Quincy University theology professor Kent Lasnoski says this is a topic of debate among his students. He holds the view that, as a tool for teaching children that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished, Santa Claus is not helpful, because parents never actually give their kids a lump of coal in the name of Santa.
“If we’re telling our kids God is this kind of Santa Claus figure out there who knows if you’re naughty or nice and he’s gonna give you coal [if you’re naughty] but actually no one ever gets that coal, then how accurate is that of a description of God?” he said.
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He also says that when kids discover at age 7 or 8 that Santa Claus is fake, and they recognize the parallels between Santa Claus and God, the kids may reason that God is fake too – just another mechanism to prompt good behavior.
Both God and Santa Claus are depicted as elderly and with a long white beard, both are omniscient and keep score of good behavior and bad, and ultimately reward those who behave well and punish those who do not. But Lasnoski says God will forgive all manner of bad behavior if the sinner is truly repentant.