77. Imagine there’s no Santa.


The UK version of Village People.

In Buxton, Derbyshire, Father Higgins is in big trouble this week, for telling the kids that Santa isn’t real. Sections of the media pretended to get upset.

Father Higgins doesn’t like fakes. He thinks we should be judged on what we do rather than what we say. He’d rather see people carrying out charitable works than mumbling prayers over their rosary beads. People say to him, ‘I’m not a religious man but…’ and he interjects ‘neither am I really’. Father Higgins has a tendency to go off message at times, but there is no Bishop in Nottingham in post at present to tell him off. And besides that, he’s of an advanced age, he’s been at Buxton, Derbyshire for decades and he knows very well there’s a drastic shortage of priests in the UK. No Martin Sheen character is going to set forth up river to finish him off like in Apocalypse Now. He’s just not expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

Religions have to be careful about debunking mythology, not just because of the pot -calling – the – kettle proverb. Reality is too harsh to tolerate full on, so we have to create a buffer zone of fantasy around it. Some fantasies are shared, like talking animals, royal families and Santa, while some are highly specific to individuals. Mark Chapman fantasised about killing John Lennon for a long time before carrying out the act. Allegedly, Chapman was a fervent Christian and Beatles fan, and had come to regard Lennon as a kind of false prophet. He was influenced by the character of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, who hated phonies, yet was something of a phoney himself. It takes one to know one, or as a psychoanalyst might say, it takes one to project one.

Since Lennon had taken the trouble to call his last album ‘Double Fantasy’ rather than say, ‘Double Truth’,  Chapman’s reaction was harsh, to say the least. He should have paid more attention to another contemporary New York musician, Billy Joel, who wrote ‘Angry Young Man’ as something of an antidote to political protest.

Despite that song, which seemed to punctuate an ‘end of history’ moment for over-righteous indignation, people still queue up to denounce perceived hypocrisy. Just think about the Critical Psychiatry Network, who stay up at nights raging about made-up illnesses and pretend drug therapies. Just think about the people who hate the Band Aid single, just because it sometimes snows in Africa and nearly every African person knows it’s Christmas time.

Could Holden Caulfield find anyone around today that he could believe in?  I suspect he’d have to settle for a pet dog. He’d never find a human being he could tolerate. People are intrinsically irrational and hypocritical and contradictory. It’s the way the mind works, isn’t it Mr Spock? In acknowledgement, we have seen a shifting emphasis in therapy away from ‘rational / emotive’ towards ‘acceptance / commitment’, the acceptance being that humans have messy wiring diagrams. We are all phonies now – get over it.

The problem seems to occur not so much when someone creates a fantasy world around themselves, but when they create the wrong alternative reality. In the news today we hear that pets are getting more likely to attack their owners, supposedly because they are not given enough exercise. People are getting dogs that are much too large to live in ordinary homes. Bonsai dogs have been around for a while, but they are not popular. When you buy a dog you are buying a fantasy companion, not an ergonomically-correct domestic appliance. Not that you would really want an appliance whose main function was generating and randomly distributing hair and faecal material. We have an old Dyson for that job.

Though the media have profited greatly from the expanding market in fantasy, the main losers appear to be those bastions of rationality, maths and science.

A large number of our children don’t understand that 85 is a smaller number than 90. If you ask them, ‘if I buy an orange for 20p and an apple for 15p and I pay with a pound coin, how much change will I get?’, they will answer £1.35. But then we do have a thing called Quantitative Easing, which means they are probably right. And what’s more they can all sing all the songs from Frozen.