Many religions propagate by preying on our most deep rooted fears and insecurities. They use carrot and stick tactics to keep followers on side, and to entrap and pounce upon potential converts. Because these tactics attack deep rooted, deep seeded fears and emotions, they work on people of all ages, persuasions and backgrounds. There are, evidently, people who can see through these tactics. For some this ability is born out of the fact they were not indoctrinated into religion throughout their childhood, for others critical thinking leads them in the right direction.
I’m fascinated by this carrot and stick approach, and the lengths established religions go to in order to keep up the charade. The lengths they go to in order to suppress rational and critical thought, and the lengths they go to in order to convince those that will listen that the rewards, and punishments, are real and present. It occurred to me that this is unique in our world, there is nowhere else an unproved threat is so feared, and an unproved reward so coveted. Even considering what I would consider to be “edge cases”, such as the threat of prison for accumulating parking tickets, or the reward of winning the lottery, we do not rely on unsubstantiated claims, we can do the math on lottery odds and we can read the law that law enforcement officers apply. For religion, it is the various deities that hold us up against their own, in some cases unknown, standards.
One facet of our lives that does seem to hinge on a similar carrot and stick mechanism is actually an offshoot of, or a poor relation to, religion. Children up and down the land will be familiar with Santa Claus, and his unique brand of “justice”. Much like a deity, he judges people based on their behaviour and rewards or punishes (punishment through the lack of reward in light of the children’s peers being rewarded) them based on his judgement. And much like religion, the criteria for gaining this reward is largely unknown and ambiguous. “Be good” isn’t a sufficiently sophisticated mantra on which to live one’s life. “Good” varies based on a persons emotional and psychological make-up and their current situation. To you, someone with money and a job, stealing a loaf of bread may not seem like an altruistic venture, but to someone with no money, and a family to feed, it may seem like a judicial, justifiable, “good” act. The concept of “Good” as a measurement is relative to a large number of variables, and as such leaves those who are being judged unsure as to where the measurement points lie.
The preceding paragraph is a fairly detailed analysis of what should be a simple concept. “Be good and you’ll get toys” is how it usually plays out, or, equally regularly, “stop that or Santa won’t bring you anything for Christmas”. The carrot, and the stick. So why do we grow out stop believing in Santa, but not a deity? Is it because it becomes socially unacceptable to continue your belief in one but not the other? The similarities are obvious to all, the unproved being that judges us and dishes out rewards and punishments, the mountains of evidence that contradict eithers existence (Santa could no more travel around the earth in the space of a single day than God could create the earth, heaven, the universe, billions of stars and billions of planets in seven) and the clear intent of the creators of these myths (control and power).
While you’re pondering the acceptability of believing one imaginary being over another (remember atheists only disbelieve in one less God than theists – depending on the brand of theist), consider whether Santa Claus is a form of theistic grooming of children. Is it a way of making it acceptable to believe in such unfounded claims later in life? Is Santa, and the rewards believing in him provides in your early life, simply laying the groundwork for future theism? It may just be that the rewards are more fitting to adults. Many people get to a stage in their life at which point they can just purchase items they desire, in which case offering physical, tangible, rewards to believe in a deity may not be the convincer it is to a child. It may also be that the punishment is so great that fear drives followers to religion, an eternity in hell is far worse than not getting the latest G.I Joe toy.
However, it is my belief (and I’m no psychologist) that not only is the concept of religion ingrained on our psyches at a a young age, but being encouraged to believe in Santa lays the ground work for a life of non-questioning belief. It’s but a small piece of the jigsaw, admittedly, but a part nonetheless.
Did you believe in Santa as a kid? If so, why did you stop? And if you currently believe in a deity, why have you continued to believe in that deity long after discounting Santa as a credible, existing, entity?
*Note – I’ve heard of stories where parents have used the tradition of gifting at Christmas to push their children towards Christianity. If you don’t believe in Christ, then you don’t celebrate Christmas, and you don’t deserve a gift. As I touched on earlier, this threat can be simply brushed away in adulthood, but when you are reliant on your parents, it’s not so simple. Quite frankly, these actions are pathetic. If your child wants to better themselves by freeing their mind from the shackles of religious, dark age teachings, then you should exceptionally proud and encourage it at every opportunity. The focus of this article is not to deal with these cases, which I hope are few and far between.