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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Even a Kid Can Do It: Santa, Satan, and How I Lost My Faith

I am proud to say that I believed in Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, and The Easter Bunny for a lot longer than I believed in God. I had evidence for them at least. My parents really went hog wild with all of that kid stuff. Every Christmas they put out cookies and milk for Santa and laid out my presents under the tree and told me I had to go to bed or else Santa wouldn't come and threatened that, if I had been bad, there might be a 'bundle of switches' instead of presents. One time my Dad even saw a kind of red light in the sky (an airplane of course), and told me it was Rudolph's nose. I bought it completely, and rushed off to bed. I would lay there going over the year and my misdeeds, wondering if they were just bad enough, really scared that there might be sticks instead of presents. But sure enough, the next morning I would have gotten exactly what I wanted and the cookies and milk were gone. Somebody had to put the presents there. Somebody drank the milk and ate the cookies. And the same went for The Tooth Fairy and The Easter Bunny. My parents fed me the traditional line for each of those characters of folklore, and lo and behold what they said would happen came true. The teeth were gone, replaced by money, and there was an easter basket with awesome sweets in the morning. They gave me hypotheses, under which, if true, certain predictions should become fulfilled, and sure enough they were every time until I finally stayed awake long enough one night to hear my parents putting out the presents when I was about seven or eight. Unfortunately, I had to revise my long held theories based on new observations. It was my darn parents the whole time. What a loss to have to give up those cherished childhood characters, but the loss of God was much less painful.

I recall being a child, in rural Tennessee, and more or less accepting the God story in the small tidbits I heard the adults talk about. See, in that culture, at that time, belief in God was not so much something you were taught or given reasons for, it was more of an activity. Belief in God was less a philosophical issue than just a basis for community. In fact, it seems to me that belief in God was much less important than going to church every Sunday, going to lunch afterward, and getting to eat lots of food on certain holidays and be with family. Sure, you had to go listen to this guy tell fantastic stories about a carpenter, but that was just to give you something painful to do so that you could more fully appreciate getting out of there and going to eat with friends and family. And there was always this great sense of relief when the minister finally said the service was over and we all scrambled up to meet in front of the church. The first words out of the adults' mouths were not anything about how wonderful the sermon was, they were, 'okay, where are we going to go eat?' So God mostly meant food, which was always fine by me.

That said, I was certainly indoctrinated with plenty of the standard stories. One particular one, that I'm sure many Christian raised children lock on to, was the one about Satan rebelling against God and being banished from Heaven (which is more from Paradise Lost than the Bible) and now he runs around playing mischief and trying to get people to get in trouble. I remember thinking to myself how silly it was that Satan would do that. I mean God is this wonderful, all good, and all loving dude up in the sky. Why would you want to not hang out with him? So I decided one night, at about the age of five, to talk to ole Satan and get him to go make up with God. So I laid in bed and, after my prayers of course, started to talk. I said, 'Look Satan, God's a nice guy. I'm sure if you just go apologize and tell him you're honestly sorry, he can work something out for you to come back.' I figured the issue was pretty simple and wondered why someone hadn't just sat down and had a heart to heart with Satan before I thought of it. I guess I expected a golden light to fall from the sky that erased all the evil in the world and for God to come down and personally thank me for giving the reasonable nudge to his favorite prodigy angel that made him come back to his loving arms. But nothing happened, and I just fell asleep.

So I decided to tell my Grandma about this great thing I'd done, so she would be proud of me, but also to hopefully gain some insight into why my well intentioned plan had not worked to set things right with Satan back home where he belonged and no more evil in our world. My Grandma got madder than I'd ever seen her. She told me not to ever talk to Satan, it was dangerous, and would open me up to his influence. I was a bit confused because, in my mind, I'd done the greatest deed possible. Why would she be so mad at me for doing something good? And then it all clicked. Satan was a concept they needed to keep kids like me, and perhaps themselves, in line. He wasn't real at all, that's why when I talked to him, he didn't talk back. And that's why when I threatened to get rid of him, my Grandma got so mad. Ironically, she needed Satan to make sense of the world and have a scapegoat to blame for all of it's horror and atrocity. And then I thought that if Satan wasn't real, then God must not be either. He's just a story invented to give us hope of something better than this horrible world. All of it made sense now. As you might expect my Grandma decided to take this opportunity to really give me some education about Christianity and tell me all about how I had to stick with God to get the goodies in Heaven. But this all seemed like trite drivel to me, now that I'd parted the veil. The God story never had the same effect on me ever again. I obediently listened to her, and continued to go to church of course. I went along with it all, throughout my childhood, because I had to and that's what everybody else was doing, but mostly for the food. God was gone, and I knew the food was cooked by good people, who mattered to me now more than ever because, without the fantastical stories about God and Satan and a false afterlife, I realized that other people are all we have for our salvation. At least Santa Claus was still real and he gave me cool presents in real time, like clockwork, every Christmas, as expected.

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