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It is hard to turn on the news recently without seeing political campaign coverage. There is a political strategy for diminishing an opposing candidate’s support by accusing him of a crime bearing such negative social stigma that, even if untrue, the accusation alone makes him look bad. For example, a politician, without any evidence, might accuse his opponent of being a child molester. The innocent accused party denies the accusation. But his less thoughtful followers who don’t consider the who, what, why and where behind the accusation may distance themselves from the “accused child molester” despite the fact it is a completely baseless accusation.
Sound far-fetched? Donald Trump tried exactly that two weeks ago by comparing Ben Carson to child molesters in a speech. The strategy backfired on Trump however. The next morning the media was all over Trump for making the absurd accusation. Several reports called Trump out for making baseless claims. In my opinion, Trump only succeeded in making a fool of himself.
Sam Harris makes a similar absurd accusation by comparing people who believe in Jesus to people who believe in Santa Claus. Ben Carson wisely ignored Trump’s allegations as the absurdity they were. Similarly, Harris’ suggestion does not merit a response. Sadly, however, there some nonbelievers who actually buy in to this absurd comparison. So let us briefly consider where the comparing Jesus to Santa Claus unravels.
First, consider parents’ intent in different things they teach their children like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy versus teaching them about George Washington or Julius Caesar. The intent of the former is to entertain their children while the latter is to educate them. Parents expect their children to grow out of belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By contrast, children are not expected to grow out of the belief that George Washington was America’s first President or that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. In short, you do not outgrow beliefs in historical events. Thus the only real question is whether Jesus rose from the dead. Harrison’s comparison to childhood beliefs in Santa Claus is nothing but a Red Herring.
Second, unlike Santa Claus rational adults who never believed in Jesus and his resurrection in childhood come to those beliefs in adulthood. Notable examples are former atheists Antony Flew who came to believe in God very late in life, scientist Alister McGrath who came to faith while studying science at university, and skeptical atheist reporter Lee Strobel who set out to disprove Christianity but was won over by the evidence. By contrast, there are no example of adults who were agnostic on Santa but succumbed to belief after examining the evidence.
Third, atheist parents teach their kids about irrational beliefs like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy just like Christian, Muslim, and Jewish parents. The argument that nonbelievers are more rational than believers is specious. Jesus is sole point of disagreement. Labeling your opponent “irrational” simply because they disagree with you on a key point is an ad hominem attack which says nothing about the validity of your own position.
In summary, the Santa Claus/Jesus comparison is the kind of intellectually devoid argument that left me disillusioned with atheism. I read atheists like Harris, Dawkins, and Nietzsche hoping for substantive, rational reasons for disbelief. Instead I found misguided arguments comparing Jesus to Santa Claus which left atheism looking intellectually untenable.