[#] The Last Santa post of 2005

Phil Johnson came over with an anecdote about how Santa rocked his epistemological world when he discovered that the fat man in red was not any more a citizen of Earth than Columbo or Jim Rockford. The most striking aspect of Phil’s comment was not the substance of the post. All-told, I’m willing to wager that Phil’s experience is a fairly normal experience.

The most striking aspect of Phil’s post was its position as the first one to relate that story of world view formation. When I called the anti-Santa crowd “jerks”, I expected there to be an army of “when I found out that Santa was not a flesh-and-blood perpetrator of Yuletide anti-larceny, I almost lost my religion” proselytes lined up to tell their tale of philosophical woe.

Now let me tell mine.

When I was a kid – and this may seem far-fetched to most of you – I was a good kid. I held my parents in exceptionally-high esteem. I was the oldest and, as the axiom goes, I was the one who ought to know better. I believed in Santa.

At school, a lot of kids didn’t believe in Santa by the time I was in 3rd grade, and as far as I was concerned, that was their problem. For me, without having studied Pascal’s Wager yet, there was a very simple world to be reckoned, and it intersected between the existence of Santa and the receipt of presents.

See: if I don’t believe in Santa, that’s not going to stop other kids (like my younger brothers) from getting Santa presents on Christmas morning. It’s just going to stop me from getting Santa presents on Christmas morning. The value of the “truth” and my personal integrity gets pretty radically deflated on the morning when my stocking is the only stocking which doesn’t have anything in it.

So, holding my parents up to exceptionally-high esteem, I trusted them. If Santa wasn’t a real person, so what? What’s that got to do with anything? The world in which we had Christmas morning was a much more enjoyable and loving place than the one in which we didn’t. If the belief in Santa was the cause of the events of Christmas morning, I was in.

The exceptionally-bright among you will now be firing up Haloscan to say, “Cent: what about Jesus? After all your arguments, how come Jesus doesn’t enter into your Christmas story here?”

Listen: those of you who are long-time readers know that I didn’t come to saving faith until I was 27 years old. I was an atheist from the time I was 17 to the time I was saved. The question, as Phil asked, “if Santa’s not real, what about Jesus?” never entered into my mind because I didn’t know what a “real Jesus” was. What I did know was that there were consequences to beliefs – at 9 I knew this – and if I was willing to give up Santa I was, apparently, willing to give up Christmas morning.

The real irony is that I wasn’t willing to give up Santa until I knew I didn’t give a damn about Jesus. I have no explanation regarding why this is true because I am certain I did not understand the Gospel when this happened. I only know that when I didn’t want anything to do with Santa, it was because I didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.

In that, when I hear about people who want to give up Jesus because of the lack of habeas corpus in the case of Claus vs. John and Jane Doe, I wonder how my parents got that part right. Santa doesn’t cause Jesus – and if our kids think he does, we are to blame.

[#] What?

Waitaminit ... in decrying the acts of a substitute teacher who used her position to dictate the celebration of Christmas to a classroom full of 8 yr olds, I turned out to get iMonk to agree with me and Phil Johnson to disagree with me?

I'm going to go to a specialist about these headaches. They must be causing a personality change. That can't be good.

It's family time at the centuri0n compound, so if I don't see you all in the next 36 hours, Happy New Year and God bless you. Even if you are still mad about the Santa thing.

[#] "so-called"

Steve ended his comments with a very interesting point:
If you want to use Santa in your celebration (and we actually do have symbols of Santa Claus, read the poem, etc.) of Christmas, then you absolutely can do that. But if that involves actual deception to your children, leading them to believe that all the modern myths of Santa are real (the North Pole, etc.), then I think that's another topic all in itself.

At any rate, calling others jerks or questioning their Christianity, even if tongue-in-cheek, hardly seems appropriate if your arguments can stand on their own.
I am excited that he ended with this point, since it deserves its own post. I have already covered the matter of "jerks" in the comments of another post, but I'm going to here expand on what I meant when I called those jerks "so-called Christians".

One of the themes of my blog over time is orthodoxy – that is, what's it take to be a Christian, an honest-to-God disciple of Jesus Christ. Some people will tell you that it's an easy thing to become and a relatively-easy thing to keep up. I would not be one of those.

Before I tell you "what" and "why", let's define a term here for the limited scope of this post. The term is "Christian". This term causes more problems in apologetic discussions than any other term -- including "Christ" and "Baptism" -- that gets tossed around because it has a very broad range of meaning. For example, it can mean, "a member of a sociological group organized around teachings of Jesus Christ". It can also mean, "a member of the body of men and women classed by the Bible as 'elect' by God to salvation." It can also mean, "a member of a church." It can also mean, "a practioner of a certain western ethical standard".

For the sake of this post, let me tell you that when I use this word, I am using it this way:
    Acts 11:19Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.{Emph added}
This is an interesting passage because it tells us who were originally called Christians. Those who have poor reading skills will say, "duh, do you mean only believers in Antioch can be called Christians?"

No, I mean to say this: the disciples in Antioch were preaching the Lord Jesus, turning a great number to the Lord through that preaching, were faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, and were full of the Holy Spirit. Those are the ones called "Christian".

For these people, being a Christian was not something they manned passively. They weren't just placeholders until Christ returned. These people were out there, in spite of adversity, using even persecution as an opportunity to preach Jesus Christ. And they had a bigger problem than we do.

See: our problem is that we live in a post-Christian society. That is not to say that Christianity is dead or that it is not the majority view: that is to say that Christianity is on the decline in our society, and that those ideologies that would supplant Christianity are subverting the Christian underpinnings of our society for their own use. In that, we ought to be charged with defending our own bulwarks from the enemy's weapons – and the best defense is, of course, a good offense.

That's not much of a problem, really: what it says is that we are playing on our own home field and should have the home field advantage. The first generation of Christians were not on their own home field. They had, on the obvious one side, the pagan cultures of Roman and Greece and whatever else was out there. But on the other, they had to work to wrest the Jewish culture from its problematic view of the signs and practices of the Temple and the Law to the fulfillment of those signs in Jesus Christ.

Many Christians miss this critical point: Christianity is not a steady state of things, and it wasn't the steady state that Christ came into. What He left behind was a handful of men and women who knew the truth and were charged with preaching that truth in word and deed. Part of that, as we can see in Galatians, and Romans, and especially Hebrews, is taking the message of the Jewish scriptures and practices and seeing them in light of God's fulfilled promises.

That is a radical paradigm shift. Jesus Himself impugned the Pharisees by telling them that they thought the Scripture was the thing, but the Scriptures were there to tell them about Himself. The Messiah is the thing. The Scripture is critical because it is God's own words which God lifts up above even His own name, but the Scriptures are there to testify to the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior.

In that, the work of the Earthly church is one of teaching the truth of those symbols and through those symbols. Yes: certainly – No one can come to Jesus unless the Father who sent Christ draws him. But the outworking there is the recovery of the testimony of God from its misuse and misunderstanding to its proper place in God's revelation.

That is way more complicated and difficult and culture-shaking than affirming or admitting that Santa is a Christian (read: used to preach Christ with steadfast purpose) icon. Yet when all one has to do is say, "Hey: Santa's one of our boys. Go find your own heroes," we see many people who would put fish on their car or go to (safe) church on Sunday running away from the culture issue.

Santa is a culture issue, and as Christians we are called to renovate the culture. In that, when we are running away from renovating the culture, we are neglecting the most essential public testimony of our faith.

You want to call yourself a Christian? You might mean almost anything by that -- just don't pretend it's a t-shirt you wear once a week. If all you do is lean back on your church membership and carry a book around but you cut and run when the culture tries to take away your message by taking away your symbols, you're not the kind of person that got called "Christian" in Antioch. You're something else.

And yes: that is a far worse accusation than either "jerk" or "liar". At least you noticed.

[#] More Santa stuff

A reader named "Steve S" has chimed in on the Big fat Red controversy, and I have taken the time to respond in detail:
Frank wrote: in the end Santa is a matter of conscience and not a matter of science or law

If it's a matter of conscience, then you were out of line to call people "so-called" Christians and jerks for not having the same feelings about it as you do. See Romans 14.
I see: for those so-called Christians to call me a liar is just part of the life, but for me to call them on their inept handling of moral reasoning is a violation of "do not judge one another". I think Fide-o had a post on this a while back, and it might do to review it.
Frank wrote: If I take my son to the DMV (he's 6) and have them make a DL for him, does that mean he knows how to drive? After all – he has a driver's license.

Doesn't having a driver's license mean he's qualified to drive?

You have subtly changed the meaning of a driver's license to try to make your point. A driver's license shows the legal right to drive. It is not a statement about the person's ability to drive. So in that sense, the license is not even related to driving ability, and fails to serve as an adequate analogy in this discussion. While it is true that one must (I guess this is true in all states of the US) show driving ability in order to get the license, the license itself is not a statement about driving capability. It is a statement about your legal right to drive a car on the public roads. Two different things there.
So how does one come to possess a driver's license, Steve? Is it just a matter of fees and registration, or is it a matter of training and testing? See: in all the states I have ever lived in, getting a Driver's License for the first time is a matter of being tested for competence. In that, one earns the privilege to drive, and one can thereafter lose the privilege to drive based on performance. The shibboleth for that privilege? A card.

