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Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – Religion and Politics

Most who know me are well aware that Christmas as celebrated is not an important thing to me. Visiting family can be a fun and exciting time for many. Getting gifts is a desirable thing for most, particularly young, people.

Where I’m not inherently against either thing, I do consider the timing of at least the second to be bad. This is all contingent on the idea that one believes the birth of Jesus called Christ was on or near Christmas day (as it happens, I do not, which makes the point more or less moot but for the fact that the day is “sold as such”).

That having been said, I wanted to take the time to focus on something that was, for me, a periodic tradition in my family in the Christmas season, my mother’s reading of the Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

You see, in these days where many expect government to “make everything right,” in my opinion, it’s important to come to the understanding that Dickens seemed to desire no such thing. In fact, I would be surprised to hear he didn’t think it more or less impossible.

I wanted to take a moment to discuss this idea by talking about one of the passages out of the book, and possibly expounding somewhat on what was meant by what was said. Let me quickly  quote a piece of the text of the tome:

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word “liberality,” Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,”

I know that without the text around it, there are pieces that will make less sense. To explain Mr Scrooge and Mr Marley (his erstwhile partner) owned a “counting house.” Neither believed at all in charity. The word “liberality” can be understood in this instance to—at least in part—represent the word “charity.” I think most of the rest of the text is pretty self-explanatory.

Two important things come to light when reading this extract. The first of these, is that if not all, most of the entities about which Mr. Scrooge speaks are government entities. The remainder are those put in place by businesses and other such entities.

It can be argued that government has changed in a great many ways since this passage was written—even in the country in which it was written, England. On the other hand, it can also be argued that government cannot be trusted to stay as it is, or do things in proper and efficient ways based on the fact that it has been as described and could well be again, protests to the contrary aside.

The second thing of importance to note, is that the gentlemen who came to talk to Mr Scrooge did not come to talk to him about supporting government programs, or even business or organizationally sponsored programs in aid of the poor or needy. Rather, they wanted to discuss the idea of his contributing in the form of charitable donation, to the cause of pretty much directly helping those in need.

I’ll be the first to admit that, sometimes folks are made into legends or otherwise lionized for less than perfect ideas. On the other hand, I believe that many looking at Mr Dickens were interested in lifting him up on the basis of a misunderstanding of what he intended to say.

Further, I think that a lot of folks today who count themselves among the Liberal and “warm hearted,” fail to see that Mr Dickens is not about “letting the government handle” poverty and the like. Rather, from what is here written, it seems obvious he accounted the place of every able person to help those in need through charity—the giving to those in need liberally as a private matter.

You may agree with Mr Dickens. You may find Mr Dickens’ premises to be in some fashion “broken.” Be that as it may, please do not try to make his words an attempt to say that government should be in charge of (or, really heavily involved in) helping those in need, for he seems to have said no such thing.

I have to acknowledge that it took me reading these words as an adult, to come to a clear understanding of what was being said. If you read them, or were read them as a child or young adult, I encourage you to read them again. Doing so may well change your perspective,  at least with regard to Mr Dickens’ intent, if not on how poverty should be “handled.”

Okay, out of time and just in time (also out of “words”). As always, thanks for reading, and may your time be good.

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