The mixed traditions of Christmas—Santa and Jesus—have this in common: They’re both watching us and “coming to town.” You better watch out, and you better not cry or pout. There are lists being kept, in both cases, of who’s naughty and nice. They both are omnipresent—they see you when you’re sleeping and awake, and omniscient—they know if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!
• Proverbs 15.3: “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
• Job 31.4: “Does he not see my way and count my every step?”
• Hebrews 4.13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
• Proverbs 5.21: “For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths.”
• Jeremiah 16.17: “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”
I wonder how this is supposed to make me feel. I guess if it were for protection it might be comforting, but we know that bad shit happens to everyone regardless of their religious devotion; even the Bible teaches that (Matt. 5.45, Zech. 10.1). I used to take comfort in the thought of an omnipresent overseer because, as a child of God, He just adored me that much and enjoyed watching my every move, like a divine stalker.
But that’s not why He’s watching, is it? I’ve heard preachers do their darndest to recast this score-keeping, thought-policing, all-seeing-eye image, but it’s just too Biblical. The general public didn’t just pull this image out of their ass. It reminds me of Orwell’s Big Brother or Tolkein’s the Eye of Sauron or the Patriot Act—always under surveillance. Is this supposed to be a deterrent to sin?
We are all aware that “thou shalt nots” don’t work, right? They actually produce the opposite behavior. The power of taboo plays on human nature as an enticement rather than a deterrent. It sparks our curiosity. In addition, our minds don’t process negatives effectively. If I said, “Do not think of a pink elephant” you, of course, would immediately think of one.
So the notion that we constrain our behavior (and thoughts) to please an omniscient being (whether Santa or God) is a vicious cycle of guilt and shame. Ironically, it is human virtue that causes people to reject this notion. Motivated by a desire for honesty, maturity and independence, a person could violently rebel against this type of moral dictatorship. I recently met a waitress with a tattoo across her chest that read, “Not all who wander are lost.” The tattoo itself is a way of rebelling against the moral dictator, but the quote reaffirms the sentiment, “You cannot judge me.”
Jesus tells an interesting story in Matthew, chapter 21. A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Go work in the vineyard.” The son refused. The father gave the same command to the second son, who answered, “Sure, I’d be glad to,” but he never went. Turns out the first son actually did the work. Jesus asks his audience, “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”
Perhaps the honest son knew his limitations and knew that saying yes was a promise he might not be able to keep. Rather than put himself on the hook, he cut himself some slack. He eliminated any expectation that he would do or be what was expected of him. Does a realistic, self-accepting environment like this produce better results than an expectant, obligatory atmosphere? Maybe, but I think the right answer is “who cares?” The very question starts to put performance-measuring handcuffs on our protagonist. One way to interpret the parable is that we can be a son or daughter who says no and yet does the father’s will. I take this to include atheists. Personally, I like a God who doesn’t give much credence to lip service or mind service (what one believes), but rather actions. We recognize trees by their fruit.
Judgment is like yeast; it only takes a little bit to completely change the effect. I think one has to ask the question, “Does God accept me just as I am or not?” Perhaps you’ve heard preachers include the addendum, “. . . but loves you too much to leave you there.” This is how quick and sneaky judgment is: Our pride just can’t stomach the injustice of a universe that is free of judgment. What might it feel like to shed the yoke of performing for the all-seeing, judgmental eye? What if one embraces “I am what I am” and stops apologizing for being human? What if I see myself as a work of art—neither right nor wrong, good nor bad? I’m doing my best but really, it’s nobody’s business. I refuse to acknowledge any unsolicited judgment of my performance. Whether it’s Santa, or God, or a neighbor—whoever is watching my every move needs to get a life. I am not under your microscope. And as an act of my freedom and the assurance of yours, I refuse to judge you for judging me.