One earns the privilege to drive through testing – written and practical. One may lose that privilege by demonstration a disregard for the rules governing the practice – that is, but proving one is not able to drive as one was trained and tested. One demonstrates the approval of the privilege how? A card.

As for your statement that the license does not represent ability, let me refer you to the following web page: DMV.org. All 50 states are represented there, and they all use the following template to describe the licensing process:
    Obtaining a {state} drivers license is a privilege and a rite of passage. Making sure that you know not only the rules of the road, but also what steps you need to take to get a {state} drivers license at the {state} Department of Motor Vehicles {state DMV} is a bit more complex than in years gone by.

    ... In {state}, the requirements for obtaining a drivers license are fairly basic: You need to be the required age; you need to bring proper identification to a branch office of the {state DMV}; you need to pass a vision and hearing test; and you need to pass the required written and behind-the-wheel driving license testing. All first-time drivers are required to apply in person at a {state DMV} branch location so the {state DMV} can verify your identification documents and begin the file that will contain your future driving records.
Now think about that: the generic description adopted by all 50 states is that the licensing process is one in which you pass competency tests (sight, hearing, written, practical), and after which your driving record is kept.

In any other environment, that's called "certification". For commercial licenses, in fact, it is called "certification". That means the certificate stands for competency. In that, your objection is groundless – it's a mistake to call driving a right, it's a mistake to say the license does not represent certification of competence, and it's a mistake to say that such a thing is not analogical or metaphorical reasoning.
The overwhelming problem I see with your arguments (and a previous commenter was right in that you shot yourself in the foot with the throwaway comments at the end of the original post -- ironically, you added some more in this post) is that you are actually the one confusing the use of a symbol with the propogation of a false story.
Stop. Right there is where you have to stop and ask yourself, "what is the meaning of the phrase 'false story'?" I have taken very significant pains to outline by example that what you mean by saying this is simply a false way of viewing allegorical celebration, but apparently, it is impossible to explain by positive example that you are wrong.

Let us now turn to your explanation and demonstrate what is wrong with the way you are thinking about this.
No one here has said that there is anything wrong with using the story of the real St. Nicholas and learning from his goodness to accentuate the meaning of Christmas. No one has even said anything against (as far as I can see) remembering him and using symbols of him.
Yes – and I covered that once by pointing out to Glenn that is Nick is in fact a "saint", we have to understand what it means to hold him up as a "saint".

Now, which is the better way to teach a child something: through a historical documentary lasting about 30 minutes, or by object lesson? For example, will reading Schaff's historical essay on St. Nick from his History of the Christian Church be a very effective way to teach children about St. Nick (and therefore about the practical aspects of our faith)? Or would demonstrating the acts of St. Nick through actual present-giving – which has been done for centuries by all kinds of people of good faith – really get the message home?

It is fine to say, "I have nothing against ol' Nick." The question is: why bother calling him a "saint"? What's the purpose of sainthood? If you would answer that, you would see that Santa is a good thing and not something objectionable.
It's the story that has REPLACED the true story of St. Nicholas which causes the problem. Ask any 8-year-old in that class who Santa Claus is, and most of them will tell you about the North Pole, and the reindeer, and the sleigh, and circumnavigating the entire globe in less than 24 hours, etc. And they will believe that he lives forever.

THAT is not the story of St. Nicholas, and I think you know that difference, Frank.

Symbols are not the problem here. You're arguing a point that misses Glenn's points. Symbols do not need to involve deception in order to be valid.
Oh! Wait a second! The problem with Santa is not that he's a symbol: it's that he's not a bare symbol! So, for example, the fish on someone's car is fine example of Christian iconoclasm, but a fantastic story about a man with Christian virtues but flying reindeer and the ability to climb down the chimney – suddenly the ship is sunk! This is exactly why I used Aslan as one of my examples so far.

Tell me: is Aslan deception or is he truth? These are your terms for the matter, so please tell me which applies to Aslan. If Aslan is false, then Santa is false. Is Aslan, however, is a valid method for conveying truth, then Santa is for exactly the same reasons. If the problem you have with Santa is that there's a story around him that doesn't come out of the Bible, you need to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia again with the question in mind, "In what part of the Bible does that come from?"
When you talk about baptism as a symbol, do you think it's ok for someone to tell their child, "You should be baptized, because it will save you"? You said baptism is not a regenerative act, so I think you would agree that the statement that baptism will save you is false. It is not denying that baptism is a symbol. It's how you communicate that symbol.
And in your view, if the symbol has any substantive but spiritual meaning, or any non-scientific components, it is suddenly what? A deception, right? So to say that "baptism is a seal" (as the Presbyterians do) makes their version of baptism a lie, yes? No?

And it's odd, but Peter said, "Baptism, which corresponds to [Noah and the Ark], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". Was Peter communicating a false baptism? Peter said that there is some aspect of salvation in baptism even if baptism is not regenerative.

I agree 100% that "it's how you communicate the symbol", but when you strip it down to having nothing but a bare token of meaning, it's not a symbol anymore: it's a throw-away.
You equate Santa Claus traditions with building robots out of legos. Fine. But if a parent told their child, "That lego robot that you just built is a real robot", that would be a lie.
The problem with this assertion is that there are no parents that I know of who, if they take the time to play Legos with the kids in question, take 15 minutes before building Megatron and Ultron and the robot with the helicopter landing gear feet and the Doc Ock arms to go over the rudimentary science of robotics with their kids in order to make sure those kids don't confuse "plastic lego robot" with "roomba" or the Mars surface rover.

But why? Is it because they are careless with fact and are willing to lie to their kids about what a robot really is? Or is it because that's a sure-fire way to suck the fun clean out of Legos?

I am certain it's the latter. Legos are meant to be educational via the "fun" jack built into every kid. And as it turns out, Christmas is meant to be Christian education and inspiration via the "fun" jack built into every kid and every person.

Listen: everything about Christmas is artificial. The date is arbitrary; the symbols are arbitrary. I was reviewing some on-line references to Christmas from Spurgeon, and he was clear to point out that there's no biblical reason for one day to be any better than all the others to contemplate the incarnation in the birth of Christ.

If we are going to use "symbols" only like color tabs on file folders, then let's make sure we strip all the symbols down that far and live like Mennonites or JWs. But if we are going to use symbols as didactic methods of communication and formation, then we must use them at least as vividly as we are willing to use Legos in creative play.
I have seen too many parents go out of their way to lie to their children about Santa Claus to the point that it no longer falls neatly into your category of "symbolism" or "true and harmless".
There are two major problems with this assertion, and neither one is that it is a false statement. The first problem is that some parents who are Christians tell untrue things to their children about a lot of things. For example, some parents think that getting their kids to make a confession of faith is a way to give them (both parents and child) an assurance of salvation. Does that mean we should do away with confessions of faith? Of course not! That some people get it wrong does not mean that we should never use the things they get wrong in our faith practice: we should get those things right and use them in the right way.

The second problem with your statement is that, in this particular case, calling the workshop at the North Pole (as one example) a lie is prudery. Let's assume for a minute that places like North Pole, NY are not just "not Christian" but are, in fact, anti-Christian – the worst possible case. Let's assume they are a subversion of the true icon of St. Nick. What's the Christian mission is such a case? Is it to run away from the subverted icon, or is it to redeem the subverted icon from the culture?

We are not called to live in a bunker. Yet every time we run away from the culture because it has the audacity to wage the culture war, that is exactly what we are doing. Getting all religiously geeked-up over the fact that St. Nick used to walk, and then he fly with the Christ Child, and now he rides, or that we call him "Santa" rather than "Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra", is a little much.
I actually was present when a mother (it was a girl I was dating at the time) finally told her 7-year-old son that some of the things she had told him about Santa Claus were make-believe. I watched as his face registered shock and dismay, and then he looked at her and said, "You lied to me." Now, is that boy scarred for life? I doubt it. But is it possible that it eroded some trust he had for his mother? I think that's very possible.

We don't need to paint the picture as two extremes: "scarred for life" as opposed to "completely harmless" (or "mostly harmless" if you're a Douglas Adams fan!).
Again, two objections:

The first is that we do not take our cues regarding moral standards from 7-yr-old children. There are hundreds of reason this is true, but the best one is that 7-yr-olds do not have a fully formed Biblical idea of moral standards yet. Let's consider the matter of "fairness", shall we? For example, a 7-yr-old will complain that it is not "fair" that Billy gets $5 for every "A" he makes on his report card, but in our house we do not give out money for good grades.

Given that the 7-yr-old has not fudged about Billy, is it actually unfair? If it is, does that place the moral onus on me as the non-paying parent to be "fair" and start handing over cash for grades? What if it is actually unfair to Billy and not my child? If it is not actually unfair, what's the reply one should make to one's child who thinks it is? Just because a child does not have the equipment to know the difference between an allegorical celebration and a lie does not make an allegorical celebration a lie.

