God is Santa Claus for Adults

Whenever the topic of God or Faith comes up I always, always, always preface any of my thoughts or opinions with my statement of facts: Namely that I am in no way opposed to Christianity, nor the followers thereof. If your Belief system encourages you to be a good person and to contribute positively to the world around you, then far be it from me to stand in your way. (There is, of course, the matter of how we define “good person” and “contribute positively”, but that’s quite another matter entirely.) Though I have been labeled an atheist in the past, I do not personally identify myself as such. I will, however, admit that I deviate to some degree from traditional Christian Belief, but—importantly—I do not feel that my interpretation of God or Scripture necessarily precludes me from the Flock, let alone the mere discussion of deific topics. (God, if you’re listening, I’m sorry.)

Most of the world’s population lives in the norther hemisphere. And in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere, the world is cold and dark for a great swath of the calendar year. This cold and dark swath known as winter necessitates that folks remain indoors lest they freeze to death. This annual change from careless frolicking through long, warm days to wallowing indoors through short, frigid days is rather dismal and melancholy for humans, particularly the kids. Concurrent with the beginning of winter is the Christian celebration of Christmas—a time that most people spend visiting relatives. So not only are we forced indoors because of the weather, we must suffer the indignity of sharing this limited space with more people than we would otherwise. For obvious reasons, this is a recipe for mischief.

In an attempt to police children’s natural propensity toward listlessness and eventual misbehavior, we invented a deity of sorts—the kind of omnipresent (he sees you when your sleeping, he knows when you’re awake) and omniscient (he knows if you’ve been bad or good) character who has the ability to pass the final judgement on whether you, child, deserve the rapturous Elysium of a bountiful Christmas morning, or the abysmal, soul-crushing suffering of coal in the stocking.

Santa Claus is not real. I should think most adults have come to terms with this fact. But I verily say, if the idea of Santa Claus is enough to change children’s behavior for the better—especially at a time when they’re particularly prone to behaving like insufferable, snot-nosed bastards—then who am I to say he’s not real? After all, his effect is most certainly real, and where the rubber meets the road, what’s the difference?

Now imagine that Santa Claus held the same powers over adults as He does children, and that His Judgement is effective year-round. Imagine also that the moment of your Judgement was not Christmas Eve, but at your death and that both the rapturous Elysium of a bountiful Christmas morning as well as the abysmal, soul-crushing suffering of receiving nothing but coal lasted not for a day but for all eternity. This deity would be God. And if you haven’t made the connection yet, yes, I’m saying that God is not real any more so than the jolly, diabetic fellow at the north pole and his merry band of toy-making elves.

Now, I think we can all agree that it would be unconscionable to tell a child that Santa Claus is not real—at least not at the time in their young life that they believe, because it is this belief that causes the behavioral change that we seek as parents. But, paradoxically, I don’t think it’s unconscionable to tell a Christian that God is not real. The reason for this is because we all outgrow the belief in Santa, yet we continue to behave properly in his absence. Santa was just the intellectual training wheels we needed to make the connection between proper behavior and the Ultimate Good. This is the state of being that we all strive for; the state of being where we no longer need the threat of damnation nor the hope of salvation to be good. We just do it because it is right. This is Belief in its truest form.

Q Anon and the Psychology of Conspiracy

I was listening to a talk radio show on the way to work recently and they had a caller on who was educating the show’s incredulous hosts on the sagacity of Q Anon, a shadowy internet personality who has recently entered mainstream consciousness. Q purports to divine the future of America through various signs such as typos in the President’s tweets. The evidence, said the caller, is “all around”.

I don’t know your personal feelings on Q Anon or on conspiracy theories more generally, nor do I particularly care. What I was struck by in this conversation was the seeming lucidity of the caller. He sounded like a young kid, granted, maybe mid twenties but not unintelligent. In fact, he seemed possessed of a reasonably sound and healthy mind. Up to that point I had taken for granted that conspiracy theory was more in the realm of the provocateurs, the senile, the drug-addled, etc. But this guy didn’t seem to fit any of these molds. For lack of a better word, he seemed like a regular guy.

I’ve heard it said that everyone has a spiritual side, that we have an innate desire to believe in something higher, something more powerful, something that makes sense of this meaningless world. I agree with this. Many people, it seems, have a propensity (susceptibility?) to perceive communication on a metaphysical level. Some seem to be capable of understanding a language that the rest of us find inscrutable. I supposed this is how we get Q Anon believers and people who see the Madonna in a grilled cheese.

However, I’ve also taken for granted that that spirituality would be naturally well-guided and ultimately positive. Until recently.

In the 100,000 or so years that homo sapiens has inhabited this rock, people have come to understand the reality of innate spirituality and furthermore, the deleterious effect of this instinct when not properly channeled. Enter faith. Elders assumed, rightly, that if people were going to place their immutable faith in some higher power irrespective of its worthiness or rationality, it might as well be in a faith that we as people control. As such, we invented a religion that would both satisfy the fundamentally human desire to believe in something bigger than ourselves (thus protecting ourselves from our own nature,) while simultaneously channeling that belief into something valuable, something that objectively improves the world around us.

