I’ve noticed something about critiques of the doctrine of the Trinity, whether they come from Skeptics or from members of other religious groups: Inevitably, they never get the doctrine right and end up critiquing some deviant variation of it.
Case in point. Richard Carrier offered up a satiric Christmas post (note to Carrier: don’t drop your career for one in comedy) in which he offered a number of parodies of various Christian arguments and doctrines. I’m leaving some of those to Nick Peters to deal with, since they’re attempted parodies of theistic proofs, but I’ll tackle the part that is supposed to be (“supposed” being a key word) a parody of the Trinity.
Santa Claus is defined by Scripture (that precious corpus of psalms and tales of His glory) and by natural reason as the Holly Trinity: He is One Being in three persons. He is the Santa Claus incarnate, the red-coated, bearded, fat-bellied jolly Man who becomes flesh every year to dispense His rewards and punishments on all (even the unbelieving--for even if you don't believe in Him, rest assured, He still believes in you). He is also the Christmas Spirit, which enters all our souls this time of year to communicate to us and move us to join in unison in celebrating the love of giving and cheer. And He is the Three Ghosts of Christmas, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Yes, at this point it gets complicated. Nonbelievers insist that that makes two more persons, so really Santa is five persons in one, and they mock us for our irrationality and inability to do basic math. But they are the ignorant ones. For clearly according to Scripture (Christmas Carol 9:21, 18:11, and 24:8) the three Ghosts are really temporally santificated incarnations of one and the same Ghost, and thus they, too, are three persons in One Being, and thus are One, and thus Santa is three persons in One, not five. Obviously.
As I said before, Carrier won’t want to drop his academic career for one in comedy – even if he does manage to get a “Jesus didn’t exist” book going, and ends up without a career in academia because of it.
We can lay aside the abuse of Dickens; two of the three Ghosts (Past, Future) were meant to personify Scrooge’s own experiences at Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Present, in contrast, could be said to personify Father Christmas; but is clearly meant to have a much broader ideological representation (eg, he says he has 1800+ brothers, one for every year, presumably since the time of Jesus) rather than narrowly representing an individual Santa Claus figure.
I also have yet to see any equation of Santa Claus with the “Christmas Spirit.” In any event, I know of no variation of the Trinity (not even a heretical version) that contains five total elements.
Then there’s this bit about “the three Ghosts are really temporally santificated incarnations of one and the same Ghost, and thus they, too, are three persons in One Being, and thus are One, and thus Santa is three persons in One, not five.” I have to wonder if that one was composed while Carrier was enjoying the eggnog a little too intimately. It again resembles no variation on the doctrine of the Trinity that I know of. The orthodox doctrine accepts two temporal incarnations (Word and Spirit). What Carrier offers here comes closest, perhaps, to the modalistic heresy.
Perhaps at this point Carrier would say we’re taking his analogy too seriously. His point, perhaps, is that he finds the doctrine of the Trinity incoherent, which is what his Santa analogy was supposed to express.
Well, perhaps he does find it incoherent, but his lack of comprehension then becomes the real punch line here. It also makes the parody a failure, of course: Weird Al is in no danger from Carrier, that's for sure.
As I point out in the article linked at the end of this post, the doctrine of the Trinity is conceptually no different than ideas held in the same cultural milieu having to do with personified/personal attributes of deities (to use the technical word: hypostases). It’s just not that hard to comprehend. Plato’s logos, the Egyptian Ma’at, and Jewish Wisdom are all cut from the same basic cloth, but I have yet to see any critic of Christianity target Plato with inane parodies in which they mock the alleged incoherence of the logos.
Of course, part of the fault lies in the fact that many Christians don’t even have a grasp of the doctrine either. When one of our “big names” like T. D. Jakes can’t even get it right, we don’t give the world outside a very promising picture. In that sense, I can’t blame many critics for their misinformed critiques, or those like John Loftus who are not well informed, and think Carrier is offering solid gold. (Those with Carrier’s supposed level of education, however, are another matter.)
Bottom line though – it’s all the more an example of why we need more solid teaching and discipleship (see last post on the “Leavers”). At the very least, we ought to be prepared to recognize error when we see it.