The second objection is that I have not painted this disagreement in terms of "completely harmless" and "scarred for life": the anti-Santa crowd has. I think it is possible for Santa to be "true" in a non-scientific sense and "harmless" in a non-medical sense without saying that Santa is as necessary for you as the 4 food groups. But the greater matter here is that while I have classed Santa as "harmless", the anti-Santa crowd classes him – as you do – as a "lie".

I think that is saying far more than is either necessary or believable about the jolly fat man, and in fact makes a worse error than making up a fantastic story to make gift-giving fun.
And your point about whether or not someone else has lied about something at work or bounced a check, etc., is not really a valid argument, Frank. One lie does not justify another.
I didn't say that one lie justified the other: I said that it's a matter of scale and scope. If we assume, for the sake of argument, that Santa is a "lie", what kind of "lie" is Santa? Does Santa bilk charities out of money? Does Santa encourage breaking the commandments? Is Santa cruel? Does Santa teach false moral standards?

OK: so if Santa is a "lie", then what kind of lie is he? For example, compared to the lie of writing a hot check – which is stealing because you get what you wanted but the merchant gets nothing – is Santa a greater lie or a lesser lie? How about when you lie to your boss to get out of doing something at work ("I didn't get that e-mail", "I don't remember that conversation", "I didn't know it was late", "I didn't think checking with you about how we taught Santa Claus was important") as compared to the "lie" of Santa – is the work lie on a larger scale and more meaningful? About the same? Or does Santa actually do more damage than lies at work?

See: the problem is not that if you lie once you should not judge lying as sinful or bad. The problem is where you choose to fight the battle that lying is bad. If we accept (which I do not) that Santa is a lie and all lies are sin, how much better will the world be if we can join arms with the atheists and the Islamists and the what-have-you-tists and eradicate the lie of Santa? Now think about this: what if we did the same thing with hot check writing? Which do you think makes the world a better place? And which one requires us force others into a certain way of having fun with their kids?

Steve ended this string of comments with an incredibly-important point, and I have split it off in order to deal with it fully.

[#] Fort Apache: North Pole

So after Santa came to my house this Christmas, and my kids packed up and went to their grandparents' house for a week of peace for me and the wife, I find that Southern Baptist intransigence has a new champion, and his name is Glenn.

Who knew they needed a new one?
Dude- Chill out on the Egg Nog!

(1) Santa's coming to my house.
No, he is not. Get over it.
You didn't check my stocking before you wrote that, did you? That's what I thought. Turns out the fat man ate my cookies, left W-A-Y too much stuff for my kids and my wife, left me candy and pistachios just I like I like, and didn't even set off the burglar alarm. He's brilliant, as usual.

What's your point?
(2) Hey teach: let's assume that Santa is harmful and false
As opposed to being... Harmless and True? And what ARE you saying about kwanzaa... is it harmless, or true?
Actually, I'd think a guy who was going to try to use symbolic logic later in the comments would have better reading skills and better reasoning skills than this. It's obvious even to the chimps at BHT that there are 4 logically-possible outcomes for any event that has "harm" and "true" as possible characteristics.
- harmful & true
- harmful & false
- harmless & true
- harmless & false

So, for example, Kwanzaa is actually harmful and false. Now, the devil's advocate here would say, "cent: you just spent oodles of bandwidth decrying the statement that Santa is not false; how can you now say that Kwanzaa is false?"

Well, like this: Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 and is essentially unknown in Africa even though it is allegedly a celebration of African heritage. Its inventor was confessedly a Marxist subversive. Its objectives have nothing to do with Africa and everything to do with a socialist world agenda.

So while "Kwanzaa" exists – people practice it – it is "false" in that it does not represent what it purports to represent and it is not founded on what it claims to be founded on. And in that, it is "harmful" because it uses lies to misdirect people away from those values which protect and safeguard their ultimate political well-being and toward values which will rob them of these things.

So how does Santa match up to Kwanzaa? For example, we can say that "Kwanzaa" exists because about 29 million people allegedly celebrate it worldwide. Santa, based on that kind of evidence, exists because at least 100 million people in the US (and that's W-A-Y conservative) celebrate him. So in the same way that Kwanza exists, Santa certainly exists.

But is Santa "true" or "false"? For example, what does Santa represent? Well, son of a gun, I think Santa represents Christmas. C.S. Lewis sure thought so. Coke thought so well enough to make him an advertising franchise for the season in the 1930's – after more than 100 years of the NY Dutch use of the St. Nick image in celebrating Christmas and as the patron saint of NY. Prior to that, St. Nick was a traveling companion of the Christ Child who himself was the fantastic bringer of presents to children in 18th century Europe.

But did the 18th century Europeans call St. Nick "Santa"? Oh for pete's sake: of course not. What has that got to do with anything? Santa is a tradition, and over time the name of the tradition changes for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the custom traveling across cultural and linguistic lines.

Santa – St. Nick, Sinter Klaas, Christkindlein – is an image of Christmas good will dating far back prior to modern materialism, and far into Christian celebrations of the birth of the savior. He has been this as long as he has been celebrated. Unlike Kwanzaa, which has to disguise its ultimate motives to gain supporters, Santa is what he is – and is recognized worldwide as a symbol of Christmas.

So in that respect, Santa is true. Does an actual fat man travel the earth in 24 hours and deliver billions of toys? Do we have his finger prints? How about his shoe size?

Now let me ask you: because we don't have Santa's shoe size, and we don't have his finger prints, is he harmful? Can it be that Santa is true but harmful?

For this discussion, that question is only relevant when we get to Christians who think Santa is the problem with Christmas. For the substitute teacher who did what was done in the article I linked to previously, she did not believe that Santa was true but harmful: she thinks Santa is false and harmful.

She is an idiot. Her definition of "false" is so narrow that I promise you she didn't make it to the restroom after that class without doing something false in spite of her confession of high objectivity on the matter of truth.
(3) Now let's assume that Santa is not harmful and false.
The logic of this sentence loses me... Given the following variables: S=Santa, H=Harmful and F=False which of these argument are you assuming?

{S (H+F)}|or
Then here are the baby steps, Glenn: the teacher in the news item wanted to assert that Santa was false, and therefore harmful. To start somewhere with her daffy worldview, I started with her own assertion that Santa was false and therefore harmful. No complex symbolic logic necessary.
allows the parents to teach a message of selfless love...HAW HAW HAW!!! Now THAT'S funny. Santa is all about "selfless love." That one's gonna keep me cracked up for a while.
So you're an advocate that giving gifts is not an act of selflessness or of love? No wonder you think this is so preposterous: you're from Mars.

See: on Earth, even degenerate parents have the ability to want to give their children good things – Jesus said so explicitly(cf. Lk 11:13). And when even degenerate parents give gifts to their children "from Santa Claus", they are using the Christian symbols of the holiday. What they do on Mars I have no idea, so you can enlighten us when you can do more than laugh like a jackass from a Pinocchio cartoon.
... the actual story of Christmas and the delivery of a gift more precious than Santa can bring?
Uhm, I'm pretty sure this teacher would have no problem telling your children that the whole Jesus thing is just a myth based on a guy that died a long time ago as well. Try not to be a jerk about the truth if THAT ever happens.
Here's another problem with your reply, Glenn: it omits facts like this one from the net argument. I would agree with you that this teacher probably doesn't think there was a literal virgin birth in a literal manger – and part of her argument would be that even if there was a birth in a manger, it wasn't on Dec 25, Year Zero.

See: again, her view of "TRUTH" is "rote facts which can be scientifically measured or verified". The problem is that she's supposed to be teaching a poem. Do we get the meaning of a poem in angstroms? Or do we measure meter in wavelength oscillation? What about metaphor or allegory – can we reduce that down to something on the Periodic Table to understand what makes up a poem?

Well, of course not: we are talking about a different mode of truth. But that matter of epistemology doesn't have to enter into a music class full of 8-yr-olds. The genre is poetry, the context is Christmas, and the subject is Santa Claus. Read and enjoy. Turns out that this poem in particular is an interesting way in which people from 100 years ago viewed Santa. How do we view Santa today? What do we associate with Santa? What's that, Jimmy? "How could Santa live 100 years and still be able to get around?" That's a great question for you to take home to your Mom and Dad to discuss.

Now look at that: no need to foist the idiotic distinction that Santa is "false" on 8 year olds. To underscore that, and because Glenn thinks my idea about the Packers being "our team" is lack-luster in terms of this discussion, I'm going to trot it out once more just to give him the stink-eye.

Is the statement "the Packer are our team" true or false? If we use the method of thinking that the hapless substitute teacher used, it must be called a false statement. Because, for example, no reindeer landed in my lawn on the evening of December 24th 2005, Santa is false. Well, I don't own any Packers stock. I'm cheap, so I always watch them on TV. They don't come to my house. They don’t have to do what I say at any level. Yet I have the audacity to call them "my team". In what way are they "my team" or "our team"?

The answer is "in a symbolic way, the Packers are our team". And in the exact say way – the symbolic way, the allegorical and celebratory way – Santa comes to my house at Christmas. Santa cannot come without Christmas. Santa comes because of Christmas. Santa is a (derivative) part of Christmas.

