus, but the culture built around those two beliefs couldn’t be more different.
No apologists make a serious career out of proving that Santa Claus is real. You’ll find no libraries full of pseudohistory on the topic, nor pseudoscience books snuck into schoolrooms to sway innocent minds. No soulwinners recruit for some Santa-ist cult. Nor do parents threaten eternal torture for losing belief in the fellow, or throw their children out into the streets for that unforgivable offense. No governments have ever granted Santa-ists the coercive powers that Christians enjoyed for so long.
Heck, I’ve never even heard of anybody going door-to-door to interrupt people in their leisure time to tell them the Gospel of Saint Nick or to threaten them with eternal torture for rejecting the sales pitch!
Instead, social pressure eventually brings a late bloomer around to the truth of the matter. It’s fine for a small child to believe in Santa Claus, but a teenager talking like that invites stares and concern. An adult? It’s hard even to imagine what a spectacle that’d be.
With all of this in mind, we can say with assurance that the chances are minimal that an adult will take up that belief.
I wish I could say all that stuff about Christianity!
We Make It All Happen.
Nothing supernatural happens on Christmas. Whatever happens on Christmas, people make it happen. And that makes me value the holiday more than if it had that supernatural element. A magical man who drops magically-crafted presents to children means so much less to me than the idea of parents seeking to give their kids a morning to remember for months to come.
In similar fashion, nothing supernatural happens in Christianity–or in any religion. Whatever happens, people make it all happen. Sometimes a Christian accepts this truth and still wants to be Christian. And many other times, a Christian realizes this truth and decides to walk away from church culture as soon as possible, like I did. Either way, the truth remains.
In religions’ finer moments, and yes, they do contain some, this truth makes those finer moments mean more to me. People do that. No gods exist to spur them to these occasional good deeds. People do these good deeds. Sometimes they even do them with no expectation at all of impressing any magical wizard-men.
As we cruise into Christmas, that’s what I hold to: a grand hope–hopefully not too misplaced–that humanity will rise above religion one day, and that humanity’s future leaders won’t simply replace it with something just as bad to fulfill the functions they once found so useful in religion.
NEXT UP: A peek at a Christmas party I attended years ago, and how I finally realized that “spiritual gifts” aren’t supernatural at all. (I got to pretend to be a Space Princess!) Later, I’ve got a treat for you: a vintage book about soulwinning that we’ll review! See you next time!
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