Studs Terkel was an old-fashioned atheist, and he used to say, “If it gives you comfort to believe in a god or a hereafter, who am I to disabuse you?” Who am I, indeed?

How about Grandma? Let me be Grandma for a minute. Little Jimmy says, “Gamma, you think Santa will bring me a trike for Missmas?”

“Why, certainly, Jimmy; you’ve been such a good boy this year.” Fifteen years later, the big lummox shows up at a family barbecue, sporting a black leather jacket and four rings in his lower lip, “Hey Grandma, I need a Harley to go with my jacket. You think Santa’s good for it?”

I’ll just leave Grandma’s probable reply to your imagination. The point is, even the sweetest lil’ ole lady will eventually lose her patience, expect Jimmy to grow the hell up and buy his own damn Harley. Yet somehow, fully grown men and women believe in a version of Santa Claus, and it’s considered very bad form to expect them to grow up and quit. Quit. Quit asking for stuff they’re in no way entitled to, quit expecting me to join them in their delusion, quit thanking the Tooth Fairy or Our Heavenly Father or whatever they’re calling it now, quit thanking them for destroying their single-wide with that tornado he, she or it sent to teach them a lesson…

Out of line? I think not. Not when the most popular preachers are encouraging their flocks to ask God for money. Not when a small army of narcissistic demagogues flatter their vain, venal and guilty followers with reassurances of divinity. Yes, divinity! “You are divine,” they tell them. Eggs-kyoooose – ME! But this grandma thinks it’s time you grew up.

We need to rethink this civilization thing. We have become too casual, too accepting. Every time we tune in “Law and Order”, we agree beforehand that someone we don’t know is going to be raped, murdered and brutalized so that we can indulge our need for righteous retribution. We don’t even notice it; it hit me hard the other night but before long I was back to chuckling grimly as the plot-noose tightened around the evildoers. The unease remained, however, a queasy feeling that we’re all caught in a trap of our own making, a contract we signed with enthusiasm, a monstrous, cancerous enterprise fabled in story and song.