The Santa Claus Conundrum (Or, Christian Attitudes Toward Santa Claus

Many Christians understandably get confused when they are forced to deal with Santa Claus.  If we include getting presents from Santa Claus in our observance Christmas of the Christmas holiday, are we in essence lying to our children?  How can we observe a holiday based on the birth of Christ, and incorporate a lie in the observance?  Does paying so much attention to Santa Claus take away from Christ?

Well, I don’t really think it is all that complicated.  I know several Christians who simply ‘do not do’ Santa Claus.  I think this is a shame.  I encourage my child to have a good imagination, and I think watching her pretend is a great thing, and a source of entertainment for me as well as her.  Santa Claus teaches children about giving and that being good is often rewarded (and being bad is punished).  These are excellent life lessons for a small child.

The problem seems to revolve mostly around lying to our children.  I personally do not have any problems helping my child keep up the Santa Claus façade.  As long as she wants to believe in him, I will encourage her to do so.  However, I know the day will come when she will ask me straight-up if he is real, and I will tell her the truth.  I will also remind her how much she has enjoyed pretending that there is a Santa Claus, and how she should not ruin the same feeling for other kids who still believe he is real.

I feel sorry for the parents that do not let their children believe in Santa Claus, and likewise, I feel sorry for their children who miss out on part of their childhood.  They are robbing their kids of the chance to take part in a great Western tradition, and much of the wonder that comes with being a child at Christmas.  Often, these children grow up and become embittered by the fact that they did not get to participate in the fun that their friends had.  These are not good feelings for a teenager who is facing other temptations such as sex and drugs from their friends.  I do not want my child left with the feeling that, “Maybe, my parents just don’t want me to have fun.”

On the other hand, I once knew a girl (a twenty something) who said that because her parents lied to her about Santa Claus, she could not trust them.  I have to say that this was one of the most offensive examples of an ingrate that I have ever seen.  So, the fact that her parents got her all of those gifts, and tried so hard to give her a fun childhood meant nothing to her.  In the end, I think she was just looking for a reason to blame her parents for all of her problems, which she did.

The question about whether Santa Claus detracts from Christ at Christmas is a touchier subject.  It is true that Santa Claus is a big part of the secularization of Christmas, but that just means that Christian parents have to do their job, and make sure that their children do know ‘the reason for the season.’

About twenty years ago, Amy Grant’s music was becoming so popular that it was crossing over from the Christian music stations to the pop music stations.  At the time, Christian stations found themselves in a conundrum.  Her music could be interpreted to be either about God, or maybe a friend or boyfriend depending on how you applied the lyrics.  As a result, many Christian music stations found the need to determine if they were still going to play her music or not.  In the end, most played the music because they correctly argued that having young people listen to the music might actually draw them to Christianity.  The same argument works for Santa Claus.  If you prefer, think of Santa Claus as a gateway drug that draws the world to ask, “Why are we celebrating this holiday, anyway?”  As Bart Simpson once said, “Christmas is the time of year when people of all religions come together to worship Christ.”

It is also helpful to remember that the Santa Claus legend is based on Saint Nicholas of Myra who was by all accounts a Christian that anyone would do well to emulate in his life.

A Christian Family Halloween.

Last night my family got together for Halloween.  It included my wife, my two year old daughter, my mom, sister, her husband and my niece.  My bother-in-law’s father, sister, niece and his brother-in-law also were there.  On top of that, my sister is pregnant with my future nephew, as is my bother-in-law’s sister with his.  This was by far the largest family gathering of this sort since my sister’s wedding about 12 years ago.

