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    A Christian Carol– The Subtle Christianity of Charles Dickens

    Editor’s note:

    Every once in a while, you come across a writer whose words jolt you into thinking. It takes an even more profound writer to jolt you into action. Mr. Stoos is that writer to me. I hope you find his stories as impactful as they are to me.

    From all of us at Citizens Journal, we wish you, our readers, contributors, supporters and  donors a very special Christmas and a hopeful New Year!

    By

    Of all the Christmas stories, nothing is to me more enduring and inspiring than Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Whether the tale itself or the 1951 black and white film version starring Alastair Sim—the scary old coot who Dickens himself would have cast for the role—the wonderful story of Scrooge’s haunting and ultimate redemption is indelibly seared into my memory and inspires me still.

    Some say that Dickens is the father of the modern Christmas celebration—a tradition that was disappearing at the time he wrote the story. His portrayal of a Victorian snow-filled holiday celebrated with wassail, caroling, and families gathered around the table to eat the Christmas goose, perpetuated the secular Christmas celebration, which many Americans now enjoy. Yet, it was far more than a holiday tale.  A Christmas Carol was a powerful, almost subliminal, message of Christian values and morality—though Jesus, God and the New Testament are barely alluded to in the story. How many readers knew that Dickens was an unconventional Christian, whose calling was to lead the reader to a greater understanding of the New Testament?

    Considered by some contemporaries to be a great Christian writer, Dickens did not consider himself a Christian writer. Though a Christian, he was not pious, nor did he practice religiosity. He despised hypocritical evangelists who pounded the Bible, told the masses how sinful they were, warned them of the fires of Hell, then committed the very sins they preached against. He disliked factional, sectarian religion, writing that sectarian arguments over the letter of the Gospel drove the spirit from the Gospel. Dickens championed the working classes and the downtrodden. He scorned the church establishment and the uncaring upper classes of his time.  Like Jesus, he loved the poor (the least of His people). His most sympathetic characters were the working class, the crippled, the poor and those charitable and humble souls who sought to help them.  Tiny Tim was the crippled son of a poor working-class family, who was destined to die at a young age. The humble men who solicited funds for the poor and who Scrooge so rudely dismissed were the antithesis of the pious men who ran the church establishment in Dickens’ day. Ignorance and Want were two ghostly street urchins whose gaunt appearance haunted Scrooge’s conscience.

    Dickens’ Christianity is revealed in a letter he wrote to a clergyman friend:

    “…my most…earnest endeavor…has been to exhibit in all my good people some faint reflections of our great Master, and unostentatiously lead the reader up to those teachings as the great source of all moral goodness. All my strongest illustrations are drawn from the New Testament…all my good people are humble, charitable, faithful and forgiving….”

    None may doubt that A Christmas Carol  was an unostentatious expression of Dickens’ own Christian values. His sought to teach the reader the essential truths of the New Testament. His heroes were those who exhibited humility, charity, love and forgiveness; evil was by definition a departure from the spirit of the Gospels. His heroes were those good people who lived the spirit of the Gospel; his villains were villains because the spirit of the Gospel was not in them. To deny that A Christmas Carol is at its core a religious work is to miss the essence of the tale and the author’s intent. Although is it not a pious work, to say that it is not religious is simply untrue.  Dickens sought to lead the reader to the central truths of the New Testament—that we are to love our neighbor, feed His people, and practice Christian charity.

    When Dickens wrote of Scrooge that, “he knew how to keep Christmas” he might have been referring to himself. Dickens reveled in the holiday with childlike glee—just as his father before him.  It was said that he was never very far from Christmas—which explains why he wrote of the holiday so often. His concern for the poor [he once worked in a factory and his own parents were sent to the poorhouse], his desire to teach the central truths of the Gospel and his love of Christmas revealed the soul of a deeply devout man who revered the holiday as only a Christian could.  He was infused mightily by the Holy Spirit.

