A Brick in the Valley


Answering Virginia (however, briefly)
December 22, 2007, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Christmas

You know the story.  A little girl named Virginia wrote a letter to the editor in 1897. 

Dear Editor,

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

What with the Big Elf getting ready to load up his sleigh, it’s an appropriate time of the year to do a little worldview analyis using Virginia’s letter.

Here is my central thought.  Virginia’s little friends were “moderns” . . . but the editor was the original post-modern.  Indeed, I am surprised he didn’t answer Virginia with a narrative.   

First, read the editor’s response.

September 21, 1897

Dear Virginia:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus . He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus!

Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. Francis Church

The New York Sun

There is more than one way to analyze a worldview.  But, let’s use traditional worldview categories here:

Being (ontology/metaphysics) –  What is the nature of reality?

Knowing (epistemology) – How do I know?  What is the basis of knowledge?

Doing (axiology/ethics) – What do I believe ethically?

Virginia’s little friend were thoroughly modern -and, this comes out most notably in how they think they know (epistemology) – –

“They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”

I still have to work on my sermon today – – so, let me cut right to the chase.  If you had to summarize Virginia’s friends’ worldview – – it would be:

Being — Everything evolved.

Knowing – We know through science and observation.

Doing – Humanism, a man-centered approach, would have been their answer.  Obviously, they didn’t believe in anything transcendent.

The editor does a good job dismantling Virginia’s modernist friend’s worldview (and makes people feel good in the process).  He argues:

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. . . Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

So far so good.  The editor has argued to Virginia that reality is not limited to what we can see.

While we may feel warm and fuzzy when reading the editor’s letter, and we’re certainly glad that he takes Virginia’s obnoxious little friends down a peg, his answer doesn’t ultimately work. 

The key to understanding the editor’s worldview is what he believes about knowledge (his epistemology).  And, he doesn’t think it is possible to know with true confidence.  He argues that our knowledge is suspect and unreliable. 

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond.

In other words, there is more to this than what we can observe – – but, we can’t really know confidently.

The editor doesn’t tell us his ethics.  But, anyone who lives in this age knows that the highest good for him was probably tolerance.  As G.K. Chesterton said, “Tolerance is the virtue of people who don’t believe anything.”  When you can’t know for certain, then the best thing you can be is tolerant of everyone else. 

So, what would a “confessing evangelical” say to Virginia?

Being – Virginia, your friends are wrong to think reality is limited to what they experience with their senses.  God is ultimately reality.  He is the Creator of all things – – the upholder of all things – –

Knowing – Yet, God has chosen to reveal himself, and he oversees his own self-disclosure so that we can know with confidence.  God reveals himself generally through his creation but also specially and verbally so that we can have a personal knowledge of him. . . Indeed, Christmas is about when God broke into this space and history with his only Son, who is God, both message and messenger.

Doing – Ethically, Virginia, you and your little friends are accountable to your Creator whether you realize it or not.  People are not the center as modernism teaches.  Nor, is tolerance the ultimate good as post-moderns counter.  Right and wrong are determined by the character of God himself.

Virginia, two things to finish up.  And, I want to be kind about both of these but it’s going to be tough.

First, – – let me tell you straight up, the whole Santa thing is a hoax.  Santa, Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius – – take your pick.  It’s all a big lie.  But, keep it going at your house as long as you can.  As long as your parents think you believe in Santa, then you will get some presents from Santa, and some from them — and you’ll probably do better overall.

Second, you said your dad says, “If we we see it in the Sun (the newspaper), it is true.” 

Here’s the deal.  “If your dad thinks that it is true because it is in the secular media, then he is in the biggest trouble of all.  Do what you can to have him watch Fox News and read the right blogs.  But, even then he is going to be a messed up camper.

 Merry Christmas.

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