My dad laughed at me when I told him I wanted to believe in Santa. I wasn’t older than seven, but he wasn’t laughing out of cruelty. And anyways, it’s not like I was whining. I didn’t feel like it was a loss to know the truth, and I don’t actually remember ever actively believing in the red burglar.
The problem was that all the other seven-year-olds still believed and I desperately wanted to fit in, especially after the humiliation of being pulled aside by my second grade teacher at lunchtime and receiving a brisk and whispered lecture about how my classmates “deserve” to believe if they want to.
Even at age seven, I raised an eyebrow at her flawed logic: why do they “get” to believe but I don’t “get” to not know the real truth? After all, it wasn’t like someone presented them with a reality in which Santa existed and one in which he was a known fable and they were then given the luxury to chose between the two. Ignorance might not always be bliss, but it’s almost never intentional. The truth though, that’s not necessarily intentional either.
Anyhow, needless to say I was an obnoxious seven-year-old: whining about Santa to Dad one day and trying to ruin the old fraud for some babies the next. But I was also a perceptive seven-year-old, and just like I saw through my teacher’s weak attempt at sheltering some rural kids for just a year or two longer, I also understood my dad’s subtle chuckle when I confessed to him in his workshop one winter morning that I sort of wished I could be one of those dummies. Like, yeah, it was a useless thing to say. It was an even more useless thing to feel: “I wish I understood less so I could be excited about reverse robbery once a year!” Only a brain with fewer than ten years of experience in self-awareness could conjure that caliber of cognitive dissonance.
What’s worse is that it’s not a discord I’ve outgrown, although I’d at least like to give myself credit for yearning after a more mature phantom. I’m sure I never believed in Santa – having two older siblings can do that do a kid – but I also can’t remember a time in my life when I was confidently faithful to a god. Fearfully for a few years, and hesitantly for a few others, but never with conviction. At this point, I have some suspicions but nothing I could call a spiritual foundation.
Usually, my Atheism is little more than a quiet murmur at the back of my mind. When life gets particularly cacophonous, it swells to a little more of a nuisance. A psychotic terrorist slaughtering almost five dozen people and gunning down an additional small town’s worth, for instance, might trigger a bout of wishing I believed something was listening at the other end of my prayers. However, most of the time I don’t mind being the one pulled aside in the lunchroom; better than being one of the suckers whose world gets shattered upon their eventual arrival in a Santa-free world.
Sometimes I’m seven-year-old me, wishing I could have a less concrete perception of my world; sometimes I’m my dad, smirking at that little weirdo; sometimes I’m my teacher, hissing at some truth that’s lurking, its attack inevitable. I’m sure I’ll never get to be one of my classmates, though. Some of us just aren’t born to believe.