Santa Claus and the Pascalian Wager
The theology of Santa Claus is perplexing. We have a ten year old who tends to prefer science to magic and enjoys positing rational explanations for any number of illusions. I’ve decided that bright children defer pushing their logistical anxieties with the concept of Santa to a point of critical interrogation because of the so-called Pascalian Wager.
According to Blaise Pascal, belief needs to consider not merely objective evidence but the personal consequences of either belief or disbelief. Of course, he was talking about God. Whereas belief in a non-existent God can only have limited finite negative consequences whereas disbelief in an authentic Deity may have infinite negative consequences – belief is rational.
Accordingly, I think kids take the Pascalian line that belief in Santa is rational as long as disbelief threatens the flow of goodies.
At a certain point, however, it will be important that a child shifts from the Santa theology of Kierkegaard to the Santa theology of Feuerbach.
Kierkegaard of course is interested in the quality of absolute commitment to a being detached from any human assessment of that being’s attributes.
Feuerbach on the other hand is concerned with the positive attribute which can be extrapolated from the concept of Deity. Imagining the formulation “God is good” – Kierkegaard is interested in the subject “God” and Feuerbach is concerned with the predicate – “is good” bit. Feuerbach is perfectly compatible with a version of atheism, while Kierkegaard may even be compatible with Satanism. Nineteenth century theology is therefore defined by these two opposite poles – subject and predicate – Kierkegaard and Feuerbach.
How and when to intervene in the life of a child and tell them that they need a more Feuerbach informed concept of Santa? That Santa is a concept that organises the long predicate of satisfying qualities that are associated with Christmas. That they no longer need to appease Santa in a spirit of Fear and Trembling and that he is not a mysterious independent potency who needs to be placated.
Right now, we’re in a half-way house. The boy has decided that Santa is a sort of spirit who inspires mortals to act in Santa-ish ways. Maintaining a formal and liturgical respect for Santa’s functional existence encourages parents to continue to fulfill the functions of Santa.
Anything to avoid a scene in the playground where a bigger nastier kid remarks “Don’t tell me you still… “