No amount of Hee-Hawing or pessimistic concessions to stupid substitute teachers can deny that Santa comes on Christmas in exactly the same way the Packer are our team: the statement is true without being scientific; it is true without being evidenced by video; it is true without requiring a forensic team of investigators to verify its truth. It is true in an allegorical and/or metaphorical way which corresponds to something other than the tonnage of venison that walked around in my neighborhood this last week.
(4) Ever bounce a check? How about missing a payment date on a bill? Or how about this one: have you ever told a lie to get out of doing something at work?
Yes, Yes, and Yes. I can answer yes to a few other questions you may have as well. None of that makes my truth claim about Santa invalid.
Here's the real irony: what the teacher did in that class militates against the actual kind of truth she was supposed to be teaching. Here's the direct report from that news item:
    Theresa Farrisi stood in for Schaeffer’s regular music teacher one day last week. One of her assignments was to read Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” to a first-grade class at Lickdale Elementary School.

    “The poem has great literary value, but it goes against my conscience to teach something which I know to be false to children, who are impressionable,” said Farrisi, 43, of Myerstown. “It’s a story. I taught it as a story. There’s no real person called Santa Claus living at the North Pole.”
Interestingly enough, the poem in question does not say anything about the North Pole. So she would have had to teach that because ... ? I see: if she was teaching the poem, she wouldn’t have had to talk about the North Pole. However, I am certain that she could have, instead, taken issues with the 8 tiny reindeer and the visions of sugar plums.

Now pray, tell: why decry the jolly fat man's home address which is not in the poem, but leave open the problem of "visions of sugar plums", which is actually in the poem. Does it make any sense to teach a poem based on what is does not include? What about what it actually does includes? Her truth claims about Santa – which were supposed to be for the sake of conscience and the matter of truth – addressed things that the poem doesn't even discuss.

How is her view defensible? What was she talking about? If I was teaching High School seniors about Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea and started on a tangent on the problem that this old man was an imaginary creature and as such we shouldn't place any stock in him and his battle with nature and the great fish, would I seem a little loopy for making that point? So why is it that when this other teacher of children more impressionable than HS seniors starts with the dissertation about truth claims in poem which the poem doesn't make, it seems reasonable to anyone – especially anyone who is an advocate for the Gospel?
People who dally with Santa as a moral cause for objective truth make my skin itch.Have you tried calomine? Seems like you've got quite a rash.
No Glenn: I blog instead. It's very effective.
...so-called "Christians" who don't "do" Santa. Jerks.I am not a "so-called" Christian. I am a jerk.
Well, you are SBC, so whether you’re a Christian or not is still up in the air, isn't it? I mean, the IMB hasn't reviewed your baptism so you might not actually be a Christian.

BTW: that's exactly the same kind of claim this daffy substitute teacher made, so if you don't like it here, you better not like it there.

And as to the claim of being a jerk, we can start a club.
Saint Nick is a Christian hero...
No argument. Do you really think the fat guy coming down the chimney is that same hero? Or did St. Nick earn his sainthood the old fashioned way... serving his Lord Jesus in real and practical ways?
It's a non sequitur to say that because St. Nick is a Christian hero that he ought not to be honored or that we cannot use him for the purpose of celebrating Christian values and holy days. In fact, I would say it is a contradiction to require that we think of him as a saint and refuse to use him for those purposes.

The whole point of the "cloud of witnesses" is what? Nothing? The purpose of the cloud of witnesses is not to have prayer partners with better access to Jesus than we have: the purpose of the cloud of witnesses is to be encouraged through their example of faith.

My heavens! If St. Nick "earned" sainthood, what's it good for? Is it good for him – of some benefit for him – or is it of some benefit for us?
...And don't start with the Coke Santa thing. I'll load the other barrel.
Bring it on. I'll have you know that Pepsi makes MY skin itch.
I have already brought it.
You don't own the Packers; I don't own the Packers. So is it a lie to say that the Packers are "our team"...
This argument has NO legs. Your "suitcase of bricks" was slightly flawed, but at least made some sense. This line of reasoning is just "annoyingly stupid or foolish."
Nice try. Dismissing it is not an argument. I have fleshed out the Packers thing here further, and you are welcome to do more than snort like a horse at it if you can.
All literature, using the standard she is establishing, is "false".
David K answered this point perfectly ("We read fiction, and encourage our children to read it. We just don't call it non-fiction") By the way, the whole Narnia thing doesn't wash either, because no one is arguing that ASLAN IS REAL. Can you point to any parents that are actually telling their children that there is a real talking lion going around bringing statues to life by breathing on them.
What do you mean by the statement "Aslan is real"? I think you mean, "Aslan can't come and visit my house and crack a soda with me," but it turns out that Aslan comes to my house frequently as my kids love those stories and demand that we read them over and over. My kids love to visit Aslan, but it's not the same as visiting their Mimi. And he doesn't drink that much.

Is Aslan an historical figure, or is he a literary figure? He's the latter, right? OK: is Aslan "true" or "false"? See – those are the categories substitute teacher used to make her point, and they are illegitimate category distinctions. In literature, the question is if Aslan represents correct truth claims – not if he is a being of flesh and bone who roams a multiverse of pocket realities and can call you out of this humdrum world into a fantastic world where beasts can talk. Consider Aslan vs. J. Alfred Prufrock – I submit to you that one of them is false, and it's not the talking Lion.

However, those of you who are demanding that the truth claims for Santa are bogus want to class allegory for the sake of celebration in the same bucket with cost accounting. It's a false conflation. You cannot use accounting methods to determine the truth of Christmas or of Santa, and Santa would make a felonious accountant at tax time.
For a teacher to decide that she is a better arbiter of the truth values of social customs than all of the parents of the children she is teaching on a substitute basis is statist at best.
I'd love to see how you flesh this idea out in the context of the Dover court decision. What megalomaniacs those teachers are, telling those kids that ID is not science! Or is the judge a megalomaniac? But hey, what's up with that "arbiter of truth values" stuff? Are you saying that truth is merely a value that can be arbited?
Once again, like Kjos, you have jumped off the matter here – which is whether this substitute teacher had the right and authority to enforce her view of the celebration of Christmas on a classroom full of children – into something that is related only at the highest level.

Whether ID is true or false has nothing to do with whether a 100-year-old Christmas poem conveys scientific truth – except that the answer to both questions rely on a God-centered epistemology and metaphysics.

Listen: when itinerant teachers use their podiums to dismiss religious or cultural practices from a position of authority under the cover of "conscience" and "truth", we have become Animal Farm; we have become 1984. They are exercising their authority in ways not at all appropriate because it overturns the parental right to raise kids, among other things. Whether ID is true or false has nothing to do with a family's right to celebrate a religious holiday as they see fit, including the use of allegorical celebration. She's an employee of the state. The state has no authority to determine matters of conscience for the individual, and in the end Santa is a matter of conscience and not a matter of science or law.

Thus, if you care to discuss Santa, then please continue on, but if you want to continue to conflate Santa and all other matters people who call themselves Christians might be advocating, you’re out of the kiddie pool and you better bring your floaties.
...well-meaning conservative Christians toward treating Santa as if he is the problem...
You are beating up on a straw man, Frank. I thought you were tougher than that. Can you point me to a "well-meaning conservative Christian" that considers Santa to be THE problem? I think most of us are not that shallow. Your implication that those of us that aren't Santacrats are that shallow is offensive. Call me a jerk if you will, but for that implication I think an apology is due to your readers.
You're going to invent a term called "Santacrat" and then say I'm the one beating up a straw man. That's a good one.

Here's your chance: make your case that one ought not to celebrate Christmas which includes Santa Claus – that is, you agree that we ought to celebrate Christmas, but not with Santa. After you make your case, ask yourself this question, "Using my argument, what can I say about celebrating Christmas on December 25th?"

If there is no application, or if the application makes Dec 25th seem like a better idea than when we started, then I'll provide the apology. However, if we look at your argument and find that it forces us to abandon Dec 25th as the date to celebrate Christmas, I think you'll need more than a huffy tone of voice to get an apology out of me.
...Aslan is a lie.No, Aslan is fiction. A fat guy putting coal in your stocking as punishment is a lie. Stomping boot prints in the carpet by the fireplace is a lie. Good grief, I didn't major in literature, and I can still tell the difference!
You don't have to major in literature to know that not every allegory is in writing, and not every fiction is a lie.

You don't like – and as I write, you haven't had a chance to respond to – the Packers analogy further fleshed out. That's OK: let's talk about your driver's license. If I take my son to the DMV (he's 6) and have them make a DL for him, does that mean he knows how to drive? After all – he has a driver's license.

Doesn't having a driver's license mean he's qualified to drive? "Cent: pinhead," you say, "having a piece of plastic in your hand doesn't give you the ability to drive. Saying it does puts the cart before the horse. The license is a result of the process for becoming a driver."

HUH! Really? So the License is the representation of the object, and not the object itself?! The license is a symbol, yes? It means something, but it is not itself that thing. Therefore, on the one hand, the license does not invest in me anything I didn't already have. That is to say, on the day I got my license, it only verified my ability to drive, it did not cause it.

