The Irrelevance of Proof to the Holiday Spirit

Santa ClausI’ve got a zany new essay at Religion Dispatches today about a lecture earlier this week in Brooklyn, “A Philosophical Proof of Santa Claus.” Jamie Hook, the evening’s presenter, did a masterful job of miming some of the issues at play in debates about God—though in the guise of a fellow whose existence, this season at least, is for many people a somewhat more urgent question.

Mr. Hook, who describes himself as a “socially omnivorous urban dandy,” began this “passion play for the non-believer” with a story of loss of faith: the memory of telling a seven-year-old boy that Santa Claus doesn’t exist and subsequently watching him fall into a two-week depression. “We had made his world smaller,” Hook remembers. He devised this lecture, following the suggestion of Rainer Maria Rilke, to “restore enchantment to the world.”

Hook promptly proceeded to a Wikipedia-style historical sketch of the origin of the idea of Santa Claus, followed by a 12-minute original anthropological video of actual, believing children articulating the substance of their Christmastime convictions. These two accounts were utterly at odds. The children didn’t hesitate to delve into amazing speculations about how Santa may have once been an ordinary man, or preceded the evolution of the human race, or came from a supernova-ed star long ago. None of them, significantly, were willing to either question their belief in Santa or to prove it—aside from the testimony of having seen him at school or the remains of his nocturnal deliveries at home. As Hook pressed them from behind the camera to explain, the children only became firmer in their self-assurance.

Read the rest at RD.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.