    Marley’s inexpressibly sorrowful, wailing lament over a truth learned too late—that Mankind was his business—was central to Dickens’ message. It was a stark reminder to Scrooge and all of us, of Christ’s admonition that we are to feed the hungry, love our neighbors, forgive their sins, and show them mercy. Whatever our business on earth, Marley warns, it is “but a drop of water” compared to the ocean of need and despair which is Mankind’s business. Although we as Christians do not believe that good works alone will save us, neither are we to refrain from good works. Both the Bible and the Carol, remind us repeatedly that we must make Mankind our business while we are here. After all, the ghostly souls who flew through the air outside of Scrooge’s window were most tormented by the fact that they were, in death, powerless to interfere in the affairs of Mankind.  While good works do not get us into Heaven per se, they can lead us down the path to our redemption in the end.

    While this wonderful Christmas tale is certainly about caring for others, it is, above all, about redemption. It reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  In the end, Scrooge is transformed from a selfish, uncaring old geezer who scoffs at the poor and wishes them dead, into an affable, charitable man who revels in his new life and opens the shutters to a new and glorious day.  While we are only left to imagine this, we are certain the he must have been redeemed and lived out his remaining years as a good and charitable man. The prospect of Scrooge’s redemption fills us with a sense of hope for our own future, for even the most wretched of souls may, by the Grace of God, in the end, be redeemed. Although not cast in religious terms and while we never hear about Jesus’ power to transform lives and save us in the end, the message of salvation is clearly, if subtly, woven into this tale. Whether led by Spirits, or Angels, or the word of God, we, like Scrooge, have the power to redeem our souls, turn over a new leaf and save ourselves. That is a powerful Christian message. The Spirits [substitute Angels if you wish] of Christmas Past—showing how a naïve, loving youth may be corrupted by the business of the world; or Christmas Present, showing how  poor, faith-filled people celebrate Christmas happily while the faithless Scrooges of the world look on; and Christmas Yet to Come, who shows us the foreboding end of Scrooge and Tiny Tim—which may be altered only by a change of heart—convey the powerful Christian message that we may redeem ourselves, no matter how bad we are. In the end, there is redemption for Scrooge and for us. After all, Jesus, like the Spirits who visited Scrooge, was all about second chances. In the end, the foreboding condemnation of Marley’s ghost gives way to glorious and uplifting redemption. If we cannot discern the threat of damnation and the promise of Heaven contained within in the subtle imagery of A Christmas Carol, then we have missed the subtle message that Dickens sought to convey.

    In the end, it is the deliriously happy man who starts his life anew by giving to the poor, buying Bob Cratchit a prize Christmas turkey, giving his employee a raise, and helping cure a crippled child, that makes this non-religious, religious work so inspiring. Not by preaching or pious words did Dickens convey the hope of the New Testament. He taught the reader about Christ without the reader even knowing it. He preached without preaching.  And we are poignantly reminded that no matter how selfish, uncaring, or sinful we have been, we too may wake up one morning, throw back the shutters and—by the Grace of God—be redeemed.

     

    Copyright © 2020 William Kevin Stoos William Kevin Stoos (aka Hugh Betcha) is a writer, book reviewer, and attorney, whose feature and cover articles have appeared in the Liguorian, Carmelite Digest, Catholic Digest, Catholic Medical Association Ethics Journal, Nature Conservancy Magazine, Liberty Magazine, Social Justice Review, Wall Street Journal Online and other secular and religious publications. He is a regular contributing author for The Bread of Life Magazine in Canada. His review of Shadow World, by COL. Robert Chandler, propelled that book to best seller status. His book, The Woodcarver (]And Other Stories of Faith and Inspiration) © 2009, William Kevin Stoos (Strategic Publishing Company)—a collection of feature and cover stories on matters of faith—was released in July of 2009. It can be purchased though many internet booksellers including Amazon, Tower, Barnes and Noble and others. Royalties from his writings go to support the Carmelites. He resides in Wynstone, South Dakota.

    “His newest book, The Wind and the Spirit (Stories of Faith and Inspiration)” was released in 2011 with all the author’s royalties go to support the Carmelite sisters.”


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    Kathleen
    Kathleen
    1 month ago

    Wonderful and insightful article. Uplifting,

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