Even as a teenager, it was easy for me to spot similarities between Santa Claus and God. Both have supernatural attributes, both live in a grand, theme-park place, both practice an absolute form of justice, and both were invoked when I misbehaved. Of course, as a teenager, I’d long-since put away the idea that a reindeer-wielding sleigh carrying an overweight, bearded fellow would deliver presents to billions of children over the course of a few hours; but at the time, one idea seemed more ludicrous to me than the other.There is a convenience factor that parents who invoke Santa Claus rely on: it allows them to disown punishments they dole out. In the case of the parent who tells their child that Santa will deliver coal if they continue their behavior, they don’t even have to take responsibility for their warning.
The trade-off for this invocation is that they don’t get credit for the presents on which they may have spent hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars. I suppose that for parents using this carrot/stick approach, the benefit of behavioral control exceeds the cost of the delusions they impart to their child.
I think there are plenty of parallels one could draw in how Christianity has described heaven and hell, and what punishment and reward looks like. Heaven is a grand place where all sins are forgiven and all doubts are washed away. Pain doesn’t exist and logical dilemmas are replaced with absolute reverence to the bearded boss. All one has to do to enter heaven is to give absolute reverence to the parent/church while they’re alive, give it a substantial chunk of their earnings, attempt to behave themselves, and apologize constantly.
The alternative to entering the North Pole…I mean heaven…is achieved by failing to practice the right blend of reverence to God and reverence to the Church…oh, and about 1000 other things, too, including choosing the wrong day to eat shellfish or mixing polyester and cotton. There are lots of transgressions that will get you eternal coal…erm…damnation.
Using a proxy to extort control is a common theme in human behavior. This was magnificently described by Orwell in 1984 with the Big Brother character, who was never actually revealed to exist, but who could convict based on thought crime and inclination to individualism.Follow @TimSteppingOut