On Christmas day, what better way of celebrating is there than to claim that Santa Claus is a God of Christian polytheism?
Obviously Jim Davies could not think of something better to spend his time with. Out to provoke?
The article does not even attempt to trace a genealogy of the tradition. Surely a belief or ritual cannot be understood if it is ripped apart of its context and historical roots.
Since the Santa Claus tradition commemorates and revolves around the Turkish bishop (and key player at the council of Nicaea) Saint Nicholas, talking about Santa Claus in a Christian context basically means:
“Do saints undermine Christianity’s monotheism?”
Similarly he claims Christianity “styles itself as a monotheism” but “looks quite polytheistic”. The presence of angels, demons, saints, “and even ghosts” seem to make the monotheist element look shaky. The core question here is if religions like Platonism or branches of Hinduism count as monotheistic if they- while having a concept of God is “monotheistic”- also have a pantheon of lower beings, mythical figures and gods?
If God is described monotheistically: as incorporeal, transcendent, infinite and ineffable, as omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent, then that religion can rightly be said to be a monotheism.
He claims that “many different kinds of beings can be classified as gods”. Using “gods”, when referring to demons and ghosts, this clearly does not refer to the aspect of worship-worthiness. So what it Davies problem? He seems bothered that these beings exist- or simply that they are believed to exist. The point cannot be that other creatures are worshipped alongside God, that God must share a place among a plurality of options. What he cannot possibly conceive is an environment that is richer than just human agents. Humans- in the cosmologies he takes a jab at- are not only placed in relation to a ground of being, but also among a plethora of other actors in the cosmos. Davies might not be bothered by these agents overshadowing the place of God, but by the way they put a tentative question mark on the place of man. It isn’t an affront to a monotheism of God, but to a monotheism of man.
The key point in the essay is to compare how certain aspects of Santa Claus relate to many gods present in actual religions. That Santa Claus has, for example, a keen sense of morality, is not because he is a character generated to keep children behaving, and this mechanism seems to be alike religions. It is rather because as character he is religious, and therefore moulded by the religious conceptions of morality.