I Believed in Santa Longer Than I Believed in God
Yup. It was evidence-based and supported by the home environment.
I remember pretty clearly when I stopped believing in God. I was eight. My folks had given the bro and me a kids’ Golden Book Encyclopedia. The section on dinosaurs fascinated me. Huge, weird fierce-looking creatures that lived millions of years ago. No humans around then either.
At the same time in school we were being taught biblical stories starting from the creation of the world. Puzzling how they’d write about their donkeys, goats and cattle, but nary a mention of the stupendous brontosaurus or the terrifying tyrannosaurus. The awesome pterodactyls were likewise undocumented.
That raised some doubts. More of the inchoate sort since it was an eight year old mind. But without quite articulating it, I’d already taken the beginnings of a skeptical attitude to parts of the Bible. That guy stuck in whale for instance. My father, uncle and grandfather were avid fishermen and I’d been exposed to their tall tales from an early age. But theirs couldn’t come close to topping living in a whale for days on end.
Our family also watched Wild Kingdom every Sunday. I’d been impressed by the show on lions. So when Moses had to put a couple of them in the ark along with a few varieties of antelope and gazelle, I wondered. Marlin Perkins had explained how lions could go a couple of weeks between meals. But 40 days? And with antelopes and gazelles on deck where they’d have trouble bounding away?
So I hadn’t come to a disbelief in God or the Bible, but some things weren’t sitting right. Crystallization came a short time after my mother explained how God always knows what you’re doing, what you’ve done and what you’re going to do. That was pretty astounding. I had a great memory back then and I couldn’t remember every single thing I’d done. One afternoon I was playing catch; bouncing a baseball off the brick side of our house. I almost always caught it but started to wonder if God was paying attention. What if I decided to miss just this once? Wouldn’t that take Him by surprise? Supposedly not, but I couldn’t get my mind around the notion that even if a split second before the ball came to my glove and I decided to drop it, God would still know. It perplexed me so much that about every third toss I’d drop it. I’d wait till just as it was touching my glove and go on impulse. I must have done that 20 times before concluding that something wasn't quite right. And it was the idea that there was some God that was supposed to know everything. Not likely.
Then things started to make more sense. Dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible because they lived and died long before people got there. And not only did God not know what I was going to do next, he mustn’t have known about dinosaurs else he’d have told Adam or Abraham or one of his other confidants, no? So He probably wasn’t around then either. Not much of a God really and one I no longer believed in.
On the other hand, there was clear evidence for Santa. My parents actually told me about him, much more guilelessly than they did about God. Then there was the evidence. I received many gifts with a sticker saying they were from Santa. The milk and cookies we left out were always consumed. All sorts of adults talked about him and none sounded like they were proselytizing. On Christmas Eve the local radio stations would report that NORAD’s radars had picked up something unusual in the skies near the North Pole. THEY SAID THIS ON THE RADIO! I HEARD IT!
Christmas Eve dinner was spent at my grandparents who kept the European custom of celebrating on the 24th. Later in the evening, usually around the dessert course, there’d be a commotion at the back door. We’d get up and whoa! There’d be a pile of presents. My grandfather had previously explained that theirs was a very small chimney, much too small for Santa. And some houses didn’t even have one. So Santa would figure out the most practical way. Smart guy. He even knew Finnish as he’d sign some of the cards Pukki.
Nonetheless I’d heard rumors and spoke to disbelievers. One kid, Clyde, outright told me that his parents told him there was no Santa. I was shaken but eventually tossed it aside. Clyde was a little shit. He didn’t deserve presents as he’d be well entrenched on Santa’s bad boy list. But he got some and his parents just had to make up a no-Santa story to explain why he didn’t go giftless. As rationalizations go it felt awkward but basically hung together.
The next Christmas Eve I was determined to test the hypothesis. I insisted on taking the seat closest to the back door. Throughout dinner I focused on any sound from that direction. Sure enough, just as we were finishing dessert I heard the door open and some banging around. I catapulted from my seat and got to there just before it closed. And while I didn’t actually see Santa, I got a good look at his baggy red pantleg and one black boot as he was hoofing it to his next stop. Very strong proof. I even got excited and cried out “I saw him!"
That tided me over for another year. Cognitive dissonance helped me ignore the increasing playground rumors and even though by next Christmas (I would have been ten) I too was coming around to the non-believers camp, I told myself that that it was better for my eight year-old bro if I kept up the illusion for another year.
At some point my belief just faded away. There was no epiphany. I just acted around the other kids like I’d known for ages there was no Santa. But the truth is that there was nothing like the counter-evidentiary dinosaurs to make me disbelieve any sooner.