A CHILD'S QUESTION, A MAN'S ANSWER
IN 1897, Francis Pharcellus Church, an editor for the New York Sun, found himself in a difficult position. An eight-year-old girl, whose father told her she could rely on anything printed in the Sun, had written in with a burning question. Church's answer was a classic example of the "Third Side," a crucial element of the thought and life work later promoted by Anton LaVey (1930-1997).
"There are not always 'two sides to every issue,'" LaVey would later write. "It is invariably a third side that is overlooked in every issue and endeavor, from abortion to gun control. The third side can be the crackpot stuff of conspiracy theories, or it can be the most logical and simple, yet deliberately neglected conclusion." (1)
The question put to Church was whether or not Santa Claus existed. Her friends, it seemed, had told her that he did not. Suffering an existential crisis, she reached out to the newspaper for clarity.
"Virginia, your little friends are wrong," Church answered. He continued;
They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe In Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
...A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
A WORLD OF GODS AND SANTAS
I think of Francis Church--and Anton LaVey--whenever I am asked if I "believe" in God. For starters I try not to "believe" anything, especially in the sense of "accepting something is true without proof." However, if you are asking if I think God exists, of course I do. I am not an idiot. Yahweh, Satan, Allah, Krishna, Thor, Osiris, et al are every bit as real as Santa Claus, Hamlet, and Sherlock Holmes. To deny any of these exist is to fall into a trap laid by "vested interests and...minds of limited scope," (2) people who want to frame the definitions of the conversation into either/or propositions to force you to either side with or against them.
Yes, gods exist and Santa exists. They exert measurable and demonstrative influence on the lives and behaviors of billions. You might as well deny the existence of capitalism or liberal democracy. Thus I am categorically not an atheist; "a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods." That definition has that ugly "believe" word in it again. I know the gods exist. So rather than play the game of getting forced into one side or the other of this tedious debate (and therefore by default ceding the right to define its terms to the person asking me, who all too often has an agenda), I embrace the Third Side alternative that Anton LaVey synthesized. The question is not whether gods exist or not, the question is who created whom.
"It is a popular misconception that the Satanist does not believe in God," LaVey wrote in his (in)famous Satanic Bible. "...Man has always created his gods, rather than his gods creating him." It is clear from the way that LaVey wrote of gods and devils that he regarded them in much the same way as Francis Church regarded Santa Claus. These are real ideas, real things, that motivate human behavior, and they have manifested in every human civilization we know of. This indicates to my mind that they are somehow necessary--or at least useful--to us. All too often, the use to which they are put is control; bullying other people into thinking and acting how we might wish them to, but LaVey had answer for this as well. "If man needs such a god and recognizes that god, then he is worshiping an entity that a human being invented...(is) it not more sensible to worship a god that he, himself, has created, in accordance with his own emotional needs?" (3) The Theism/Atheism debate tries to force us into either submitting to other people's gods or to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject gods of our own.
LaVey put forward the convincing theory that humanity is an amphibious species that needs to swim the waters of dreams and ideals as much as crawl out and walk the hard bedrock of reality. This explains the dramatic and romantic dimensions of his otherwise brutal, pragmatic philosophy. Like Church's Santa Claus or fairies, how drab and dreary existence would be without Count Dracula, Superman, Daenerys Targaryen, or Zeus. How impossible to imagine. Yes, atheists are right to point out we can find awe and wonder and beauty in looking at the stars and the sunsets, but this doesn't mean I would want to live in a world without myths and fairy tales. I daresay I needn't have to, because there is a need for these things deeply buried in the human psyche. So long as we remain human, the need for gods and Santas will always be there.
1. and 2. from "The Third Side: An Uncomfortable Alternative," published in Satan Speaks!
3. The Satanic Bible
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