Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Santa Scale for Measuring Society's Slide Down Secularism's Slippery Slope

OK, I confess. I am a Christmas fanatic. I love the sights, the sounds, the smells, and (yes) even maintain a tradition of day-after-Thanksgiving shopping at 4:00 a.m. This year, we were visiting our second and fourth children and their families in the Ozarks and my fifth child and I still made it to five stores between 4:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Friday morning. Each day between the Thanksgiving and Christmas is filled with viewing “classics” such as “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Santa Clause” (one, two, and three). Next week will find me on the roof putting up the huge lighted Costco nativity scene.

Santa Claus has been a bit more ambiguous for me. My Christian convictions led me to ban Santa from the house during the rearing of our first four children. However, the more Tolkien and C.S. Lewis I read, the more it seemed that Santa was not so much a threat to faith or a competitor to Christ as he was a richly nuanced myth conveying some significant spiritual truth artistically supporting rather than contradicting the reality of Christ’s incarnation. So, my fifth child grew up in a Santa-friendly environment.

Santa, and how he is portrayed, can be a barometer of our society and its degree of slide down the secular slippery slope. Last week, viewing "Fred Claus," I learned volumes about how far we have fallen. As portrayed brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, Santa has the same problems as many other mortals. He experiences sibling rivalry, fights with his brother, "Fred" (portrayed perfectly by Vince Vaughn), struggles with his weight, has marital difficulties, and his wife even hints about "other" problems that might profitably be helped by Viagra or Cialis.

Santa has a heart of gold and gives of himself generously to all, including Fred from whom he has been alienated since childhood. However, while Santa may be a “spiritual” person (in the 21st century generic sense), David Dobkin plants him squarely in the moral landscape of today. The banter between Santa and brother Fred may elevate Fred in this redemptive morality play, but at the price of lowering Santa. Santa and his brother Fred finally demonstrate that “repentance conquers resentment” as one reviewer put it. However, there is no hint of Christianity. Religion is not so much untrue as irrelevant. And, in the end, even the North Pole is made better by Fred’s cooler, more hang-loose, non-judgmental style.

Some earlier Santa movies focused on the miracle of Christmas, the unmerited grace of it all, and the unvarying goodness of this mythological figure that functions as a “stand in” for Christ. This movie proclaims the gospel of moral equivalence and teaches that there are really no “bad kids” and that everyone deserves a gift from Santa. How perfectly appropriate for a world where “Merry Christmas” has become “happy holidays.”

To the extent that Santa is a "stand in" for Christ, one must ask the question: "Who is Fred?" Clearly, he has style, panache, and makes people happy accepting their human failures. If the devil could just give God some advice on how to loosen up and become less judgmental, maybe heaven could improve almost as much as the North Pole under Fred's more enlightened approach. Hmmm. No thanks.

1 comment:

Dave Miller said...

Hey Dennis,

Nice reflection. I enjoyed it and will probably include it in an upcoming post.