Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Saturday, December 18, 2004
A Question About the Psychology of Santa Claus (SPOILERS)

This Jew has a polite question about how the childhood belief in Santa Claus relates to the belief in that other guy who's supposedly connected to Christmas.

Most Christian children are told, when they're very young, about a magical bearded guy who comes from the sky and give them rewards and punishments. Parents defend their children's belief in this guy as their moral birthright, and it's bound up with the very meaning of childhood.

Then, a few later, the children are told that it was all a lie. Many of the kids have worked this out by then; one reason it's not a tenable "real" religous belief is that it has too many testable implications that don't hold up -- the famous calculation about how many houses per hour Santa visits, that kind of thing.

It seems to me that if I were designing a plan to install skepticism in the population, this would be a pretty good one. Having been lied to once, you'd think people would be a little less prone to jump at the story of an omniscient force that rewards and punishes. But they aren't; at least, not enough to matter. I don't think I've ever heard anyone raised Christian say that the Santa thing turned them away from religious belief.

So...why is that? Is it that the experience of believing in Santa was so pleasurable that the desire to replicate it later, after a fashion, trumps what one might have learned from the debunking?

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