However, on the other hand, if you surrender the symbol of that object, you lose the right to exercise that object. Without the card, if you are stopped by the law, you're in big trouble. The question is not whether you can operate the vehicle: it is whether you carry the symbol. The symbol is the categorical means of communicating the object.

So the last case is when you wrap your car around a telephone pole. Is the symbol – the license – a lie because you proved that you don't actually know how to drive? Well, of course not! There are 100 reasons you might have had the accident – some your fault and some not – but it doesn't follow that because you drove badly the license is a lie.

One of the ways – for centuries now, even predating the Reformation – that we "prove" or demonstrate Christmas is by the use of Santa and his fore-runners. Santa doesn't cause Christmas; Santa doesn't come before Christmas. Santa is a result of Christmas, and as such he is a symbol of Christmas. Just like your tree; just like the manger scene; just like the star.

In that, saying "Santa" and the elaborate celebrations around him are "false" is like saying, "your driver's license is false because you had a car wreck." It is an epistemological mistake because it forgets that symbol and allegory are not just grammatical categories. The 4th of July is a metaphor for the independence of our nation – because it took longer than one day to finish the work started on that day. New Year's Day is a metaphor – because there's nobody I know who would advocate that the first day in Genesis was a calendar day Jan 1. And, most importantly, Dec 25th is itself a celebratory metaphor for Christmas – because Jesus wasn't born in December.

It is not a lie to celebrate. In fact, I would argue that it is more true to celebrate than to refrain from doing so because of clumsy, compartmental views of what constitutes truth.
So do we cut and run from ol' Saint Nick, or do we fight to get him back from the pagans who are abusing him for their own purposes?
Let's wage that fight... But let's do so without misleading our children about the nature of the war we are in. If we expect them to continue the fight after we are gone, we need to teach them the truth, and to stand for that truth. Kids that curl up on the floor because a teacher said an unkind word about what their parents taught them are NOT being equipped to fight that battle.
Oh please – that's what I call throwing your kids to the lions.

Here's what you're saying: in a classroom, which we have taught our kids is a place where an adult has a kind of authority – and frankly, an adult needs a kind of authority in order to do what we intend to have happen there – we should tell our 8-yr-old kids to forget about authority when they think they have the moral high-ground. Listen: 8-yr-olds are not equipped to take the moral high ground – and not because we as Christians are lousy parents. It's because they are 8.

Our kids ought not to have to engage the culture war at the age of 8: we should be waging it for them with every means at our disposal, and in this case, Santa is a means of the culture war.

I am anxious to see what you are willing to say is the actual argument you are making for Santa being "false". There's an impasse here that can't be taken care of until you make that argument.
Right? So how many of you anti-Santa folks are not trading gifts are Christmas?
I know there's a latin term for this particular falacy, but I'm not schooled enough to be able to put my finger on it. Uhm... could it be Changeous Desubjictus? What bearing does that possibly have on the truth value of the Santa Claus claim?
That is hardly changing the subject. Point (3) of my extended comments asking those who are non-Santa people is that they are actually doing something about materialism rather than just knee-jerking against the fat guy in the red suit.

Here's what I read in the comments so far:
(1) Santa is an icon of materialism
(2) We're dumping Santa to object to materialism
(3) We're still trading presents, tho. That is a time-honored tradition.

That is itself a joke. It's about as historically-informed as saying that Kwanzaa is a rich tradition of Afro-centrism. Presents don't instigate materialism; Santa instigates materialism. The Christian Saint is the problem, not the material goods we trade.
She's a pomo who suddenly has one objective truth she wants to wrangle over --
Who's the pomo here? "Arbiting truth values" and all... But I'm sure there is at least ONE other "truth value" she's willing to take a shot at. Standing up for Santa pales in comparison to preparing your kids to deal with THAT attack on the family "truth values of social customs" when it comes up.
I see: believing that kids are at a strict disadvantage at the age of 8 against a teacher with a muddled epistemology that wears a mask with the words "truth" and "conscience" and strikes when parents are frankly unavailable is "pomo"?

Given that you reject the idea that Santa is worth fighting for, do you think there is any reason to be upset by what happened in that classroom? If not, can you think of an example that is worth getting upset over?
So let's dispense with the silliness... ...let's not pretend that Santa is the problem here...
Who said that Santa is the problem? Are you still trying to accuse us non-Santacrats of being so shallow in our faith as to believe that? You are the one being silly, Frank
Again, when you will front up your reasons for rejecting the practice of Santa at Christmas, I can address your statement here.

And let's remember that you are the one rejecting Santa – you have, by your own admission, made a choice to engage this season without the jolly fat man; you have said he's a problem. That is, itself, silly.
my primary concern is that this teacher is subverting the prerogative of families to raise their kids as they see fit.
OK, let's dance. I see fit to not teach my son that a fat guy in a red suit will land on our roof and go down our chimney. Does that mean I call everyone that does teach that a liar? Well, not to their face! But I will certainly not participate in telling their children that myth.
Glenn, like every other Christian non-Santa robot before you, you have simply given up the ship. You have not corrupted the Gospel or anything like that: you have simply surrendered joy and zeal in the season. Why is it such a tragedy to enjoy Christmas through the models and iconology of saints who lived before us? We're not praying to Santa (sure: we write him a letter; can you tell me if that's dulia or latria? What if it's neither?); we're not saying he's the reason for Christmas. We're saying he does what he does because of Christmas.

And in that, as I have said twice and let's make it three times, in your house, you do as you see fit. It is simply inexplicable that you think this is the moral, ethical, social or religious high ground.

Yet, you do! How do we know? Because it is either that one does what you have done, or one is a liar. You believe that your version of the celebration is not just reasonable or conscionable, but categorically true as opposed to false. And let's be sure you hear exactly what I am saying: it is your view that using any historical or metaphoric figure in an iconic method in order to demonstrate a moral or theological truth about a religious celebration is, itself, a lie – especially if the method of using that icon is elaborate or imaginative. In that, Santa-practicers are liars.

And this is inexplicable because the Christian faith is itself one dependent historically on iconography and symbolism. Baptism and the Lord's Table are the highest expression of these, but viewing the church as a body is a symbol; viewing the church as a bride is a symbol; viewing a pastor as a shepherd is a symbol.

When we abandon our symbols, we are abandoning our greatest tools in the culture war. And when we let some ignorant agnostic with a low view of truth teach our children a low view of truth, we are not fighting the culture war: we are surrendering the culture war.
It does become an issue at some point, though, of what is the age at which it is acceptable to speak of these things in honest terms without fear of offending someone's sensibilities on the matter? Can we discuss the true history of Saint Nick with a room of kindergardners? Fifth graders? I don't doubt the teacher was agenda driven, but what if a child had raised the issue in front of the class? I teach K to 5th grade each Sunday... I know what type of questions they are able to pose at the most inoportune time. If I am iFrank, Do I say "Heck yes, the fat guy is coming!" or do I crush the kid's dreams in front of the group? Or is this a false dichotmy? Is there not another approach in this hypothetical situation? And can that middle ground be trod, while remaining true to the convictions of my conscience, without offending anybody?
Isn't it funny that your argument has now taken the form, "as a teacher, the kids run me around and I can't be responsible for every jot and tittle of what they believe?" My response to your question as you have phrased it goes like this:

A. St. Nick as an icon is designed for children. Your question is like asking, "what do I do if some kid in Sunday School asks me if baptism is real?" Dude: baptism is real. If you can't explain in what way Baptism is real, you don't belong running the class. In the same way, if a child asks you "Is Santa real," do you think that kid is saying, "I think my parents are doing something dishonest by pretending a fat man brings presents to my house," or is he saying, "I'm worried that Christmas is fake because the kid with the joyless father told me that there is no Santa?"

B. As an icon, Santa is real – in the same way Aslan is real. Just because Baptists rightly shun and reject burying statues of St. Joseph upside in the yard to get a house sold doesn't mean we can't use the images of saints to teach valuable lessons. And if you are unable to turn a kid back to his parents for guidance if what he means is, "is there a guy who lives at the north pole" without ruining the fun for all the kids in the class who still get a charge out of Santa, you are as wily as a piece of chalk.

C. If you're having a brutal pang of conscience over telling kids that Santa manifests the true meaning of Christmas by bringing small presents to celebrate the great gift of our Lord and Savior, what do you do when you break the speed limit? What do you do when you fib at work to escape a deadline? What do you do when you bounce a check? Good heavens – how do you get out of bed?
The question is whether classing "Santa" as a "lie" is a sound premise.|I say the Santa myth, as commonly represented and used in American culture, is a lie. (Yes, I'm a jerk.)|"In what way is calling the Packers 'our team' a lie?"|Once again, "let's dispense with the silliness." You're a smart enough guy to know that one is not like the other.
Until someone answers the Packers analogy, or the license analogy, or the Aslan analogy, and defines what they mean by "lie" rather than simply saying "something not true", there's no way to take this any farther.
...ask yourself how credible a truth that is. Is it even remotely interesting as a truth claim?
OK, I think we're close to getting Frank to admit that Santa does not exist...
Oddly, that's not even the question that the teacher in the classroom was addressing. Please: re-read that article and see if she was concerned about the "existence" of Santa: she was really worried about the meaning of Santa, whether true or false. She concedes the historical facts of St. Nick: she denies they mean anything today. Them's fightin' words.
...ways in which truth can be expressed (from a naturalistic viewpoint) in epistemologically-sound packages which do not constitute falsehood...
Whoah, big words there, fella! Let's slow it down a bit, and talk about them legos! For what it's worth, my boy knows the difference between a lego and the robot represented by legos being stuck together. Understanding that the Santa myth is false does not make my boy any less capable of using his imagination.
No, what it proves is that you think it's OK to engage the non-scientific sense of truth in play, but not in education and certainly not in theological expression. If your son has your blessing to call a pile of legos made vaguely into the shape of a robot a "robot", but he has been taught – one way or the other – that Santa is "false" because he is a "myth" and not a person who circumstantially locates toys in your house specifically, then your son has been taught a contradiction.

