I know some Christians are going to call foul, but this comic strip was inspired by a recent layoff of a dear friend (plus a division of co-workers) two weeks before Christmas. It, honestly, seemed like a shit-thing to do considering the supposed spirit of the holidays. Now maybe I could understand it if the CEO and management were not Christians and the 25th was just another business day to get things done (though the apathy would be still appalling), but by all reports they are big churchgoers and therefore I hope they’re all snuggly-warm on a day when their former employees are dreading the new year trying to figure out finances.
Even as an atheist, I’m well aware of how much time, money and energy go into the holidays for families so I still find the idea of laying off people before Christmas repulsive. Couldn’t we wait until the new year? Couldn’t we have given notice and then allowed the employees to work up into the first week of January? My friend got cut off in the payroll cycle so that she only gets a week’s pay out of the usual full check to cover the rest of December and a small severance check that may not come until January or later (after signing the usual crap that as an ex-employee they won’t make trouble).
I am not anti-business and when the numbers are crunched sometimes there is a need to downsize. However, with the larger corporations I bet more often than not it has been done for the bottomline or expediency. I just wish CEOs would ditch their religion because they’re not fooling anyone–except other rich people. They’re about business and their faith is second to money. To me, it’s just another sign that religion is meaningless when it comes to moral and ethics because if the influence of Christianity does nothing to stop a “Christian” CEO from laying off employees right before Christmas then what’s the purpose of such a faith on society? That influence of Christian faith is worthless compared to a little nonChristian reasoning that such an act is a “shit-thing” to do.
This American Life, the popular radio show that features some of the most compelling stories you’ll ever hear, has a Christmas special this week and the stories, well, are kind of horrific.
The episode is 482: Lights, Camera, Christmas! And the story (one of many) that had me shaking my head were parents Glenn and Laurie Mutchler who wanted to keep extending the story of Santa for their son up until he was 13. It had such an effect that apparently their son got into a debate in front of his class at school over the existence of Santa and other magical Christmas beings which ostracized him from his peers. Later when their son found out the truth he was embarrassed, embittered and never trusting of his parents again. And, he says in an interview, he wasn’t trusting of other people including women which caused relationship issues (but he admits maybe this was taking the blame too far).
The primary culprit is the father in this story. The mother indicated she wanted to tell the truth. The problem was that their son asked them point blank if Santa was real or not and they lied to his face and kept lying even as he grew older. This was all for the sake of keeping the magic alive. To this day, their son holds feelings of resentment over the Santa hoax.
And this attitude is not uncommon. My wife told me about a coworker who is disappointed that his ten year old may no longer believe in Santa. Ten years old, in the Internet age, to still believe in Santa? That seems ridiculous to me.
I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with a little kidding around with your children when they’re six or seven about magical beings–however, I would never lie about it. I know some atheists are emphatic about exposing the Santa mythology from the start. My method would simply be to allow my child to figure it out for his or herself. If they asked me if Santa is real my answer would be leading questions: “Why do you think Santa is real?” “Do you think it’s possible for reindeer to fly?” “How does an overweight, elderly man get down the chimney?” “Have you ever seen Santa?”
In this manner, I believe a young child could get their first lesson in skepticism. Obviously, if my kid has turned ten or thirteen years of age I’m going to have to says something like, “Think about it?!” And I would have to expose the myth without the child reaching the correct solution (though I would be heavily disappointed that my kid wasn’t intelligent enough to figure it out on their own).
There is a parallel between parents keeping the Santa myth alive for their children and society keeping alive the god myth. Parents think that Christmas is better for kids when they believe and society thinks it is better for all when everyone believes, regardless if it is true or not. I think it’s time we all grow up. There’s no bearded fat guy dressed in a red suit with a naughty or nice book and there’s no bearded sky-being with a naughty or nice book either. It’s all magic.
We need to separate magic from reality. Magic is reserved for fairytales and imagination–which is why we all go to the movies or read books (or in my case, why I draw comic strips). Reality is filled with wonder (as well as horror), but lazy minds don’t want to search it out. They’d rather escape into ghost hunting, fairies (yes, people still believe in them), demons, and the most successful of all mythological characters: Jesus Christ. The real wonders of life are found in the cosmos, in our origins and in science. It’s not easy to understand and therefore we stray towards magic because it is the easy thing to do.
SIDENOTE: Don’t get me wrong. I like magic in context. What I’m trying to point out is that we are overlapping magic into reality with Santa apologetics for kids and god apologetics for adults. Let’s keep Santa and god(s) in our mythologies, our fantasy novels and movies, and our video games; but if we don’t we are creating irrational kids who turn into uneducated adults who embrace nonsense and impede progress.
SIDENOTE 2: How did I discover Santa wasn’t real? I found presents wrapped and hidden by my mom that mysteriously turned up on Christmas Eve in my stocking signed “Santa.” The jig was up. I didn’t take it too hard and honestly the holidays were still “magical’ after that because I was into books, comic strip collections and holiday TV specials (like Rankin & Bass animation). Feel free to post your own “found out Santa wasn’t real” stories in the comments.
