There’s something chilling about the lines of the classic Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good SO BE GOOD, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE. Creepy. Funny thing is, if you substitute Jesus for Santa Claus, this song becomes a rollicking hosanna to the return of the Son of God: You better not shout, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why! Jesus Christ is comin’ to town! He’s makin’ a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice, Jesus Christ is comin’ to town! Um, okay. Instead of presents, Jesus’ naughty or nice list lets you know who gets into heaven. How are these two things different? Well I’m here to tell ya: early in their lives, children learn the truth about Santa: he’s all made up. As for Jesus, they get told that he’s real, oh yes indeedy, and you’d better be good FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! But I ask you: what’s the difference?
Those of you who know me probably aren’t the least bit surprised by the foregoing. We tell children that Santa is a story, but we don’t say the same about Jesus, and for some reason the kids buy it. I honestly think Santa is more convincing; I mean, aren’t the presents there as real evidence of Santa’s visit? Where are the presents from Jesus? Real presents, that is; not the dangling carrot of the present of eternal salvation (whatever that means). And of course, some of the more manipulative practitioners of the Jesus myth will find ways to explain that Christ’s presents are of a more spiritual nature. Heaven is the ultimate present, and you’d better stay off JC’s naughty list if you want to get there.
Hypocrisy. Lies and hypocrisy. The truth is that the most important line in the song is “be good, for goodness’ sake.” Let me reiterate: FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE. Not for God’s sake, or Christ’s sake, or Buddha’s or Vishnu’s or Odin’s or whomever your anthropomorphic spiritual guide may be. Be good, because it’s the right thing to do. Be good, because humankind has developed rules, over eons of evolution and cultural development, for how to best get along with one another. Be good, because most of those rules apply cross-culturally, and can be summed up in the rule that as you would have done to you, so you should do to others. This rule exists, in one form or another, in every culture in the world. It is not based on religion or God or spirits or the supernatural; on the contrary, the rules came first, and the religions came later. Be good, because our survival NOW, not in some imaginary afterworld, depends on it. Ask yourself: do I do good because I am afraid of God’s punishment or going to Hell, or because it’s the right thing to do? Ask any atheist, and you’ll get your answer. You don’t need God to be good; you just need goodness. So, be good, for goodness’ sake.