Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Santa Claus God

Stuck in my front door a few days ago was a booklet, Our Daily Bread, full of heartwarming and inspirational stories to help one live a fulfilled, happy and not-at-all meaningless Christian life. It’s not just fire-and-brimstone televangelists who indoctrinate people into harmful and delusional belief systems. These apparently innocuous, friendly messages can be harmful as well and more insidious for their apparent banality. The first day, entitled “Hidden Sin”, is indicative of some of the worst of Christianity.

The text is:

Chuck had slowed to a stop when his car was hit from behind and was pushed into the vehicle ahead of him. A sickening, crunching sound indicated that additional vehicles had collided behind them.
As Chuck sat quietly for a moment, he observed that the vehicle directly behind him was pulling out into traffic. Obviously hoping to avoid an encounter with the police, the escaping driver neglected to notice he had left something behind. [At this point, I was hoping the story would take a World According to Garp/John Wayne Bobbitt turn, but alas, I was disappointed.] When the police arrived, an officer picked up the hit and run driver’s license plate from the ground and
said to Chuck, “Someone will be waiting for him when he arrives home. He won’t get away with this.”

Scripture tells us: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23), as this man who fled the accident discovered. We may sometimes be able to hide our sin from the people around us, but nothing is ever “hidden from [God’s] sight” (Heb. 4:13). He sees each of our failures, thoughts, and motivations (I Sam. 16:7; Luke 12:2-3). [Just a note: I Samuel
16:7 says, “[T]he LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” This is consistent with God seeing all our thoughts, but it does not imply that. I just wanted to note that there’s a good deal of interpretation implicit in this booklet.]

Believers are given a wonderful promise: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So don’t let unconfessed so-called "hidden" sins come between us and God (vv. 6-7).—Cindy Hess Kasper

Finally, there is a closing piece of doggerel:

We cannot hide from God
No matter how we try.
For He knows all we think
and do— We can’t escape his eye.” -- Hess
First of all: is this a true story? It seems awfully fishy to me. Why doesn’t Chuck have a last name? Where did this car accident take place? Where’s the arrest record? I suspect that this story was just made up to prove some sort of point. Sure, Jesus made up parables all the time, but this might also be called lying (and bearing false witness against Chuck’s neighbor?).

Let’s think a little about Chuck and his unhealthy interest in the punishment of his fellow citizen. Why does he care whether this person is caught? And why is the police officer confiding this information to Chuck? Is this any of Chuck’s business? I suspect what’s going on is that Chuck wants vengeance on this other driver for hitting his car, but instead of confronting the driver in a constructive and courageous way, he secretly wants someone else to punish the driver for him. Secondarily, Chuck’s unhealthy interest in the hit-and-run driver’s punishment indicates that Chuck would himself consider fleeing the scene if he had been the one to cause the accident. Chuck needs to know that criminals will be caught and punished, otherwise he would commit these crimes himself.

At this point, you may be thinking: What’s wrong with Chuck? What kind of person only does the right thing from fear of punishment? The answer is, of course, a Good Christian. That’s the first lesson of this booklet: Christians should only do good things because they will be punished if they don’t. It’s a little odd that the claim that sometimes people’s crimes are only discovered by God is illustrated by a story of someone being caught by the police. I suppose one has to go to a Jack Chick tract in order to read about God himself punishing people who have otherwise escaped punishment. However, the main point is that we need God to see everyone’s actions and thoughts and to punish and reward everyone correctly based on them. Worldly authority is not enough to guarantee punishment for every sin. Normal, rational people are not like this. In fact, Chuck’s doing “good” only because of his fear of punishment means that he is not doing a good thing at all. If you do something only for your own personal benefit, then you’re just being selfish. Instead, Chuck should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Getting the right outcome from selfish reasons does not necessarily indicate moral goodness. If I dig a pit outside my neighbor’s house so he’ll fall in and land on poisoned spikes but in digging it accidentally strike oil and make him rich, I have not done a moral or virtuous thing. Any good that came of my action was just a matter of luck. Christians, according to Our Daily Bread, should be selfish and care only for themselves rather than doing the right things because they are right.

