Part of the series God: From Magic to Motivation
This is an unfinished post. It contains one of the most important videos I may have ever posted (part of a Joseph Campbell interview). I think I’m trying to say Santa and the Easter Bunny may be understood as attempts to correct some of the inconsistencies surrounding our use of ‘beliefs’ (whatever assistance ‘beliefs’ may have given to our rapid flourishing and this 10 000-year-old thought-experiment).
Dale McGowan of The Meming of Life has a great story about how his youngest child figured out “the truth” about Santa. His youngest daughter loved Santa. But this winter, she got bit by the bug – she just had to know. She kept asking questions, kept testing and probing to see how certain inconsistent things weren’t adding up. Dale McGowan refers to it as reaching a tipping point between the desire to believe and the desire to know.
His response to his daughter’s momentary disappointment with reality was to praise her process of thinking and reinforce the feeling of pride for figuring things out for herself.
The tradition of Christmas may be a little different next year, but it looks like even his youngest daughter wants to still participate in the holiday fun. In McGowan’s words, “all the fun, all the family stuff, the presents, the yummy food, the lights and music and doing nice things for other people — we still get to have ALL of that. But now you know where it all really comes from.”
By allowing our children to participate in the Santa myth and find their own way out of it through skeptical inquiry, we give them a priceless opportunity to see a mass cultural illusion first from the inside, then from the outside.
Joseph Campbell explains a similar but more confrontational ritual that came about partly from our long years of mythological consciousness:
The young person becomes a responsible member of the community by facing up to the greatest fear and the possibility of loss, and then adopting the constructed masks themselves.
My niece has figured out “the truth” about the Easter Bunny. She is reluctant to say anything out loud, but this year she was insistent about asking her mom if she could “help with the eggs.” Her desire is not to run to her younger brother and tell him. He is still quite young and would not likely understand. Instead, she wants to take part in the ritual, but with the added responsibility and duties of the adults.
Something often shared amongst ministers is the serious joke: “No one should get through seminary believing in God.” It’s a comment about how the simple, or in Campbell’s words, infantile understanding of the world can’t survive direct and bare exposure to the frightening reality and complexity of “the truth.” And in fighting with that Mask of God in that academic environment, they are supposedly becoming worthy of the masks themselves, responsible enough to wear a constructed mask and bring their congregations to that wrestling match with God.
Here’s my question – kids come to understand “the truth” about Santa and the Easter Bunny realtively early. Often enough the reaction is to adopt or participate in the adult’s side of the ritual. And often enough, the family tradition adapts to fit the new situation, the now-shared information. Entrance to seminary or college usually takes place in the late teens or in full adulthood. But isn’t it really the same ritual, just dressed up in a different aesthetic?
And if that’s the case, then what does this mean for “belief”?
The most important thing in all these traditions seems to be the moment the mask comes off. Could this ritual not be adopted once again? Or is it?
What do you think?
Final word from Dale McGowan this time:
“I wouldn’t have mythed it for the world.”