“Is there a Santa?” my 6-year-old son asked. It was 1989.
“Yes,” I said cautiously. “There is a Santa, and he’s Mommy and Daddy.” Concerned that my son might feel let down, I added, “There’s magic in the world, too. It’s called science.”
A few years later, after my marriage failed, I would have a very different worldview. But for the first four decades of my life, my worldview was naturalism.
In his book The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality Through the Biblical Story, Baylor University Professor of Theology Roger E. Olson surveys the underpinnings of Western philosophy as compared to the ultimate reality of Christianity. Olson writes, “…this ultimate reality, Yahweh, is by nature loving-kindness, a long-suffering and compassionate God who also cares about justice and will not forever withhold judgment.” These are the Bible’s major themes.
Naturalism claims that nature is all there is and humans are simply nature become conscious and free. “Atheism is just naturalism in disguise,” Olson states, “and if nature is all there is, then there can be no moral absolutes and life has no ultimate meaning—only whatever meanings people invest in it (e.g., happiness.)” Secular humanists also elevate humanity over the rest of nature and therefore share the same worldview. We naturalist, atheist, secular humanists think of ourselves as Santa-gods and point to science and learning as proof.
In the appendix of his book, Olson offers a model for integrating faith and learning. He starts with the assumption that all truth belongs to God. This doesn’t mean that all theories are true or from God, and it doesn’t rule out human research to discover truth and create knowledge. There are not two truths, but there are boundaries. Theology should not interfere with the framing of scientific theories and hypotheses, and science should not embrace naturalism.
The biblical-Christian worldview is still very mysterious to me, and I sometimes find myself slipping back into naturalism. But if I could answer my son’s question today, I would say, “Yes, there is a Santa, and he’s Mommy and Daddy. There are also miracles, loving-kindness, and justice in the world. He’s called God, and He created everything.”
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As I recall, the historical St. Nicholas was a good man in Byzantium who anonymously gifted a friend; dropped a bag of gold down the chimney so his poor friend and his daughters would not be cast out into the streets. It was a charitable act, a Godly act. Well-motivated Mommies and Daddies everywhere remember it by gifting their own children and teaching them the blessing of gifting.
When my kids were little, we had a book called “Santa, Are You for Real?” (I’m afraid it’s out of print now.) It did a great job of telling the story of Nicholas, a man who loved Jesus and gave generously (and anonymously) to the poor. It did a great job of explaining our Christmas traditions, and why we “play the Santa game.” I don’t think my children were disappointed at all, and I never had to face that awkward moment of having to tell them, “We were fibbing about Santa and his sleigh and reindeer – but Jesus is real.”
Love this, thank you! -C.D.
Wonderful discussion! God is the center of our very existence, yet he allows us to think and create. We just need to remember to use this freedom of expression in honor and praise of our Father.
Thank you so much for your comment—and encouragement. -C.D.