When we confuse God and Santa Claus: 12-19-17
December 19, 2017
There are many reasons to enjoy the sweet myth of Santa Claus. But if Santa serves as a surrogate or substitute for God, the troubles are nearly endless, as a Marquette professor of religious history argues in this challenging article, "No God But Santa."
But let Ulrich L. Lehner make the point for himself: "Western religion has largely become a self-serving therapeutic endeavor. It doesn’t matter whether you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim — the push for 'No God but Santa' is universal in our society. The moment we diminish the Divine to a moral law of the universe, the moment we rob God of his awe-inspiring mystery, we have started on the road to sentimentalist religion."
The reality is that we live in a therapeutic culture. When things don't go exactly right, we turn to therapy, whether it's guidance from some kind of licensed therapist or counselor or whether it's self-medication by drugs, alcohol or mindless entertainment. What is wrong with us is not our fault, in this view. So instead of looking inside to spot the cause of our malaise (which sometimes, of course, can require the help of good therapists), we seek to put soothing salve on it via the therapeutic culture.
And as Lehner rightly notes, that leads to what he calls "sentimentalist religion," in which the vision of God is not challenging and holy and, well, other. Rather, the vision of God becomes increasingly Santa-like. It's a seductive model, but in the end it allows us to create God in our own image.
As Lehner puts it, "The 'Santa God' gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling — like a cozy blanket on a cold winter day — and brings us what we want. This God is the ultimate vending machine: As long as you are 'nice' here and there, you get a present and perhaps even a place in heaven."
But does abandoning Santa God mean buying into a vision of God as a wrathful spirit willing to send damn near everyone to burn in the eternal fires of hell? Lehner again: "By attacking the idea of the nice God, I do not argue for a mean God or a God of wrath. God is love, justice, and mercy, but if we leave those attributes lifeless, our faith becomes bland, like 'salt that has lost its flavor' (Mt 5: 13). This may be why so many seek spiritual fulfillment outside the churches."
Indeed. If our faith communities can't offer a vision of a loving God who, at the same time, requires a difficult response from us, no wonder they decline.
So let's keep our images of Santa and God separated, except to note that God is the God of all, including Santa.
(The image here today came from this site.)
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A COURAGEOUS EVANGELICAL
If you consider yourself a Christian evangelical, speaking out in protest against President Trump and the evangelicals who abandon their values and support him, can be costly. This intriguing Politico story about such an evangelical, Jen Hatmaker, is a good example of that. But she's not backing down. “When I see legislation and leadership and government harming people, when I see language that’s being normalized and the effect that is going to have on my neighbors and on people who are typically marginalized, I will not sit by,” she says. Good for her. I wish more evangelicals had her courage.