Have Yourself a Merry Little Fake Christmas!

According to my wife’s family tales, her younger brother once ruined the lives of many children. Likely around the year-end holidays, he announced to his classmates that Santa didn’t exist.

What!

No Santa Claus?

These exploits took place in elementary school. My wife’s father was a Moravian pastor. Both parents, while mentioning Santa’s peculiar role in the gift-giving traditions, were honest from the get-go: Christmas was about Jesus’ birth. Olde St. Nick had little influence on their Christmas anticipation and celebration.

And yet what about other kids?

Many believed in Santa. With his elf minions and gallant reindeer, the North Pole’s #1 citizen was idolized. He was forever preparing for a late December globe-trotting trip to slip gifts beneath a well-lighted tree! Christmas notes were written: Santa Claus, North Pole. Soon, millions of cookies appeared on millions of plates, ready to welcome the hearty, hungry fellow!

Come, sweet Santa! Hurry, generous Santa!

Then along came little Dan. (Yeah, let’s use my brother-in-law’s actual name.)

Dan was a stubborn, sneaky, bluntly honest tyke. He toured his elementary school like Paul Revere riding to warn about the coming invasion of the British Redcoats. However, his warning was about a red coat of a different flavor! From child to child, Dan proclaimed the truth.

Santa wasn’t real.

Santa, to use a current popular phrase, was fake news.

By the end of that fateful day when pipsqueak Dan exposed the fakery of the Santa myth, the school’s principal contacted his parents. I’m sure (I’m not, really) my future in-laws were warned to restrain Dan from any future ruination of innocent children.

I love that family story. It’s cute. It’s funny. Comparing the now very mature Dan to Paul Revere may be a stretch. I’m also 99.99% confident that Dan’s classmates weren’t ruined by the truth.

What does ruin us?

We currently have a President who frequently tweets and shouts about “fake news.” What has our belief, and our beliefs in belief, become in an era of fake news? Do we trust any history lessons? How do we communicate when your list of “facts” contradicts my list of “facts?”

Though any believer in any religion is more influenced by faith than facts, how many battles do fellow Christians have about Biblical interpretation?

All of Jesus’ miracle stories really happened—and exactly how the scriptures (and God’s inerrant servants) described them!

No! Jesus’ miracle accounts were also symbolic and metaphoric, written by flawed believers relying on various, and sometimes conflicting, oral traditions.

Jesus’ family traveled to Bethlehem to fulfill a prophesy!

No! Jesus’ family probably didn’t take a forced journey to Bethlehem. That Gospel fiction served as a potent counter-myth to Caesar’s grim influence.

  • What is fake?
  • What is real?
  • What is history?
  • What is opinion?
  • What is fact?
  • What is interpretation?
  • What is truth?
  • What is manipulation?

Our biases build walls around us. Our personal experiences define (and constrain) how we view events. Our prejudices shutter the windows of our narrow worlds. And some will just shudder, unable to distinguish between authentic fear and the manufactured fears rigged to fuel an us vs. them hatred. The “glass half-empty” vs. “glass half-full” isn’t an empty cliché. Pessimists and optimists gaze at the same quantity of water with fact-based contradictory responses.

If we don’t like what another says or believes, then why not label it “fake news?”

I hear a fellow Christian claim that following Jesus is the only way to have a real relationship with God.

I disagree! They are wrong!

Are they? They could likely point to verses in the Bible that would “prove” it. But I could, like a magician hoisting a rabbit from a hat, use different verses (or different interpretations of the same verses) that would cast doubts . . .

And from the lofty reaches of the Oval Office, a President—whenever an NBC reporter or CNN screen full of talking heads or a New York Times article “fact-checks” him—declares they are fake. In the classrooms, social media platforms, work cubicles, and shopping malls, the same thing is said or thought in any confrontation: I don’t agree with you, so you are fake.

My brother-in-law, a munchkin on a mission, informed his classmates that Santa was a faker.

He was right. And yet, was he?

How important is it to embrace our myths? How important is it for our faith to be open to other views, other paths, and other (and even conflicting) stories?

Anne Lamott bluntly wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Still, her warning comes with a mirror. How much have I created my own God, to the exclusion of others I deem as “wrong” and even to the exclusion of God? If God is mystery, ineffable and indescribable, won’t the words offered to explain my faith or God’s ways inevitably betray my folly?

And what of matters less divine?

We say the sun rises or sets. Nope. Isn’t it more the earth spinning?

We say we’re dialing a number, but phones haven’t had dials for decades.

We prepare for Thanksgiving, inspired by cartoon depictions of grinning Native Americans and Plymouth Rock pilgrims sharing a swell meal. The meal, in whatever form it happened, was a minor blip on history’s radar screen compared to the devastation soon to come.

On we scurry to Christmas, crowding ‘round the cozy manger with all creatures great and small, hosted by an innkeeper absent from scripture, imploring the shepherds and magi to stand close (even though they are different stories in different Gospels written for different reasons).

I cringe whenever President Trump simplistically refers to a reporter or a report as “fake.” The louder and meaner he complains about fakery, I figure he’s scheming to distract gullible citizens from a more complex truth.

Fakery thrives*. After all, there will soon be “news” about activity in the North Pole.

Wasn’t my brother-in-law correct to warn his classmates?

How do you tell what is fact or fake; what is honest faith or a hollow God created in your image?

++++++++++++++

*An article in the New Yorker entitled Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds proved fascinating. I’ve included an excerpt below. A link for the piece is here.

Ironically, while some might glance at this article—written by a reputable journalist quoting reputable research in a reputable magazine—they might dismiss it. In our current divisive, contemptuous environment, if a source doesn’t reinforce our set-in-concrete thoughts, it’s immediately suspect. [Sigh. Our world, to be polite, has become a hot mess.]

A few paragraphs from Elizabeth Kolbert’s February 2017 New Yorker article:

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.

The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.

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