Faith and Reason, as Explained to a Five-Year-Old
by: Will Petillo
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Dropping his backpack on the floor, Jeremy entered the living room and sat by the fire.
“Hey there, Jeremy,” his father Jacob said, entering from the kitchen, “I made some hot chocolate for you, added some red and green marshmallows to celebrate your last day of school before the holidays.”
Jeremy asked, “Where’s mommy?”
“She’ll be home a little late,” Jacob replied, handing his son a mug of hot chocolate and sitting down next to him. Jeremy stared silently into the mug for a moment and then asked, “Daddy, is Santa Claus real?”
Jacob was taken aback at this, “What? Why do you ask?”
“Some of the kids at school told me Santa’s not real. I told them that Santa must be real because he leaves presents under the tree and eats the milk and cookies I put out for him but they laughed at me and said that this was all done by parents and Santa is all a big lie.”
“A lie? I wouldn’t say that!”
“So Santa is real?” Jeremy asked hopefully.
Jacob smiled and said, “What do you think?”
Jeremy sighed and then said impatiently, “Daddy, I just asked you!”
“I want to know what you think, son, do you believe in Santa?”
“Yeah, I guess so…” Jeremy said, resigning himself to what he knew would turn into another long conversation with his dad, probably with some moral at the end.
“Why?” Jacob asked.
“I don’t know. I guess because you and mommy told me so.”
“Is that enough reason to believe in Santa, because we told you so?”
“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”
Jacob laughed and said, “That’s more or less what you were asking when you asked if Santa is real. It’s also why I can’t answer directly. If Santa is not real, then I was lying to you before and so then how would you know if I were telling the truth if I answered your question now?” Jeremy looked at his father, completely confused. Jacob continued, “Listen, never mind what your mom and I tell you about whether Santa’s real, I want you to decide for yourself.”
Jeremy thought back to what the other kids at school told him and said, “Well, I guess maybe not then.”
“Well, lots a reasons. If he is so fat, how does he get down small chimneys?”
“But how do his reindeer fly? They don’t have wings or jet rockets or anything. And even if reindeer can fly, how could they carry Santa and all the presents?”
“But what about all the kids in the world? How can he possibly get to them all in one night? I mean, I know there are time zones and all, but still…”
“But where does he get all of those toys that he gives away?”
“Elves make them. In Santa’s workshop in the North Pole.”
“But Alex has flown with his Dad over the North Pole and he says he never saw any workshop. He also showed me a map of the entire North Pole and Santa’s workshop wasn’t marked anywhere.”
“That’s because it’s hidden.”
Jeremy, frustrated, exclaimed, “But there’s no such thing as magic!”
Jacob asked, “How do you know that?”
“Because it doesn’t make any sense!”
Jacob replied, “Of course it doesn’t make any sense, that’s what makes it magic.”
Jeremy decided to take a different strategy and asked, “Why do rich kids get better presents then poor kids?”
Jacob smiled and said, “Ah, now there’s a good question. I don’t know, but if I had to guess I would say it is because rich kids are used to having lots of stuff and so they need more expensive presents than poor kids in order to get the same level of enjoyment.”
“I suppose.” said Jeremy, “So I guess Santa is real then.”
“Could be real, Jeremy, could be real. It could also be that I put the presents under our tree every Christmas. The result would be the same either way. Also, the explanation where parents put the presents under the tree instead of Santa is much simpler because it does not require any magic or flying reindeer or elves in secret workshops, but that does not mean that it has to be true.”
“I’m confused,” Jeremy complained, “Why can’t you just tell me if Santa’s real? That would be so much easier than all this.”
“I’m sorry Jeremy, but for definite answers you will just have to wait. As to whether or not you should believe in Santa, the important question is not whether it is possible that Santa is real, what matters is whether you want to believe.”
Father and son sat in silence for a moment, watching the fire. Jeremy took a large sip of what was now warm chocolate and said, “I believe Santa is real because if he is not real then it doesn’t matter if I believe in him or not and if he is real then I will get a big lump of coal if I don’t believe in him.”
Jacob shook his head and replied, “Do you really think you can fool Santa that easily? And even if you could, do you really think that Santa would be so mean that he would give you a lump of coal just because you were thoughtful enough to question whether he was real?”
“I suppose not…” Jeremy said, though he sounded unconvinced.
Jacob smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it, Jeremy. I know you’ve been a good kid this year. If Santa doesn’t get you anything because you didn’t believe, I’ll go to the store and get you some presents myself. Believe whatever you like, Jeremy, you’ll get your presents either way. Hey, I think I hear the garage door opening, sounds like your Mom’s home, go give her a hug and tell her about what you learned in school today.”