That robot is no more a robot than Santa is a jolly fat man. And some day, he's going to find out that, for example, baptism is not a regenerative act but a symbolic act – it looks like regeneration, it looks like the second birth, but it is no such thing. In that, should he call it "true" or "false"?

By the robot standard, he should call it "true"; by the Santa standard, it must be "false". God willing for your sake he chooses the legos – the godless model – over the religious standard. However, what are the odds of that?
Yes, we still are able to have fun! We even can play pretend games! My son has built a whole city of legos, with plenty of character history. Not once has he ever indicated that he seriously thought that his lego people were really alive. I doubt you have ever tried to convince your boy that his lego robot was a real, true-life, "living" robot. I think he would see through that sham pretty easily.
Actually, my son recognizes something in imaginative play that most kids his age don't: some things can be imaginary and true at the same time. Unfortunately, many adults don't understand this at all.

[*] The fat man cometh

I have a few things to say about this news story.

(1) Santa's coming to my house. Don't get me started -- the fat man cometh, and if you don't like it then don't leave out milk and cookies at your house. And don't leave out a salad for the reindeer either, punk. Just go to bed and be a miserable, dour adult and don't suck the fun out of my family celebration time.

(2) Hey teach: let's assume that Santa is harmful and false for a moment for the sake of argument. Are you going to pipe up at Kwanzaa, too?

(3) Now let's assume that Santa is not harmful and false. For what purpose is it necessary for you to impose your will on these children if their parents are very happy to encourage a celebration which makes these children happy and allows the parents to teach a message of selfless love that can be then applied (as they see fit in their homes and not by you in your classroom) to the actual story of Christmas and the delivery of a gift more precious than Santa can bring? Who asked you?

(4) Ever bounce a check? How about missing a payment date on a bill? Or how about this one: have you ever told a lie to get out of doing something at work? Let's not get all screwball over Santa when I am 100% confident that people who call the jolly fat man a "lie" are themselves capable of and culpable for far worse lies -- bigger lies than Santa can possibly be if Santa is a lie. If you have ever done any of these, lipping off about how you object to teaching children falsehoods is simply self-inflation beyond the scope of your moral reach.

People who dally with Santa as a moral cause for objective truth make my skin itch. What a stupid place to make a moral stand: on the backs of intellectually-defenseless children who are your captive audience. That's some kind of moral heroics, I'll tell you.

And don't start me on so-called "Christians" who don't "do" Santa. Jerks.

[?] It's Christmas. Have a present.

Some of you may have noticed that the headline spacing on the blog has changed, and it doesn't quite look right. The reason is that you are improperly fonted.

Let me introduce you to my little friend Nate Piekos at Blambot.com. (you are not linked to the front page for a reason) Going forward, you will need to have the following fonts installed on your computer to get the full effect of the blog:

Nate at Blambot has asked me to direct you to his main fonts page rather than to individual fonts because, well, that's how he gets you to buy the non-free fonts. That's pretty fair, right? Here are the names of the fonts you need:

Feast of Flesh
Mouth Breather
Sgt 6-pack

For those who need to know, the license for these fonts is here.

I know: I'm a demanding slob. Don't hate me because my blog is beautiful.

[%] Jason Engwer

Good Christmas apologetics from Jason at NTRMin.

[#] I've been co-opted

After nearly a year of blogging, I have received my first cache of free books from the tricky office staff at Christ Church in Moscow, ID, and in that I have my first review of a Doug Wilson book. The astute readers of the blog will note that the first free book I am reviewing at the blog apparently gets a positive review, and that must mean I've sold out – co-opted by the love of money and books.

That's a non-sequitur. What has actually happened is that the office staff at Christ Church answered an e-mail of mine and sent some free books, and in the spirit of good will I am review the book I liked best first in order to promote some of the good stuff that they have. We'll see what happens when I get to the baptism book.

A Serrated Edge: a Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking is frankly must-read reading. First of all, it's cheap and short – which should appeal to all of you blog readers as your attention span and consumer motives are shot from blog-reading. Weighing in at only 125 pages and the measly price (via the link in the Shopping Cart at the right) of only $8.99, you can read it after breakfast one Saturday.

Axwell Tiberius, Juvenalian Scamp
stupid trinketman! repent!

The problem (and it's a good problem) is that you won't just read it once. Sure, the first time through you'll read it for the "good parts" and the laughs, but you'll come back to this book even if you disagree with it. Wilson's view of the politics of critique and the mechanics of social ideological revolution alone are worth a second pass for the Christian blogger. Moreover, his analysis of satirical genre-writing in the Bible is sharp.

If you follow his blog, he has blogged some of the best parts of this book under his "chrestomathy" section, but you can't get the full effect unless you read this brief book as it was written. The "good stuff" gets better in context, and the context is simply fine advice for the Christian church about addressing the culture without making any concessions that give up the ship.

As if Wilson's long-form views here were not enough, Doug Jones contributes an appendix about valorous resistance and the appeal of brave defiance in the cause of the Gospel. This stuff is just great, edifying reading. And for the record, any Christian blogger who does not read this book is hurting himself through ignorance.

I have some minor objections to this book – like the assertion Wilson makes in Chpt 5 that we ought not to make a list of words that are not appropriate for Christian discourse because that kind of approach is prudery and Victorian-style legalism. I think his theory is pretty sound, but the application is, of course, more complicated than a libertarian-type license on the English language. So the "F"-word is fair game in making apologetic or evangelical pleas? What about vulgar references to excretive and/or sexual organs? See: I think that his point is that we ought not to be yoked with false moral standards in our advocation of Jesus Christ, but in that there is a true moral standard which, in summary form, will yield some simple ground rules the Christian orator/preacher/evangelist/pundit can use as a rule of thumb. To be fair to Pastor Wilson, he does say repeatedly in this book that the standard is not a reductive standard, and that it is also not a neutral standard, but that it is the broad standards that are evidenced by the Bible itself – and even the Trinitarian advocate of truth can put his foot in it if he does not abide by the broader-scope standards which the Bible demonstrates.

So buy this book. Read it. Use it to fix your boring blog. Believe me: it can use the help.

[*] undoJesus.org

At undoJesus.org, we find the following as the first bullet point of their mission statement:
Welcome to undoJesus.org
The time has come to abandon Christianity.
* to advocate against the widespread acceptance of the story of Jesus Christ as written in the Holy Bible
I would start by asking why these people would bother to call the Bible "Holy" under any circumstances. What's the point?

Suppose I said, "I’d be happy to burn all the copies of your Holy Koran and make sure no one ever reads it again." (note to Islamo-fascists: this is a hypothetical example, not an advocation of a political position; please keep your weapons sheathed) It seems pretty clear by saying "burn all the copies" that I don't really find anything very "holy" about that Koran, do I? So cushioning the blow of "I'd rather burn your Koran" by calling the Koran "holy" is somewhat laughable.

But that's the kind of reasoning one gets when one is dealing with someone who wants to "advocate against the story of Jesus Christ". See: the problem is that this person does not understand that, like "Holy" when it modifies "Bible", "Christ" is part of the story of this Jesus person he is trying to advocate against and not his last name.

What this demonstrates, on-net, is that this person doesn't really know much about the Holy Bible or Jesus Christ – and who really wants to argue with someone who is boxing with the shadows in his basement?

Well shoot: I do! That's why I blog! Let James White and Phil Johnson take on the serious problems in Christian life today – I'm here sweeping the streets, just trying to keep my little sidewalk clean.

So they go on at undoJesus.org:
* to advocate prescinding the infiltration of Biblical conscience into law and the courts;
No, that's not a typo. "Prescind" means, in the transitive sense, "to detach for purposes of thought". See: these folks know that they can't actually re-write history and say, "oh shucks: there never was no 10 commandments at the heart of the Western legal tradition," but they can advocate that since we now have a fully-formed legal system, the roots of that system don't matter.

This is where I get my suitcase metaphor from, for those keeping score. See: western political systems were going in the same direction as every other political system on the planet until a funny thing happened on the way to the Dark Ages. A system of thought crept into the various western societies which turned out to reject classism and pagan deification of rulers and encouraged things like the value of the individual based on his inherent nature as being in the image of God.