I have to say, this was the most enjoyable Halloween of my life, and that includes when I was a kid.  I got to watch my two year old Daughter who has no fear.  She is amazing.  She watched her 4 year old cousin and her cousin’s cousin for the first few houses, and I even had to retrieve her from one house when she walked right in past the owner.  After a few houses, she had the hang of it, and at years old she was the one who got to the door first and knocked.  She would say, “Trick or treat! (it sounded like ‘tick-tee’)” and, “Thank you!”  Often, she needed no prompting, and she made me very proud.  There were a few times that she asked me to carry her to the next house, but when she saw the light on, she would run to the door.  She loved it and there was a couple of time when she grabbed me around the neck and just started giving me hugs and kisses repeatedly.  I guess she was just that happy.

The other thing that got my attention was the number of adults that were participating.  Almost every other house gave out candy.  The people were all very nice.  Some sat on their porches, and a few came down to the sidewalk to meet our children.  I noticed the ages of these people, and most were old enough that there children were out trick-or-treating on their own, or they probably already had grandchildren.  This made sense, as most couples with small children were roaming the streets getting the candy themselves.  This means that the numbers actually participating in the festivities were even larger than the numbers giving out candy.  Kind of amazing.  Isn’t America great?  All of these people could have been sitting in their respective living rooms, but they decided to take the time to give out candy that they bought from their hard owned money just to make people that they did not even know happy.

I wrote a post a couple of week’s ago about Christian Attitudes Toward Halloween.  Since, then I have been extremely busy with overtime work commitments, and have not had a lot of opportunities to write, but I have monitored my traffic and the search criteria that people have used to get to my posts.  The Halloween post has generated a lot of interest, though there have been no comments.  I was surprised about that because of the controversial nature of the subject.  It seemed like the people for and against were about even when looking at their search criteria.  I personally think that those who were against Halloween who read my post either did not stay long enough to read the article once they saw that it did not confirm their own ideas, or they, unfortunately, like most Christians do not take the time to form their own opinions and wait to be told what to think about ideas like Halloween by other Christians who often have no better reason than the fact that someone told them what to think.

I feel sorry for the Christian parents who did not take part in the festivities.  I was pretty nice about it in the last post, but now, I am just going to say it flat out.  They are wrong.  There is really no Biblical justification for their attitudes.  They are the kill-joys that drive people including their children from the churches.  It is a shame because it does not have to be that way.  Their noble intent of protecting their children will often build up resentments in these same children.  They, the children, as they grow up will know that the negative attitudes toward things such as Halloween are wrong, but often there is no one who can help them resolve the truth about the situation, and they end up becoming disillusioned with the whole Christian life because of the few problems that denominational Christian churches have including negative attitudes toward anything secular, including Halloween.

On Thursday, my family went to one of the Fall Festivals at one of the local Baptist churches.  We had a lot of fun, but it could have benefited from a little more organization.  That being said, they did not have to do it at all, and it was a nice attempt at a hospitable ministry to the community.  It is often hard to get a church to embrace these types of ministry activities because they cost money, they do not generate money, and they do not directly lead to converts during the activity, for the most part.  They are effective, however, because they bring in tons of people to meet the nice members of your church, and will result in people joining the church that may not have done so.

However, I read a couple of blogs last week that defended the “Fall Festival” idea last week.  These people felt that their party was being criticized as hypocritical by Christians who were against Halloween.  They went on to split hairs between taking part in Halloween, and attending their “festival” where you dress up, play games and give candy to children.  This is where I agree with the fundamentalists who hate Halloween.   If a Church has a “Fall Festival” as an alternative to Halloween, and denigrates the holiday at the same time, they are indeed being hypocritical.  But, where I differ from the fundamentalists is that I think having a “Fall Festival” or even a Halloween party at your church in accord with the generally accepted Halloween observances is a great idea, and a good ministry tool.  Let’s just not condemn Halloween while observing it in our churches.

In the end, it’s a shame on Christianity, my religion, when we allow the world to ‘show us up’ in the areas of hospitality, neighborly love and friendship, and if we continue to go down this road, we will become more and more irrelevant.

