Monday, December 30, 2019

A Christmas Carol is Really a Christianity Carol

As we do almost every year at Christmas, our family had the privilege of watching a beautiful movie--A Christmas Carol (the one with George C. Scott). I say it's beautiful because of the content, of course, which follows Dickens' classic novel closely--with the exception of one part that almost all adaptations skip (I'll get to that later). But it's also a beautiful movie visually...I was struck by that watching it again this time. Great performances, too--I wonder if maybe one of the main reasons Scott was put on this earth was to do this project. He was great in Patton, of course, but I'm not sure there's any redeeming value in that movie--I've never had a desire to watch it again after seeing it the first time. This movie, however, is the epitome of redeeming value, of course, and I never get tired of watching it.

So I highly recommend the movie (at any time of year), but I also wanted to tell you, if you didn't already know (like many don't), that the appreciation for Christmas encouraged in the story is really a metaphorical paean to Christianity itself (and especially the beneficent spirit at its core, of course).

Whatever his personal moral weaknesses may have been--and the modern-day claims about them are far from unquestionable--Dickens very clearly professed to be a Christian. For a thorough discussion of his faith, see God and Charles Dickens by Gary Colledge, but here are a few interesting examples of the overwhelming evidence:

The final paragraph of Dickens' last will and testament include these words: "I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament."

The last letter he ever wrote contains this: "I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak.”

The book about Christ that Dickens refers to is The Life of Our Lord, a manuscript that he wrote for his children and personally read to them every year at Christmas time. The book begins: “My Dear Children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was.” One notable feature of the book is that Dickens recounted many of the miracle stories from the gospels and clearly believed they actually happened, which provides an important context for the visits to Unitarian churches that cause some to question his evangelical faith.

And in Christmas Carol itself, of course, Dickens puts these words into the mouth of his most admirable character, Tiny Tim ("faith like a child"): his father says after their trip to church, "Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. 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."

Speaking of church, that's the important part of Dickens' novel that is almost always left out of the adaptations, no matter how faithful they are otherwise. At the end, when Scrooge is converted, one of the first things he does is go to church! Check out the novel--it's there. The great author was not only using his powerful sentimentalist verbal armory to advocate a rediscovery of a holiday--he was saying we all should rejoice in the biblical truths that occasioned it in the first place.