Commentary by Jeff Swenson
It was inevitable that someone would make an ass of themselves trying to evaluate the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad, per an article by Raw Story. Pastor Sam Morris of Old Paths Baptish Church in Tennessee gave a sermon with a disclaimer beforehand that his sermon would “not be pleasant.” He should have added that it would be a moral failure on his part to shift the blame to humanists, homosexuals, abortion, and those who (gasp!) teach evolution. The man is so absurd he feels like something out of one of my cartoons where I exaggerate a character and his mindset for laughs. Morris is definitely a freakshow so there is no way, even as an atheist, that I can include all Christians in this way of thinking. BUT how many of his congregation stayed in their seats for the entire sermon and how much of what he said is secretly believed by more traditional believers with fundamentalist leanings? After all, Pat Robertson suggested the same villains after 9/11 and he has an audience of millions.
Pastor Morris first complained about the call for gun control, which we’ve been hearing a lot of debate on. I, honestly, don’t know if gun control would have solved anything in this situation or not, but I do know that it feels odd for a man of god and a Christian who teaches “Jesus” to even give a damn about guns. Since when did Jesus or his disciples care about weapons (“We demand a right to a sword!”)? I’m not saying Jesus was a complete pacifist (according to several verses he’s saving up his vengeance), but his life example didn’t suggest taking up arms–even to protect himself. Rather, if a Christian has true faith it is in god to protect him, not a man-made gun.
Then Morris suggested that parents should keep kids away from public schools because this is where Lanza (the shooter) was taught he was God by humanism and therefore could blow away anyone he wanted. Think about that for a moment? This accusation isn’t against humanism at all but the idea of an uncontrollable god. I may actually agree that what we read of the Biblical god and other deities does suggest that if they feel jealous or slighted in any way they lash out–like rampaging kids. However, that’s dealing with mythology and not the reality at hand. I don’t know what Lanza believed or thought he was, but I do know not every kid in public school goes on a shooting rampage. The correlation is not there. While horrible, this event and others like it are quite rare. The violence appears to escalate because they are media events.
Contrary to popular Christian belief, humanism doesn’t teach we are god(s). I agree that when we get into transhumanism (the idea that we transcend our physical body because we can repair it or prevent its decay) then we sometimes hear words like “immortal” or phrases “like a god,” but this area is in heavy debate and doesn’t represent your average humanist. Humanism tends to shy away from god references as many humanists are anti-theists–they don’t agree with the concept of god or an all-powerful being that has no reason to be moral (power corrupts). Atheists, in general, usually run from references such as “god-like” or using “god” in their language, so much so that it becomes humorous (which is my character The Littlest Atheist always says “Thank no-god!”).
Humanism is the realization that there is no divine intervention and that we must value “humans.” It’s up to us to save ourselves–we are it! So how would that kind of philosophy teach a kid to shoot other humans and himself? I doubt very much that anyone ever sat down with Lanza and discussed actual humanism. When kids are told that god loves them, but the world spits on them I think it may create the desire to end it all and go to the afterlife . And when kids are told that god may not exist and then are left with no philosophy or guidance to understand the world I believe that can lead to confusion and desperation as well. The failure is a social interaction with the troubled child and leaving a void that should be filled with hope, as well as lessons in social survival as the world can be a nasty place at times (in particular the jungle that is high school).
What it really comes down to is we don’t know what happened with Adam Lanza and we need to do better. We need to flag the troubled kids for help. The only thing I can agree with Pastor Morris on is that our public schools can fail our kids. But it’s not because of teaching evolution or humanism, it’s because of social factors, mental disorders and creating a sense of hopelessness when we should be pushing kids into a brighter future.
My heart does go out to the families who lost their children and loved ones before the holiday. I don’t believe in prayer, but I do believe in community support and it is the community that will help the healing process for such a tragic incident.
SIDENOTE: I know conservatives, including Christian conservatives, are bemoaning the revitalized debate over gun control. I think it’s fair to debate since Adam Lanza got the guns from his mom. Can you prevent situations like that or not? It doesn’t mean the end of all guns as guns may have a role in home defense (I know of friends who have had to use the threat of a gun on an intruder). So let the debate happen and engage it. Maybe something good will come out of it.
SIDENOTE 2: Speculation on my part (which, let’s be real, is meaningless) is that Adam had mother issues which helped alienate him from his peers and society as a whole. They describe him as quiet and withdrawn and hard to know. I’m guessing that he was extremely lonely and angry; if you combine that with adolescence you have a volatile mix. Pastor Morris blames the public school but in this CNN article it says: “She [Lanza’s Aunt Marsha] said Lanza’s mother “battled” with the school board and had to home-school her son.” Will Pastor Morris be quick to blame home schooling now if that was the catalyst?