And now that there exists a system of law which trades on the premises of that ideological system, the atheist wants to come out and say, "Judas Priest, people! We have sucked all the juice out of that orange! Let's pitch the rind and move on!" It doesn't strike him as somewhat historically-oblivious that the things he takes for granted – which I would call "the Christian suitcase full of stuff" – are inherently Christian and Christ-centered, and without the Christian epistemological and anthropological systemics to hold it up, he's going to wind up without either a suitcase or the stuff in it in very short order.

For example, once you extract imago dei from the dignity of man, what you have is man as an end unto himself – a philosophical ideal completely disproven by the 20th century. Consider it: if each man is an end unto himself, on what basis do you restrain any man? Do you start arguing for the benefit end of the majority? How big does the majority have to be? Can the best end of the plurality be acceptable? You quickly start moving back to pre-Christian political values when you abandon the Christian bases for the laws which we now have.
* to reveal and expose the absurdity of the supernatural claims of the scriptures of the Holy Bible;
This is one of the claims of atheism I always enjoy – as if they make no supernatural or metaphysical claims at all. Sure – the atheist would turn his nose up at a resurrection or a healing or (heaven forbid) a prophecy or speaking in tongues. But what about a quark or a graviton? The atheist would claim that these are scientific certainties – yet in the best possible case, he takes the word of witnesses who have claimed to measure the effects of these objects without ever having seen any of them and affirming without any shame that he probably has no means of measuring or seeing any of them.

But let's assume for a second that current scientific data – as opposed to all the data prior to it – is actually the correct representation of the universe we observe. What about yesterday? Or more precisely, what about any particular moment of the past? It is astounding how anyone can place so much value on something which is entirely not in evidence and cannot be measured if one takes 5 minutes to think about it – except that at the end of those 5 minutes, you really can't affirm the existence of that time except by the testimony of witnesses.

The atheist has at least as much invested in the non-corporeal and the non-physical as the Christian theist does, but if he were to admit that it would be surrendering one of his most time-worn tools of encounter with the Christian.

See: this is an epistemological problem for the atheist. On the one hand, the "supernatural" (think: Scooby-Doo) is "bad" which only the "ignorant" invest any credibility into. Yet on the other hand, if we define the supernatural in a way more meaningful than using terms like "superstitious" and "imaginary", we find that there are plenty of supernatural beliefs we require just to get from bed to work and back again every day.
* to prevent the loss of human energy being wasted through religious practice resulting from the interpretation of the text of the Holy Bible;
If we don't dismiss this objection as too broad – it's like saying "all that energy we waste as a country counting money – think of all the things we could be doing if we just didn't bother" – we have to ask, "in what way is it wasted?"

For example, was it a waste of time to use the Bible in the development of Western political philosophy and law, including the abolition of slavery and the progress of political rights? How about when the Bible was used to establish medical missionary hospitals – waste of time, or effort well-spent?

See: what this group wants to do is dismiss all Bible study as useless under the cover of things like trying to set the date and the time for Christ's return (which the Bible defines as a waste of time, btw). But what it exposes instead is its own dismal understanding of the role of the Bible and the study thereof on the very context of the debate it is trying to wage.

Again, they like what they find in the suitcase, but they forget rather capriciously that they didn't put any of those things in there.
* to prevent further justification of actions causing death and destruction from those in power of whom abuse the widespread acceptance of the Holy Bible as truth;
The charity we have to exercise to not dismiss this claim at face value is fairly generous. What exactly is this objective seeking? Does it seriously claim that all Christian religious decisions end in "death and destruction"? Can he name 3 from the last 50 years?

On the other hand, on what basis will he justify his own beliefs? I'll wager it's on the net benefit of those beliefs as he would argue rather than what he might have to demonstrate from history. Well, I'd argue that whatever "down side" he can argue about Christianity is vastly – by a factor of 10 minimum – outweighed by the benefits of Christian philosophy to the people of the world.

Here's my ante: If you take the total population of Africa and divide it by the number of Christian medical centers in Africa (that's hospitals and staffed clinics, not just outreach centers) you get about 1 Christian med center per 170,000 people (you sift through the WHO data yourself). That number will be higher in the West and lower in the East, so let's assume the higher population in the East brings the ratio down to 1:150,000. That means there are about 40,000 Christian medical centers in the world today.

If each of those centers, on average, only treats 1 person per day, last year they treated 14,600,000 patients; in the last 10 years, using that ridiculously low-ball number, they treated 146,000,000 patients. That's the low-ball figure for the global medical benefit of Christian for 10 years – and it doesn't account for anything like the indirect effect of the research and development of dugs and treatments in the last 100 years by Christian doctors like John MacLeod (insulin) and Alexander Fleming (penicillin).

I'd be pleased to see in what way Christianity harmed that many people in the same concrete way as medical treatment helped them. It takes a lot of chutzpah to say that there are 150 million people in the last 10 years who were harmed by Christianity as directly and palpably as those who received medical treatment in that time benefited, and I have yet to meet the atheist who can muster the case.

And that's part 1. Let's see if there's enough interest in a second part to continue this topic.

[#] Big Monkey and a blonde

Last night I went to the movies with some guys from church (we left the wives and kids at home, and we went to see King Kong. The good news is that it was entertaining enough to relieve my stress headache. The question is whether I would recommend it.

All things being equal, you can't really make any theological complaints about Kong. He doesn't care about baptism -- at least not in this movie. So what you have to do is walk in there and watch a movie that is supposed to be about ...

yeah, listen: what is this movie supposed to be about? Does the platitude at the end, delivered in a completely unbelievable fashion by Jack Black, "it wasn't the airplanes that killed him: 'twas beauty killed the beast" really do anyting for anybody?

This movie is actually about how real $200 million can make a big monkey look: big monkey running in jungle, big monkey playing with little blonde, big monkey fighting to the death with 3 ravening carnosaurs, big monkey fighting large bats, big monkey killing crew of boat, big monkey falling off tall building and dying. And Kong does look very real in this movie. My only critique of this flick from an effects standpoint is that somehow the monoliths -- the big stone sculptures -- in the harbor of Skull Island looked less real than Kong and his various playmates.

All the creepy stuff looked creepy. The giant insects, the giant bats, the tongue of the carnosaur which Kong pulls out whilst fighting him to save Ann from being dinner. Creepy.

It's not hardly "racist" in that Kong is not meant to be representative of any race. To say that the Skull Island aboriginies are not white is to say something that, in and of itself, doesn't mean anything. How many "white" parts of the world are currently undiscovered? (hint: the smart advocate would say, "we don't really know, do we?" -- but then he can' complain if an undiscovered island has people of an indeterminate race) I thought it was far more offensive to watch the "capture Kong" sequence and realize about 30 seconds in that all the Skull Islanders were, suddenly, gone! They weren't trying to stop Dunham and his boys from capturing their idol, and they weren't trying to help: they were simply missing, even though the white guys had to use their city and their protective wall (which didn't, in the end, offer any protection) to do whatever they were doing. Were they all killed by the ship's captain to make his way back into the jungle?

So if you go see this movie, go for the thrills and spills and really, top-shelf special effects. Please, for heaven's sake, do not go see this movie because it is trying to make some existential statement about love and death or truth and sorrow or whatever. This movie is easily 200 miles wide -- but's it's only about 1 inch deep. I can confidently say that there's not one major story arc inside this narrative that is told competantly.

For example, what was the point of the sub-plot of the relationship between Hayes and Jimmy? It was distracting and empty -- and it didn't pay off the way it was obviously intended to pay off. What was the point of the sub-plot of the "development" of Bruce Baxter? Doesn't his ultimate role in the final act of the movie prove out that whatever we think happened at the island was, in the best case, a fluke in his moral reasoning?

Axwell Tiberius, Movie Critic
what's wrong
with that?!
How and why, in the 1930's, does Ann Darrow know sign language? How does she run in the jungle with no shoes (you try it -- tell me your usually-shod feet don't tear up like tissue paper after 1 minute of flat-out running), and climb a skyscraper in high heels? How can 2 or 3 tons of gorilla fall more than 100 stories down to hard pavement and not explode like a garbage sack full of jello?

Listen: this is not Steinbeck. This isn't even Dickens. This isn't even Lee & Kirby, for cryin' out loud. It's an action movie, and this is the third time (at least) that it has been made. It was cathartic and for the most part true to the original, but for heaven's sake: it's a movie about a big monkey and a blonde. Art Adams' Monkeyman and O'Brien are far more compelling than this was. It's fun, it's a roller coaster ride, it is jam-packed with adventure and gross stuff, but let's not try to call this art.

[?] What a TEMPLATE is, and tech notes

Listen people: we are going to use jargon from time to time on the blog, okay? JAR-gun. For our purposes, "jaragon" is technical language necessary to convey contextual meaning for esoteric subjects.

To wit: "template". The "template" for the blog is the set of commands blogspot.com uses to tell your browser how to draw the content of my blog. The "templates" are not the neat comic book images I have pilfered to make it all pretty -- it's stuff like the red sidebar and the red datebar and the way the shopping cart (you haven't been buying much lately, have you? I've been meaning to talk to you about that ...) rolls down the left side of the page. That's the template, and that's what has been giving me fits this week.

OK, it has been giving me fits since I started blogging, but that's not my point.

