Tuesday, November 28, 2017

God Bless, No One

"I didn't start this."
Christmas has become a palimpset, a blank canvas that a given celebrant draws his ideas of happiness or consolation onto. In most families it means family time, itself nostalgic recreations of when Grandma and Grandpa led elaborate Christmas Eve parties back when Christmas meant something to them. In cities it means shopping, Santa Clauses, carols at the symphony, and Salvation Army collections. And among the embittered moderns from broken homes it means a time to ignore old wounds and find distraction in some hipster manner of diluting the time off, be it a vacation to Mexico or a ski trip.

Christmas can be anything to anyone, but why? The Rad Trad, for one, blames Dickens.

At the theaters is a film aptly entitled The Man Who Invented Christmas, an imaginative telling of Charles Dickens' inspiration for the novella A Christmas Carol. The enduring tale of the miser who reforms his sinning ways after the visitation of four phantasms has truly earned Dickens the title The Man Who Invented Christmas, or at least Christmas as we know it.

A Christmas Carol possesses a Christian spirit of goodness that reflects the generally Christian people of mid-19th century, early industrial England where it was penned to paper, yet it is not a Christian tale. It is a self-made man's plea to the charity of other self-made men not to abandon the destitute to the cruel remedies of the emerging welfare state. Dickens escaped Scrooge's workhouses without the classical liberal sureness that anyone who deserves better than his current state can divine a way to obtain it on his own. So, the novella becomes a plea to Christian charity in an era of growing welfare, growing greed, growing government involvement in social structure, and growing factory business. The reader is left with the impression that his Christmas duty is, like Jacob Marley's, "kindness, benevolence, mercy, forbearance." 

What of the Son of God?

He does not make an appearance in this work, either by name or intimation. Nor does any mention of the Deist's God, so in vogue in those days. Nor does any mention of Christianity. "God", "Nativity", "Incarnation", and "Jesus" are words that appear no where in any edition of the novella. Various film adaptations have noticed this void and filled it as best and ask awkwardly as they can. The original talkie movie with Reginald Owen finds the Cratchits and the nephew, Fred, meeting after church services; George C. Scott's 1984 version has Tiny Tim hoping that on Christmas church-goers may think of Christ when they see his own ailment; and a recent Patrick Stewart film makes Scrooge watch people around the world sing Silent Night and even finds the miser in service the following morning! Imagine, he found his religion in less time that did Saint Paul, who had to wait for Ananias to baptize him.

"I will not itemize charitable giving in my returns this year, Spirit!"
Scrooge's conversion is to a love that Saint Thomas Aquinas might find agreeable. Scrooge does "will the good of another". His love, however, is not for God's sake or God's creation, it is for the sake of the created ones themselves. Perhaps this is what makes A Christmas Carol so enduring after the Sexual Revolution, Vietnam, Facebook, and the age of millennials. The sinner is a man who did not see the good in everyone and his conversion experience is that now he does. Coupled with a few specters, this Christmas tale stays safely in the realm of fiction—unlike the supernatural revelation of the Gospel, wherein God's hand touches earth and becomes Man's bridegroom (cf. Origen, Sarum Christmas Eve Mattins). The most supernatural element of A Christmas Carol is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who is a thinly veiled Angel of Death. Otherwise, the novella, intended to move people to charity in a decreasingly Christian society, is a modern day inoculation against believing anything out of the ordinary has happened on December 25.

Might we paraphrase Tiny Tim with "God bless us, no one"?


  1. Dear Rad Trad,
    Not to detract from your overall thesis--a good point, and well stated--but there is (if I may risk descending into niceties, like an overzealous Scholastic) one mention of the Son of God in Dickens' tale, namely in the title itself. Also, there is the intimation made by Cratchit (during the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present), speaking of Tiny Tim: "He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see."

    I suppose it comes down to a matter of personal taste, but I personally find the indirect presence of Christ throughout the "Carol" quite moving, from the truncated reference to "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" at the beginning down to the "resurrection" of Scrooge at the end when "he knew how to keep Christmas well."

  2. I thought it was all the unrepentant scrooges that ruined Christmas.

  3. @Capreolus:

    I do not necessarily disagree with you, Father. The point here is not so much that Dickens knowingly created Santa Claus and the shopping season as a replacement for Christ, but that within a somewhat Christian culture and with it language he presented a pleasant Christmas tale that is enduringly popular because it is a tale of a man embracing an outwardly natural goodness.

    1. I think that's a good and valid point. After all, the germ of our modern degradation of Christmas is certainly present in Dickens' overall outlook, I think. Somewhat analogous is Darwin's idea seeping into and corrupting modern thought far beyond his original motive of explaining Natural History.