Charles Dickens was an English social critic and writer who is generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era (1837-1901) in Great Britain.
He was born 200 years ago in 1812 and is the author of such highly acclaimed novels as “The Adventures of Oliver Twist” (1837-39), “David Copperfield” (1848-50) and “A Tale of Two Cities” (1859).
The latter was required reading in my sophomore English class, but I was too young (or too immature) to appreciate it properly at the time.
(It’s a shame that much good literature is “ruined” by requiring students to read it before they are mature enough to do so effectively.)
“A Christmas Carol” is undoubtedly Dickens’ most widely read work. It was written when he was a young man in 1843.
In contrast to his several quite long novels, “A Christmas Carol” is fairly short. And it is, indeed, a Dickens of a good story!
Through the years, I have enjoyed various film versions of Dickens’ novella, but this month I have just read the book again – and once again found it to be delightful.
As is widely known, “A Christmas Carol” is basically about Ebenezer Scrooge, an affluent but pitiful old grouch in London. Sour and stingy Scrooge is transformed, though, through visits of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
When the third ghost first appears, Scrooge exclaims, “I hope to live to be another man from what I was.” And change he does!
From the tight-fisted employer seeking to get all he can out of Bob Cratchit, his long-suffering employee, he becomes a benefactor of the Cratchit family.
Because of Scrooge’s help, Tiny Tim does not die, even though that is what Scrooge saw when he was with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
He realizes that by changing, he has the power to make a positive difference in the lives of people around him.
We now hear about “class warfare” from time to time, but the plight of the poor and the criticism of the rich have been around for a long time.
That was a theme common in the writings of Charles Dickens. In his longer novels, he became an outspoken critic of unjust economic and social conditions.
There are many who think that helping the poor, such as Scrooge ended up doing for the Cratchit family, should be mainly up to individuals or groups of individuals, such as churches.
And certainly that is a very commendable thing for people to do. Most employers, however, have more than one employee, and few can become as involved in the lives of their employees as Scrooge did.
During the Christmas season, much emphasis is placed on loving acts of kindness, including giving to the poor – as there should be. But we also need a system of social justice that operates all year long, not just during the Christmas season.
As Joseph Fletcher significantly said in “Situation Ethics,” “justice is love distributed.”
I hope this Christmas season, and thinking about the message in “A Christmas Carol,” can encourage us all to be more generous in sharing with those less fortunate than us.
Perhaps it can even help us feel happier to pay taxes that support social justice programs in our country.
Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.