For the record, before I get saliva foam all over my keyboard here, let me link to and thank Daniel Sorensen for his tireless work in trying to make the wretched machine do what it is being told to do. I have no idea if he is blogging readables or screed, but go visit him just to say "thanks for stopping cent from stepping in front of a bus over the blog template. Nice work."

For those of you who wish I had stepped in front of said bus, nuts to you, fella.

OK. So you can see the current results of the template battle because it has been updated and it loaded when you loaded the page. If you have the evil hellspawn MSIE and cannot be coerced into entering 2006, you will see this:

Note the unseemly blockiness and the lousy way it renders the page so as to make me look like I can't code or have never read up on design elements.

If you are a rational and somewhat-smug internet user, and you are enjoying the competence of FireFox, you are seeing this:

Very nice.

As you can see, BOTH BROWSERS CENTER UP! W00T! In fact, go ahead and make your window scalable, and ride the size back and forth -- THE CONTENT STAYS IN THE CENTER! oh booyah.

Now, how did I do it? Tables. All this time I'm monkeying with div's and all I had to do was force the divs into position using tables and I got 95% of the work done. yes, yes -- you MSIE users are very proudly reading this week's issue of TIME with Bill Gates pretending that he has something in common with Bono and thinking, "I sure am cool that I run my iPod on my PC and I have an integrated browser that comes with my operating system. If only Cent would stop pretending he knows something about css and cave in and use a template that MY browser can handle, the world would actually be a better place."

Listen: when I get the template problem solved so that the MSIE user gets the same thing the Firefox user gets, I'm going to start having lunch with the President in the White House mess just like Bono does, and THEN where will you be? Huh? You'll be wondering if I can change President Bush's mind about immersion, I am sure.

[?] MRI results

Negative. Nothing in there. The Doctor is recommending I drink heavily in order to beat the stress, and when I told him I was a Baptist, he told me, "well, iMonk says you guys are all closet alcoholics anyway, so have a glass of wine on me."

See: there's no joke tag in there, so you have to decide for yourself if I am kidding or if I'm serious. I'm tricky that way.

[?] The Template Saga

Those of you using IE who are trying to read this text behind your scroll bar -- I am at a very significant loss as to what to do for you. I am on the verge of making the page sense what browser one is using in order to pick which css style sheet to use, and just making a very vanilla style sheet for IE uers so their poor browser does not cough up a hair ball trying to render a slightly-exotic set of css formatting commands.

My very real problem is that you-all are like 60% of my browser share. A stats hog like me can't just ignore 60% of you and your aesthetic sweet tooth for web design.

I'm still working on it. It's taking time away from real blogging and Christmas shopping and reading other blogs and (oh yeah -- heh!) work that I get paid for, but I'm working on it. Thanks to those who have tried to e-mail me some help, btw: your solutions are nice, but they don't get the cat out of the tree as they say at the fire department.

All I want for Christmas at this point is a blogger template that renders correctly in IE and Firefox that meets my ridiculously-poor standard of web page fruity goodness.

[#] Oh Man: Christmas early!

HT: Freddie at Hip and Thigh

We will be spending 2006, amidst things like talking more about Baptism than is reasonable and necessary and reviewing books both good and bad, deconstructing the categorically stupid thesis behind the web site at this link.

Let's think about something for a minute: let's imagine that you're at an airport and you're standing next to a guy who has a suitcase that looks exactly like yours. You know what's in your suitcase -- a Bible, clean undies, toiletries, other clothes, maybe some other books and things you'll need at your destination. You check you bag; he checks his bag, and you don't think anything about it.

You get to your destination, and you're at the baggage claim, and suddenly your cell phone rings. Yes honey -- I got here fine. Yes. Hi buddy! Be good! High sweety! Yes, I will -- be good! Ok. OK -- Call you before I get on the plane tomorrow.

You look down and pick up your bag, and you get your rental and go to the hotel. You check in, go to your room, and when you open the suitcase you grabbed, it's not yours -- because it's empty, full of bricks. It weighs about as much as yours did, but it's clearly not yours. When you check the check tag, it is certainly not yours.

So you call the airlines and tell them what happened, and you hope they can find the other guy. Well, when they do, he says, "I don't know what that fella's talking about. Everything in this suitcase is mine. He must be mistaken."

What do you do? What we are going to do to undoJesus.org is what you do. Just watch me.

[?] ... and THIS is actually the new template

Those of you viewing from 1027x768 don't see much of a difference -- the center column is a little narrower. The rest of you lost the scrambled eggs to the right and the content should all be centered up. The really big irony of this upgrade is how simple the solution was. Loki Odinson might be interested in my work-around, so if you're reading to day, Loki, e-mail me and I'll dish on the geeky details of how to make this work.

Those of you viewing in IE will see some problems with the boxes around the Shopping Cart items -- I'm working on that. Screenshots of that problem aren't helping.

My Doctor is waiting for the MRI results for those of you with invasive curiousity. You'll notice I didn't blog much over the last 4 days as I was the victim of Codeine, and the cure was much worse than the disease. The upside of the codeine was that I could sleep uninterrupted; the downside was that being awake was like living through vicious drug withdrawal what with the room spinning and the freight train sounding in my ears and my flesh and eyes feeling like they were on fire. And let's not mention the rumbly in my tumbly. Codeine? No thank you -- I'd rather die.

[%] Credit where credit is due

I asked for helpers last week in exchange for links, and I'm no welcher. The following people were exteremly helpful (and somewhat redundant) in sending me screen shots of my new template. Some of them were actually sending pictures of the current/old template, and I'm not holding their inability to follow directions against them. Is that fair or what?

Jeremy Moore
Bald Daniel
Death Row Bodine
Jeffrey Smith

Some others may have emailed me images. Most of them were for MAC IE screenshots that I had already. However, remind me who you were and I'll get you linked here.

[?] Screenshot, anyone?

I think I have licked the problem with the blog not centering, but I need people with the following system configs to load this link in their browser and take a screen capture for me:

Windows IE 6.X
Opera (any)

Mac IE 5.X
Safari (any)

Those of you wise enough to use Firefox will see the right thing -- the rest of these gimp browsers are giving me a headache (again). If you can capture as .bmp and e-mail me the results, I'll link to your blog on the front page for a week. If your screen res is less than 1024x768, don't bother. My e-mail addy is in my blogger profile.


It's almost Christmas, and I haven't written a thing about the manger, or the angels, or any of that, or posted about Luke 2. I feel like a complete slacker.

Here's how I'm going to make up for it: read this post by Doug Wilson.

My wife hasn't read Pastor Wilson's post, but she says that the best sunday school lesson she ever witnessed me teaching was the day I taught on the babe in the manger. I'll try to round up my stray thoughts on that subject and do something about it today or tomorrow.

[%] Best New Blog, 2005?

It'll be a real brawl for best new blog of 2005 with this new entry.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please meet my good friend and former bodhisatva, James Swan.

He's not very funny, but he's smarter than 10 alligators, as my 4-yr-old would say. Read on.

[?] It's awards time ...

Listen: if some people can pay to enter the Webbies in order to buy an award, we can give out awards, too. We're not fully-funded yet, so we're going to have to settle for wooden nickles rather than some pricey crystal or silver deal.

Click thru to the nomination blog and nominate all the blogs you think deserve awards in our prestigious categories. Vote early and often.

If someone has a category they think I should add, list it in the comments to this post and I'll think about it.

[#] Is there a menu?

I was combing through the meta at the Welty blog post, and I ran into a comment from a young lady who wondered if the debate could actually be resolved over paedo vs. credo. I have an answer to her question, but it has to start from the place that much of the debate is actually resolved.

For example, the paedos we're dealing with here aren't Catholics or Church of Christ, right? They don't believe in baptismal regeneration, so there's one thing resolved: baptism doesn't actually save anybody -- it's not th way by which our sin nature is thwarted or anything like that.

Another thing that's resolved, I think, is that baptism is the moment of initiation into the church. What we mean when we say "the church" is not quite resolved, and we may be talking about apples and oranges in the end on that matter, but superficially we agree that baptism brings a person from outside the boundaries of the church to inside the boundaries of the church.

there's a
So what's left?

I think the most important thing that's left on the table is who is a candidate for baptism? LBCF, meet WCF. Can that question be resolved? See: I think it can in a couple of different ways without sacrificing either "presbyterian" or "baptist" distinctives. Each way deserves its own post, but there's a larger issue that has to govern the matter: rebaptism.

How big a deal is it to "rebaptize"? What counts as a baptism? How many baptisms should you get -- or take? At what point have we cheapened baptism to less than a sign and seal and only to a ritual of initiation?

For example, do we have to rebaptize free will baptists when they figure out that God is sovereign over salvation? Do we have to rebaptize wobbly evangelicals who realize that Christ is Lord over All? What is the nature of baptism, and when do we take it as valid or invalid in order to maintain the lines of the church which it indubitably draws?

At the end of all this blogging about baptism is the matter, which we roasted Abanes over months ago, of rebaptism and whether baptism means anything specifically or if it only means something generally and vaguely.

That is ultimately where I am going to take this discussion, and I hope you're all coming along for the ride. You, too, Welty.