Christian Attitudes Toward Halloween

Many Christians are confused and troubled about what to do with Halloween.  The imagery, movies and media coverage associated with this the events surrounding the 31st of October often leave us wondering what is the best thing to do, especially when we have kids. 

Some Christians take the popular and age-old Christian stance that if there might be a problem somewhere with it, then it is best to run away from the situation entirely.  These people just stay home and ignore the holiday all together.  Some Churches promote fall-themed alternatives or ‘Hell-houses.’  While others simply view Halloween as a fun family activity where the kids get to dress up and get candy.

I have a friend who subscribes to the ‘Halloween is evil, and we should ignore it’ theory.  Last year we both expressed our ideas about Halloween in a few emails.  They were cordial and respectful, but we did not agree.  I have decided to break down his arguments against Halloween and my responses to him.  I think the basic arguments for and against participating in the holiday were covered pretty well by both of us.

The main point made by Christians who oppose the holiday is that it appears to be evil and that it leads to or promotes evil things.  Most people who oppose the holiday see the images of skeletons, demons, devils, witches and ghosts, and say that it is inappropriate for children to see these evil images promoted in a positive setting.  The popular Bible verse that is used by any Christian that is against anything is used here.  Romans 14:13 says, “…make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”  They say that these sorts of activities should be avoided so that we do not set a bad example for others.

The other main argument is the ‘gateway drug’ contention.  They believe that the evil ideas that surround Halloween provide a gateway for children to become interested in other evil activities.  In this argument, dressing your child up as a fairy princess who has magic powers will lead to her wanting to dress up as a witch later.  As they grow older, the positive images created by dressing up like this as they were younger will add to the possibility of them being attracted by actual occult activities.  My friend referred to the candy associated with Halloween as ‘the trap’ that gets kids interested in the first place.

Some see true problems with Halloween activities, and paint all Halloween activities with this brush.  They see some people having rowdy parties with a lot of drinking or possibly a Ouija Board or Séance.  They also see fringe occult groups garnering attention during the Halloween season by performing actual dark rights in ‘celebration’ of the holiday.  They sometimes look at the history of Halloween, and see its negative effects on people (mostly Chrstians, by the way) in centuries past.

Finally, there are truly evil people such as pedophiles who could be having children come to their doors looking for candy.  This is a truly disturbing possibility.

There may be other arguments against Halloween, but the ones supplied above are a good example of most of them.

I, however, do not agree that Halloween is evil.  The idea, that we, as Christians must ‘flee any appearance of evil,’ is just not supported in the context of Halloween.  Christians use Romans 14:13 is a Catch 22 saying, ‘because I believe there is an appearance of evil, then an appearance of evil exists.  Therefore, I can use the argument that we must flee any appearance of evil to support the fact that the idea is evil in the first place.’  This circular logic is not even supported in the context of the same verse that it is taken out of, much less in the context of the surrounding passage. 

Romans 14 verse 13-

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

We are definitely admonished not to cause each other to stumble, but leading into the verse, it also admonishes us not to stop passing judgment on one another.  These same arguments have been used for centuries by some denominations to decry drinking (at all) and dancing and other denominations to condemn music.  The point is that the Bible, for the most part, does not deal with innocuous things such as Halloween.  In fact, often these people who tend to ‘make up sins’ when they see something that they do not like, do it in the face of scripture that argues against their point of view.  For example, in the case of drinking, Jesus made the best wine when he attended the wedding.  The word used for it describes a particularly good and potent form of wine, not grape juice.   Admonitions against dancing and music also do not hold up to Biblical scrutiny. There are hundreds of examples where the Bible calls upon someone to play an instrument, and the women who condemned David for dancing, in the nude no less, were punished by God for their actions.  My point is that it is never a good practice to go labeling something as a sin or wrong just because we are personally uncomfortable with it. 

