What if Santa is a woman? What if the idiotic Elf on the Shelf is a girl named Julie instead of a boy named Jack? What if Mary Magdalene was the 13th Apostle? Sigh, I apologize for this last question, I really do, but I can’t help it: what if God is a Goddess? Did I start asking these questions this morning? No, of course not. I raised my hand in Honors Comparative Religion and asked a few questions along these lines as a freshman English major and the professor told me I was in the wrong class, asking the wrong questions. The philosophy and history professors all told me to take my sarcasm elsewhere, and so I did: I left school and tried to write the great American novel and fumbled around for a couple of years before I stumbled back to college and argued my way to a degree, Magna Cum Laude. I didn’t stop asking questions but I long ago stopped expecting that someone would provide answers.
Do I believe in God? Yes, and I question almost everything I have read about him in the Bible. I don’t know if God is male; I don’t know if he brought the locusts and the plagues upon the evil nations; I don’t know if he built Eve out of Adam’s rib (damn, that movie, Adam’s Rib makes me angry even though I love Hepburn and Tracy). I don’t understand why the Old Testament is so hateful; the New Testament; so full of love. I don’t think that everything inscribed in its pages really occurred because even if God exists and is infallible, he did not write the books and chapters in the Bible. Men wrote it and I keep coming back to two things: humans are highly imperfect and often are incapable of perceiving and speaking what is real and true; and, only men, and never women, wrote the words in its pages.
As the mother of three children, I try not to question my belief in God in front of them. When I married my Methodist husband, I agreed (since I was terminally confused about my faith) to follow his lead in all things religious, and this has worked out well enough since he suffers from indolence on Sunday mornings. Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t. I teach the children the fundamentals of both my shaky Christian faith and my reason-based philosophy and hope that they will have the critical thinking ability, as they age, to figure things out for themselves. In some ways, I want them to find an unshakeable faith. To be honest, as I have waded through major depressive episodes again and again, I often have fallen to my knees and begged God to pass me a lifeline. Faith in God gives me hope. And yet I hope that God understands why I have so many doubts.
How does this relate to Santa Claus and the elf on the shelf? I hate the Santa Claus myth. It truly offends me that we are expected to lie to our children. My daughter wanted nothing to do with Santa or his minions, and so I was able to tell her that Santa was a happy myth, a game, like a Disney movie, that parents told their children. My boys, on the other hand, didn’t listen to me when I tried to dispute Santa’s existence, so I have played along reluctantly and yet detested the mendacity I have acquiesced in espousing.
It does not, unfortunately, stop here. It isn’t enough that we lie about Santa. Now we are expected to lie about the Elf on the Shelf, and this has created an unexpected problem. My daughter, who is 8-going-on-28, felt the sting of discrimination when my husband put “Jack” on the shelf this morning, and I in turn realized that I have become an instrument in injuring her sense of self as a girl.
As the children ate breakfast, the boys chattered about Jack. “C,mon, Mom,” my daughter said grumpily, “We need to rename the Elf on the shelf.”
“That’s not possible. His name is Jack,” I replied as the kids fought among themselves.
“Yeah, but we can rename him every year,” she persisted.
“But he’s already named. That’s preposterous.”
Maddie shouted over her brothers. “No, what’s preposterous is that the elves always have boys’ names!”
I sighed. She had a good point, and of course the in-laws gave us that stupid thing already named. “Maybe,” I mused, “I should rename the elf Julie.” Madeline snickered. Jim burst into tears and I glared at him and exclaimed, “Aw, stop crying about the elf!”
If I do not discard Jack, I will buy a dress for him and give him a girl’s name. It seems unseemly to rename God a Goddess. Who am I to know or to question God’s sex or gender? But I will not stop at declaring Mary Magdalene the 13th disciple (a notion based on serious and scholarly arguments). And the freakin’ Santa myth is difficult to combat when the entire culture pressures both parents and children into believing it. I will not, however, inculcate the myth of the Elf on the Shelf; which is to say, if he remains in our household, she will, from now on, wear a dress.