I bristled when I overheard a friend place the evidence for Jesus and Santa on a par. I felt it was patently unfair to Santa.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no fan of Christmas. For all I care, the likes of Santa, Jesus, decorations, and Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” can disappear down a bottomless chimney where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. Chances are the worm would send the McCartney song right back up, but it’s worth a try.
This being Free Inquiry and all, I’d love to tell you that my no-fan-of-Christmas-ness derives from a personal secular humanist moral code. I suppose it does philosophically, but its emotional origin lies in childhood memories of mandatory participation in the “Gather ‘Round the Tree and Pretend We’re a Functional Family” game. Even today, I must work not to let the inescapable trappings of the season propel me into a funk.
Still, even people I am not fond of deserve fairness, and fairness demanded sticking up for the man in red. Before I could stop myself, I had butted in and said there’s way more evidence for Santa than for Jesus.
Admittedly, they have some things in common. Beards, for instance. That, and they know when you’re sleeping, which is more than a little creepy, and whether you’ve been bad or good. But that’s the extent of Santa’s knowledge, whereas Jesus knows everything. Unlikely as it is that a hermit hiding out at the North Pole could know your behavior, it’s a good deal less likely that a fellow who died two millennia ago could know everything about everything. Score a point for Santa.
Speaking of the North Pole, Santa’s alleged place of residence argues in his favor. I do not deny that surviving the harsh polar climate while remaining undetected by radar and satellite is a stretch, but at least we know that the North Pole is a real place. Jesus allegedly resides in a place called Heaven, which we have no reason to accept as real. Another point for Santa.
Now, there are parts of the Santa story that I don’t buy. The flying reindeer and the chimney thing are sticking points, and how he delivers gifts worldwide in the space of a few hours remains a mystery. But while that pretty much does it for Santa’s miracles, Jesus’s miracles know no end. Jesus popped out of a virgin, turned water to wine, raised the dead, cured leprosy, strolled atop water, used his words to calm storms and murder fig trees, sent demons into pigs (we don’t know that demons exist, but we know that pigs do), managed not to giggle at all those people cheering and waving palm fronds as he rode by on a donkey, died and came back to life, scared the hell out of Saul of Tarsus, inspired Constantine to conquer, told Joseph Smith to start the Mormon Church, staged a Fatima spectacular that drew rave reviews, effected a Second Coming so sneaky that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists recognized it only in retrospect, told W to invade Iraq, elected Trump, and to this day keeps busy appearing on toast and making statues bleed. The sheer volume of Jesus’s miracles impresses, yet it is in their volume that they are suspect. Miracles by definition defy natural law, so we must view every claim with suspicion, and as the volume of claims increases our suspicion should increase accordingly. Jesus’s claimed miracles outnumber Santa’s to the point of all but destroying plausibility. Once again, Santa comes out ahead.
It’s true that substantially more people have believed in Jesus than in Santa, although the latter’s numbers are by no means small. Either way, I award no points for argumentum ad populum.
It’s also true that millennia-old writings attest to Jesus, but we cannot vouch for their authenticity. No original manuscripts survive, and we know nothing about the gospel authors—not even their real names—other than that they were not eyewitnesses. Meanwhile, as many or more writings attesting to Santa are arguably more reliable, for we have the originals and can verify the authors’ identities. Point for Santa.
I have about exhausted the evidence for Jesus but not for Santa. It is indisputable that each year thousands of children dragged to the mall by their parents get a firsthand look at Santa. It is indisputable that wishes expressed to Santa come true with surprising frequency. It is indisputable that many a cookie and glass of milk left for Santa on Christmas Eve are consumed during the night. It is indisputable that gifts appear under trees. It is indisputable that Santa has for decades been a Coca-Cola spokesperson. And it is indisputable that each year thousands of children’s letters to Santa receive replies. (Compare the last to Jesus, whose mysterious ways of answering look a lot like not answering at all.) Six more points for Santa.
By my count, Santa emerges with ten points and Jesus with none. New York’s The Sun may have weaseled in its reply to Virginia, but at least it went with the odds.
As for my friend, he accused me of whimsy, if not pedantry. The gall.