[#] 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.