The Null Device

Santaism ascendant

An essay by an American correspondent on what it feels like to be an atheist:
Imagine, seriously imagine for a moment now, that these people, the vast majority of the electorate, vote for politicians based in large part on what they think Santa wants, campaign speeches all end with "Be good or Santa won't come to visit". And most of these voters won't even consider voting for someone who doesn't believe in Santa Claus and his factory at the North Pole. Yet they routinely congratulate themselves as belonging to the most graciously tolerant and open minded people in all of history.
Picture your life unfolding in this world: As a child you also believe in Santa because your parents told you to, but as you grow up you become skeptical, some things just don't seem to add up. By the time you're six or seven years-old, you start asking legitimate questions like "How does Santa get down the little chimney, how does Santa get the time to visit each house, how does Santa know the kids who've been good from the ones who've been bad" and so forth. These questions elicit first strangely evasive answers devoid of content and a general sense of unease among the adults you're asking. Over the next few years that moves onto reactions of scorn, patronizing insults, and open hostility. But never, ever one single answer that holds up over time.
Finally you come to suspect there is a real possibility that there is no literal Santa Claus at the North Pole with a toy factory run by elves and flying reindeer. You began gently asking other folks about your concern. But, when you confide in a few of your most trusted friends and closest family members that the whole Santa idea is a nice sentiment to be sure, but it doesn't make much rational sense and there is no evidence for it, the reaction ranges from puzzlement, to pity, to shock, to anger, to open accusations and implications that you're some kind of mental defective for even wondering about it.
You don't understand what's going on, none of this Santa stuff makes any sense and there's zero evidence for it, why can't everyone just admit that? What's the big conspiracy about? Why is everyone pretending there really is a Santa? Then it slowly dawns on you, around age ten or eleven ... the chilling, horrible truth:
They're Not Pretending. They REALLY Do Believe There Is a Santa Claus.
I'm wondering: is the author of this piece originally from some redneck backwater, or is such open hostility to atheism a mainstream part of American culture?

There are 6 comments on "Santaism ascendant":

Posted by: El Bizarro Mon Nov 21 15:49:28 2005

Fantastic. I've been using the Santa Claus metaphor for some time but this is probably the most succint summary of this meme that I've seen yet.

Posted by: substitute Mon Nov 21 23:08:51 2005

Atheism is only tolerated in pockets of American society, mostly universities. If you don't believe in religion it's best to call yourself an agnostic even if you're an atheist. Most people think that everyone needs "some kind of belief" and are threatened and saddened by an outright expression of anti-religious sentiment. Atheism is presented as a small, angry cult that wants to get rid of Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, many of the people who self-identify in public as atheists *are* angry eccentrics, and mostly show up in news items about lawsuits against respected institutions. My own guess is that the majority of people who don't believe in any religion at all in this country just fudge the issue or don't talk about it, or say that they're agnostics who respect religion very deeply, etc.

Posted by: Sean M. Burke Tue Nov 22 03:31:26 2005

The US is currently a country where surprising emphasis is put on the importance of not offending people. And religions in the US are expert at yowling and shrieking at every perceived offense. Sanctimonious ruthlessness is the name of their game. Imagine a country overrun with 19th century Scottish preachers. It's that bad, and worse.

Posted by: Evil Paul http:// Tue Nov 22 07:52:33 2005

Atheism is DARK SIDED! It is Anti-God and I am a GOD WARRIOR!

Posted by: the other anonymous Tue Nov 22 09:14:21 2005

Open hostility to atheism is, as far as I've seen, encouraged. The only function science is allowed is forensics and other such law-enforcement. Rule 1 of American Society: If it keeps them in power, it's allowed. Otherwise, the PATRIOT act makes you disappear. (One good thing: I'm fortunate enough to live in a state where the intelligent-designers on the school board got voted out. As the bumber sticker says: My Bleeding-heart Blue State can kick your War-Mongering Red-State's ASS! (I'm sure that's ironic somehow, but irony was banned after 9/11...))

Posted by: alecm Tue Nov 22 17:30:30 2005

See Douglas Adams' article in "The Salmon of Doubt" - a posthumous collection; it's a transcript of an interview by some American atheist society, wanting to know if he's ever faced discrimination for his lack of belief. That DA found it quite hard to comprehend the concept likewise reflects my experience growing up in a English family in the USA, and latterly occasionally revisiting the US for work. Professing utter lack of faith in the USA is space-alien territory once you're away from the student centres.