“God’ll Get You For That!”

You’d better watch out
You’d better not cry
You’d better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
Checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

You’d better watch out
You’d better not cry
You’d better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town1

Santa has a little list to weed out the naughty from the nice. He’s going to reward the good and punish the bad, meeting out his holiday justice infallibly. And, if he’s too busy to keep track of everyone by himself, he has the “Elf on the Shelf” to help him out. I wonder how old you have to be before Santa gives up jotting notes on your behavior.

No need to worry — the god whom we worship will take care of the rest of us! We have God’s Law, and if we transgress, horrible punishments await us. The god we worship turns his face away and we and our families and our nation and our culture and our whole world will perish. Those of us who toe the line, who worship properly and condemn evils of every kind will be richly rewarded — if not here, then in the hereafter. After all our god loves our religion and our country and will bless us (if we’re worthy). And, when we get into trouble, our god will come to rescue us from all our enemies.

Not Me! Ok, so what happens when disaster strikes? What happens when good people fail and suffer and die? What happens when bad things happen to good people? Who is responsible? Where shall we inflict the punishment that will make all things right again?Whom shall we blame? How can we divert our god’s wrath from destroying all that we hold dear? What are we good people to do?

Left to our own devices, whether we call the judge of humankind Santa or god, our tendency is always to project our own beliefs and prejudices onto the one we worship. In effect, we create god in our own image.

“Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs,” writes a team led by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago.

“The experiments in which we manipulate people’s own beliefs are the most compelling evidence we have to show that people’s own beliefs influence what they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they think other people believe,” 2

Since we are convinced that we live in a fearful world rushing headlong into death, a world of futility, a world of absurdity, then we need rewards and punishments to make sense of it all for ourselves and those whom we love. And, as much as we need rewards and punishments to guide us through this fearful “veil of tears,” then the god whom we worship (made in our own image) must also be as capricious, vengeful, and punishing as we.

Is it any wonder that both Santa and our invented god are larger-than-life men with long white beards sitting in a big chair “up there,” passing judgment on us? The only difference between them (really) is that one uses “toys and goodies” to reward and lumps of coal in the stocking to punish; while the other uses some sort of “heaven” to reward and “hell” to punish. It’s all based on guilt, blame, and retribution.

Don’t I believe in God? in heaven? in hell? You betcha I do! But not in the mythologized, satanized god of this world and its rewards and punishments. What do I mean by satanized? As I have mentioned before, the satan is the prosecutor in a court case. It is he who levies the accusation against the accused. It is he who hands the accused (us) over to judgment — reward or punishment. For generations, people who have struggled with this satanized god have recognized that once this god is your accuser, there is no escape. There’s no escape from fear; there’s no escape from death.

This false god talks of love and forgiveness but requires sacrifice to appease his blood lust. This god sends his son to a horrible death to pay the penalty for our sins because, after all, we owe him! The satanized god is both capricious and cruel, and that cruelty has to go somewhere. You messed up and either, “God’ll get you for that!” or he’ll take it out on somebody else. Either way, there’s a price to pay. Either way, somebody’s going to die!

So does the culture of death permeate our religious teachings and our beliefs and robs humankind of its faith, its hope, and its love. How can we fallible people believe in a god like this? How can we hope and trust while living under the threat of a implacable god? How can we love a god who we know is just waiting to kick us down stairs into hell-fire?

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave


1Santa Claus Is Coming to Town was written in 1932 by Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots.
2Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, quoted in “Study: Man creates God in his own image,” USA Today, November 30, 2009.

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