The ‘gateway drug’ argument really just expounds upon the same idea.  The thing that worries me the most in it is the hidden message that our imaginations are a bad thing.  I find it personally sad when children are not allowed to indulge the fantastic imaginations that God gave them.  There is nothing wrong with a kid pretending to be a fairy princess.  We start down a slippery slope when we start to label fairies as magical servants of the devil.  The idea of a magical fairy has nothing to do with Satan, and really neither does what most people think of as a witch.  It is all pretend.

The point is that good Christian parents have an obligation, as their children grow older to teach them the difference between pretending and true acts of evil.  If you allow your child to dress up as a witch, and they use that as a springboard into Satanism, then you have not done a very good job of parenting.  Somewhere along the way, you did not communicate the true nature of good and evil with your child.  It is the job of any parent to spend (sometimes inordinate) amounts of time communicating what it is to be a good person, a good Christian, and a good citizen to their children.  If they do not take the time to do so, their children may fall through the cracks, but it won’t be Halloween’s fault.

Regarding the argument that there are events planned by some around the Halloween holiday that do involve acts of evil, such as drinking parties and rites performed by occults, I would say that those who despise Halloween on religious grounds tend to lump too many things together.  The people who use Halloween as an opportunity to get drunk, do not do so because it is Halloween, they just want to get drunk, and use the occasion of Halloween as an excuse.  Just as NRA proponents will say correctly that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’  Halloween does not make people evil, evil people can, however, use Halloween for evil things.  The same is true for occult members.  They simply use Halloween to promote the evil that they would be doing regardless of the holiday.

Remember, most sins in the Bible are sins of excess.  Almost anything when done to excess can become a sin for the person doing it.  Drinking is a good example of this, but almost anything else can become a bad thing when done to excess.  I’ll use prayer for an example.  Can prayer become a sin?  Well, if a person spent every moment of every day in prayer to the detriment of his physical body and his family, I believe for him, this would be a sin.  Drinking, dancing, music, Halloween, almost anything in excess is a bad thing, and since God wants good things for us, we should refrain from excess.  We do not, however, need to through the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

The final argument against Halloween is that you do not know who is behind the door when your kids go up to it.  It could be a pedophile or someone that has laced the candy with something that will hurt them.  This is true.  These things could happen, and they are why responsible parents chaperone their children when they go trick-or-treating.  They only allow their children to go to houses where they know the people, and they already know where the pedophiles in their neighborhood live, because that information is available online.  They just stay away from those houses in the first place.  Responsible parenting requires parents to be extremely proactive.  If you are sitting at home, and allowing your small child to run around the neighbor trick-or-treating while unattended, I question your parenting skills.

I believe that most Christians who do not like Halloween are fundamentally wrong about what Halloween is for most people.  Halloween, like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and even Christmas is a fundamentally American institution.  For most people, Halloween is simply a day when people decide to get together by the millions and do something nice and fun for children.  For them, it is about the act of giving a piece of candy to a child.  It is a wonderful gesture, and many parents use this as a teaching tool to reinforce good manners in their children by encouraging them to say ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

Taking the argument one step further, I would make the case that those Christians who turn their noses up or pull their children away when offered a piece of candy may be further from God’s will in all of this than those who take part in Halloween.  Spend some time researching one of the strongest themes of the New Testament, that of “Hospitality.”  The Bible has a lot to say on the subject, and some of the admonitions against being inhospitable are very strong.  Paul knew he did not have to keep the old dietary law anymore, but he did so because he was Jewish.  However, he went out of his way to point out that, for the sake of hospitality, he put these rules aside.  He said that if a Christian were invited into a person’s home to eat, then he should eat the meal graciously whether it was Kosher in a Jewish home or bacon in a Roman’s house. 

If a person in a spirit of hospitality offers my child a piece of candy on Halloween, I let them take it with a smile, and I make sure both of us say, “Thank you!”  If I do not know the person, I may discard the candy later.  I may even explain why to the child, but I respect the fact that the person giving the candy was trying to be nice.

