As the holidays creep not so stealthily upon us, we hear parents remind their children to be good “because Santa is coming.”
For years that worked for me, with my older girls. There was a three to four week respite when they tried really hard to be well-behaved so they could receive the gift of their choice. I was grateful.
But is that really a lesson we want to teach our children? That the only reason for being good is to receive some sort of specific reward?
I started thinking about this when I read news stories about the American Humanists’ ad campaign starting this week, with ads that read “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The ads are expected to appear on Washington, D.C. buses through December.
Christian groups have protested the ads, claiming that God must be included in the discussion of good and evil. CNN reports this comment from American Family Association president Tim Wildmon:
“It’s a stupid ad,” he said. “How do we define ‘good’ if we don’t believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what’s good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what’s good, it’s going to be a crazy world.”
So does this mean that Christians only do what’s right because God says it is? And of course the corollary, if you don’t do good, as defined by God, then you’ll be punished? So…to carry that out to it’s logical conclusion, the only reason you’re good is…to get a specific reward. The same thing as Santa Claus.
Fred Edwords, of the AHA, says that the message of the Humanists is that anyone can have moral values, “as a natural result of who we are as a species and who we have become as a civilization. Each one of us knows what it means, generally, to be ethical. We may disagree on specific details…but we all get the basic idea.”
In dealing with my children, their autism often comes between them and their decision-making process. They also take what we say very literally, and cling to it with the fiber of their being. So what message do we give them when we say there is a Santa Claus and then a few years later, point out that there isn’t and we lied to them? It really throws them to the point of meltdowns, bad behavior and loss of trust.
Wouldn’t it be better to teach them that we all, Christian, Humanist, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist–take your pick!–that we all should be good because it’s the right thing to do? Not to gain some reward or get a pat on the head or to impress some other person–but because we can make choices that are part of the greater good? Take that literally. We’d all be better off.