The other day on social media, someone asked “When did you stop believing in Santa Claus?” and another asked “Why do children figure out that Santa isn’t real but not that god isn’t real?” I thought both were interesting questions, especially because for me, there was a parallel between both moments of disbelief, and also because I remember both times I stopped believing. Some of us do figure it out.
We call Santa Father Christmas over here, or at least we did when I was a child. I’m not sure if the name has changed for all children here thanks to Americanised everything. But anyway, I was six years old when my older cousin, Michelle, told me that Santa isn’t real. I can’t remember the words she used so clearly any more, but I can remember the emotion I felt: anger. In the moment I found out, my first response was anger because it felt like she had spoiled something for me. Anger and a little confusion, but not a moment of doubt. I knew right away that she was telling the truth. Later that month, my father left some fake snow footprints to try convincing me otherwise, but having some “snow” show up in Africa only reinforced that Santa wasn’t real.
When I was sixteen years old (and excuse me if you have read this here before) I heard some school classmates mocking a girl from Finland, named Meri, because she didn’t believe in god. I, brought up Roman Catholic, had no idea that atheists even existed, or that disbelief was even an option, though I’d been struggling with doubts for about two years already, ironically since the year I was confirmed. My major problem with belief was that I’d been taught ours was the one true religion, and everybody who didn’t believe in it would not go to Heaven… yet the only difference between me and people who believed in other religions was the matter of a birth lottery. My religion was not my choice but the result of me being born to Catholics who handed down their beliefs to me, as is the case for others of different faiths.
So I approached Meri, for two reasons: I felt bad that people were laughing at her, and I wanted to understand. It wasn’t much of a conversation really. She asked me if I believed in god, and when I answered in the affirmative, she asked me, “Why?”. It was an exasperated question, form someone who had just been bullied, but at the same time, she scoffed at the thought of belief in a god. And in that moment, I realized I did not have an answer. In that moment, I stopped believing and it was the most relief I felt in years. It was like Michelle all over again, telling me that Santa is made up, except she didn’t even have to say it.
Just like when I was six years old, I didn’t need to think about it much further. I stopped believing instantly, going from believer to disbeliever in a matter of seconds. Simply knowing that I wasn’t the only one to think it didn’t make sense, and knowing that someone could be baffled at the thought of having such a belief, that theism could be absolutely inconceivable to someone who wasn’t taught to believe since childhood, that was enough for me. I’ve never looked back.
Come to think of it, none of my beliefs are fixed. I will change my mind about anything if presented with evidence, or a solid argument that shows evidence does not exist. I’m not unique. There are many of us who reject our indoctrination, and lucky people like Meri who were never brainwashed in the first place. I envy her. I’d rather be baffled by religion than angry it was imposed on me for so long.
Worth adding… I may not be unique, but then my way of thinking doesn’t seem to be too common either. I’ve had plenty of conversations with theists, from debates to more open discussions. I’ve mocked. I’ve made some of the most solid arguments I can imagine, and my arguments are good because I understand both points of view. But nobody, not one person, has ever switched from theist to atheist as I did during the discussion.