In the end, I believe that for most people and for my family, Halloween is about imagination and millions of Americans taking the time to brighten the day for the children around them.  Might it be better if we had a similar day without any of the dark imagery?  Perhaps, but this is what we have, and the great thing about Halloween is that you can make of it whatever you want.

Reaction to ESPN’s Top 10 Running Backs List

Due to hectic events, I have been a little remiss in writing lately.  I hope to make up for some of that with this hot sports opinion.

 

ESPN has published a list of the top running backs of all time, and it is a big steaming pile of horse s—.  You know it must be the slowest sports time of the year when they have nothing better to dredge up than the second most tired argument in sports (the first being the Pete Rose Hall of Fame argument)- the ‘who was better Emmitt or Barry’ argument.  I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the purpose of this article is simply to create interest through ‘shock value.’

 

Here is a short version of the list:

1. JIM BROWN
Career: Upon retiring before ’66 season, the Browns’ RB was all-time leader in rushing yards (12,312), all-purpose yards (15,549) and touchdowns (126).

2. BARRY SANDERS
Career: Sudden retirement in ’99 came with the Lions’ RB trailing only Walter Payton on the all-time rushing list. Ran for more than 1,500 yards in a season five times.

3. WALTER PAYTON
Career: Played on mediocre Bears teams until late in career but retired as leading rusher (16,726) in history.

4. EMMITT SMITH
Career: Smith, who played 13 seasons for Dallas and two for Arizona, took over as all-time rushing leader in ’02. His 164 rushing touchdowns are the most in history.

5. GALE SAYERS
Career: Knee problems forced him to retire in ’71 after seven seasons with the Bears. At 33, he was the youngest person selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

6. LADAINIAN TOMLINSON
Career: The Chargers’ RB has at least 1,200 rushing yards and 50 receptions in each of his first seven seasons.

7. MARSHALL FAULK
Career: Began career with Indianapolis in ’94 but was traded to St. Louis in ’99 and became cornerstone of “Greatest Show on Turf.” First running back in history to lead his team in receptions in five different seasons.

8. O.J. SIMPSON
Career: The Bills’ great became the first player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season when he gained 2,003 in ’73.

9. LENNY MOORE
Credentials: One of Johnny Unitas’ key weapons for the Colts, he scored a touchdown in 18 straight regular-season appearances between ’63 and ’65.

10. ERIC DICKERSON
Credentials: Reached 10,000 rushing yards in 91 games (the fastest pace in history) and rushed for 2,105 yards in ’84. Played for Rams, Colts, Falcons and Raiders.

 

To distance themselves from the ridiculousness of this list, they have been upfront in giving credit/assessing blame to these authors of the list Don Shula, Marv Levy, Dan Reeves, Robert Smith, Jerry Richardson, Floyd Reese, Jack Bushofsky and Emmitt Thomas.

 

I do not have a problem with Jim Brown being at the top of the list.  What he did during the time he was in the league, and when he did it compared with the other running backs of his era, makes his stand out above the rest on the list.

 

I start having problems at number two on the list.  Emmitt Smith is at number four.  I will deal with the tiring Barry/Emmitt argument first.  I do not want to hear about Barry’s self-truncated career any more.  He was a great back, but his career does not compare with Emmitt’s because he threw a fit and quit.  We do not know if he would have had a better career that Emmitt, because,… he quit.  There is no data, and it is not fair to project ‘could have been’ data to an argument such as this.  Barry should be on the list, but I put him at number five.  All of you Barry lovers need to let it go and realize that his early retirement actually hurt his legacy.

 

The authors of this article defend the list by saying that Walter Payton was great while playing most of his career on bad teams.  On the contrary, they spend a whole section of the article backhandedly complimenting Emmitt and explaining his position at number four as a result of the fact that he played with other stars, such as Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, together with a great offensive line who assisted in making Emmitt good.