For instance, it is primarily due to the spread of Christianity throughout the world that the Arab slave trade, perhaps the most brutal and enduring of all slave trades, came to an end. (Yes, the spread of Christianity brought its own host of negative consequences, but I think even an a priori-level cost benefit analysis will reveal that humanity ultimately made out like bandits in that compromise. At any rate, it’s a discussion for another time.)

On the other side of the spectrum, we predictably see the opposite. As faith in formal religion implodes, people increasingly latch onto informal religions—conspiracy theories, superheroes, Harry Potter, etc. What makes conspiracy theorists particularly insidious is that it’s impossible to contradict their faith. In fact just doing so only proves them right. As soon as someone demonstrates evidence that a thing is false, that person necessarily trips the theorist’s “gaslight radar”. The rational person becomes—in the theorist’s eyes—just another undercover spy trying to throw them off the scent. It becomes a downward spiral of self fulfilling prophecy where “evidence” of the theory’s validity is “all around.” In the conspiracy theorist’s mind, nothing could be more obvious.

For as long as this decline in established religion continues, we can expect more and more people glomming onto pseudo-religion as their spiritual outlet—as the thing that offers them meaning in a world that is all too often lonely and cold. How this will ultimately change humanity I will leave up to you to decide, but if I were a gambling man…

P.S. All this being said, I am open to the possibility that I am wrong. Despite a long precedent of conspiracy theories proving false (or at least never being proved true by any reasonable standard), and despite my own self-declared level-headedness, I harbor in my mind and heart the narrow splinter of possibility that I could be dead wrong. I truly hope that never happens because it would send my delicate constitution into a Kafkaesque free fall where I would begin to question the validity of everything I had come to understand was “true”. (Aside: I think The Truman Show is one of the scariest films ever written. Perhaps more on this later.) All existential crisis aside, I will, in the event of this Q business proving true, admit I was wrong, apologize, and promptly exile myself to the country to live out my days in a state of ungodly hermitage.

As Spiritual Morality Wanes, the Police State Waxes

For many thousands of years, the actions of man have been shepherded by the twin scales of both formal law and spiritual morality… and for good reason: in a society where morality recedes, law (i.e. the State) must make up the difference. In ye olde times, there were two great circles of acceptable behavior—two code books—and together they covered a lot of ground as regards right and wrong.

Over the past fifty years especially, religious conviction and thus spiritual morality has all but disappeared. Followed to its logical conclusion, what we end up with is a “society” of total law and complete absence of morality. For instance, about two years ago I read the story of a Canadian man that married his horse. Naturally, the townsfolk were bemused by such behavior, but because there was no formal law against it, the state could do nothing to stop him.

Being that this occurred in Canada and not the US, I don’t really have a horse in the race. But why was there no formal law forbidding bestiality? Because when spiritual morality exists, people don’t needlessly spill ink forbidding something that everyone already know is wrong. I never followed up on the horse-fucker story, but I imagine there is now a push toward making connubial bliss betwixt a man and his farm animals formally illegal. The fact, however, that this case was heard in a courtroom built with taxpayer money, proceeded over by judge who’s salaried with taxpayer money, and the ruling ultimately published on taxpayer-funded paper and/or servers, is a sad state of affairs. One assumes the legal fees for the depraved pervert were ponied up by the taxpayer as well.

Without the code of spiritual morality, there is left a massive gap in our behavioral boundaries. A healthy, functioning society requires trust. Without the voice in the back of our minds encouraging proper behavior, we revert back to our primitive selves and erode what little societal trust we ever managed to attain. What we end up with is a highly opportunistic population that is only concerned about whether they can get away with bad behavior legally.

Sure, they may get away with it legally, but will they get away with it spiritually? Me must encourage a sense of divine guidance. We need to once again develop a code book that goes wherever the body goes—including all these places the State cannot (for now) go. Do this, and we will be rewarded with a much more stable place to call home.

I’ve heard erroneous arguments that organized religion is the cause of all war, all strife, indeed the very impetus of the police state. This couldn’t be further from the truth. One organized religion per nation state in conjunction with a moderate formal code of laws is ideal for the long-term health of the nation and avoiding the Orwellian Nightmare. In the absence one established religion, a sense of higher purpose and meaning (i.e. spirituality) can serve just fine.

And just in case you were thinking to yourself, “what’s wrong with having judges decide the legality of our every decision?” Well when I told you earlier that I didn’t follow up on the horse-fucker story, I lied to you. When deciding whether it was legal for a man to fuck his horse, the judge said yea (although one hopes at least the horse said nay). As you read this, the horse-fucker is now happily horse-fucking fully within the confines of matrimonial sanctity.

Point being, even if the State were even capable of ruling on—and enforcing—all things, you could never put your faith in the courts to make decisions in the best interest of the nation.