A creepier part of this story is the view of God as Santa Claus. God “sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” God is a voyeur interested in every aspect of our lives and guaranteeing that we act, think and feel exactly the way God wants. Apparently, God watches us in our bedrooms, and every time a man fails to get an erection, that is of great interest to God. People’s belief in this kind of God might explain the popularity of Viagra.

The sophist Critias noted that the cleverest thing a lawmaker ever did was invent the idea of the gods who watched and enforced laws when no one else was watching. In other words, God is a fiction created by society in order to enforce social norms on people at all times. The most insidious part of this creation is the way its victims, Nietzsche’s sheep, enforce this belief on everyone else. Because people are afraid of what they and others might do without this constant fear, they make themselves and others believe that they will be punished by Santa Claus-God if they don’t conform. The last Christian motive is the vindictive desire to punish those who refuse to follow the social norms, those free from fear, who do what Good Christians want to do but are too craven to do.

Finally, the creepiest part of the story is that we should beg God’s forgiveness for our sins. There is no mention of learning to be better people or God rewarding us for our good behavior. God only rewards us by forgiving our sins. One thinks that there isn’t much of a point in trying to be good, but instead should just remember to beg for forgiveness. And this entails not just quietly begging God’s forgiveness in the silence of our minds. Normally, what begging forgiveness means is complete self-abasement, preferably in front of others, before God. That makes sense if your goal is to humiliate someone, break down his/her personality and make him/her susceptible to indoctrination into a cult, but it makes no sense as part of the moral life of a human being. We don’t become better people by thinking of ourselves as wretched and worthless; we have to learn to respect ourselves and our judgment in order to make rational, informed and wise decisions.

It’s obvious that this is not a good way to live. People should be free to live as they choose subject to moral laws, not coercion from imaginary beings. The first story in Our Daily Bread, supposedly benign and educational, in fact reveals an insidious problem with Christianity. It appeals to fear to enforce conformity, undermines the kind of self-respect that’s necessary for true moral worth, and even undermines the very possibility of morality for Christian believers.
I’m not arguing that Christianity is false because of these problems. As David Hume writes, that would be fallacious.

THERE is no method of reasoning more common, and yet none more blameable, than, in philosophical disputes, to endeavour the refutation of any hypothesis, by a pretence of its dangerous consequences to religion and morality. When any opinion leads to absurdities, it is certainly false; but it is not certain that an opinion is false, because it is of dangerous consequence. Such topics, therefore, ought entirely to be forborne; as serving nothing to the discovery of truth, but only to make the person of an antagonist odious. (Enquiry, Section
VIII, Part II)
I’m not arguing, as I said, for the falsity of this view based on its moral consequences. I'm only arguing, whether it is true or not (although it’s almost certainly not), this insipid Christianity undermines human freedom, self-determination, courage and morality. It’s simply inimical to rational, enlightened moral agency to believe this way. And presenting this indoctrination in simple homilies cannot hide that sin.

1 comment:

  1. Nice analysis.

    I stopped believing in God when I found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. I was about four, and I was so relieved! I mean, Santa might not bring you presents if you're bad, but God will make you burn in hell for all of eternity. Yikes! (It was me who cut up my brother's comic book.)

    I agree that this particularly piece of dogma is antithetical with rational thought (and that the story is bogus), but that's the whole point. Here's the answer, so you guys don't HAVE to think. Thinking is hard, and you might do it wrong. Many people want to follow something. At least many of the ideas JC promotes are kind - forgive people, help them, etc. And there are some believers who follow that path. But, like the story above, there are others who use it as a way out of accepting responsibility, and I think people also really get off on revenge taken by a higher being.