 

How about this argument?  It is easier for a great running back to rack up yards on a bad team than a good team.  A bad team will place a larger part of the load on a great running back’s shoulders in order to keep from exposing the other bad parts of the offense.  On the other hand, a player like Emmitt could lose carries to other great players in his offense.  It seems worse than wrong to penalize a player for being on a great team.  The Cowboys played a #1 schedule against some of the best teams (including being in the NFC East) in the league for much of Emmitts career.  Payton and Sanders played much easier schedules in a much weaker division.  Check out Sanders’ performance in games that counted.  He could turn in a nice 25 yard performance with the season on the line.  Emmitt never did this.

 

Emmitt closed the deal also.  He not only set the all-time rushing record and the all-time rushing touchdowns record, he carried the Cowboys to three Superbowl victories in four years.  The article curiously gives some numbers, but does not just lay them out for consumption.  This is, of course, because the numbers do not back up the opinions espoused by the authors.  They oddly say, “Sudden retirement in ’99 came with the Lions’ RB trailing only Walter Payton on the all-time rushing list. Ran for more than 1,500 yards in a season five times”, regarding Barry Sanders.  When it comes time for the quick blurb about Emmitt it says, “Smith, who played 13 seasons for Dallas and two for Arizona, took over as all-time rushing leader in ’02. His 164 rushing touchdowns are the most in history.”  Dallas’ playoff record and Superbowl victories are not mentioned.  Of course, looking pretty as you run down the field is much more important than actually putting skins on the wall.

 

While I believe there is a legitimate debate near the top of the list, it begins to fall apart after Emmitt.  I am truly tired of seeing Gale Sayers at the top of these lists.  He is the biggest example of ‘good old days syndrome’ in sports.  In truth, if he had played in the last few years, we would not have even made the Hall of Fame.  His numbers compare with someone like Terrell Davis, who also had a very good short career, but does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, the argument that he is in the Hall of Fame is used to bolster many backs such as Davis who do not deserve to be there.

 

Seeing the rest of this list only underscores how difficult it is to have a great and sustained career at running back in the NFL.  Of course, Dickerson belongs on the list and much higher than #10.  He belongs in the top five in my book easily.  Compared with some of the others on the list, and listening to names that arises when the best backs of all time are listed, he may be the most underrated of the greatest running backs in the history of the game.

 

Even though he as a bastard and a killer, O.J. belongs on the list, and I put him at #6.  He was a undeniably the best back of his era.  Faulk probably deserve to be on the list, but he was as much a receiver as a rusher.  He changed the way the position was played, and he has his skins in the wall.  I put him at #7.

 

I’ really like Ladainian Tomlinson, and agree that if he continues to put up number even close to those he has so far, he may end up as the greatest back in the history of the game.  The point is, he has not done it yet, and as a result, I have to give him an incomplete, and cannot include him on the list.  He has already had one ‘career ending’ injury, and was hurt at the end of the last two seasons.  It is too early to give him a place on the list.  When I was in college, as a history major, we talked about the concept of history.  We were told that it is best not to write history until about twenty years after the fact.  This allows time for personal politics and such to wash away, and just leave the facts.  The same goes for this list.  We should at least allow the player’s career to end before evaluating it.

 

Lenny Moore?  Oh yeah, his name just rolls of the tongue in any conversation involving great running backs.  I find it interesting that they say his longevity, and the good job he did on a great team with other great players on the team, propelled him onto the list while these same facts seemed to hold Smith from reaching the top of the list.

 

Here is my list:

1. Jim Brown

2. Emmitt Smith

3. Walter Payton

4. Eric Dickerson

5. Barry Sanders

6. Marshall Faulk

7. OJ Simpson

8. Franco Harris

9. Earl Campbell (There is a big drop off to the last two places, and I might be talked into some else at these two slots).

 

Here are a couple of other lists for comparison, though the second is very suspect:

List 1

List 2