Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Christmas Carol (1984)

 There are two movies, of which my wife and I try watch one each year.  It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and A Christmas Carol (1984).  If you have not seen either, do so.  I use a segment from the former to explain fractional reserve banking for my American History class, while warning them that it a life-affirming, heart-warming movie which is utterly unrealistic.  There are many people who can look back on their lives and see a steady line of good that they have left behind, but I know more who can only look back on a series of trainwrecks.  I like to think of myself in the first category but who knows?  Aim high and maybe succeed.

The 1984 A Christmas Carol starred George C. Scott doing a superlative job playing curmudgeon turned into a good man.  I remember being shown the 1951 version starring Albert Finney in elementary school.  (It was the 1960s, and the blatant Christian themes were not yet crimethink, and this in  a district with a large population of kids from Jewish or mixed marriages.)  

Dickens' short story played a big part in creating the now largely forgotten Christian tradition of Christmas, which replaced a very dour Puritan tradition that looked down on Christmas because it was associated with drunken carousing and gluttonous feasting.  The story of how Dickens' work caused this transformation is told in a film you can watch on Amazon Prime: The Man Who Invented Christmas .

What makes this transformative work so interesting to me both as a Christian and a historian is the way Dickens contrasted a Malthusian/Benthamite view of poverty and degradaion with a Christian analysis.  The sequence where Scrooge suggests that the poor were excess population and we would be better without them captures the hardness of the 18th century aristocratic contempt and fear of the poor.  The ferocious punishments of often minor property crimes until 1815 was:
the response of a society where capital enterprise was creating new forms of wealth that could not be adequately protected without a regular police force. In the absence of such an enforcement mechanism to promote the certainty of punishment, the exemplary expansion of capital punishment was used to scare people into obeying the expanding number of laws to protect the property of the elite.

 As much as we are angered by violent crimes today, we generally recognize that someone stealing food is not in the same category.  (I have only seen theft of food once in my life.  At a San Jose supermarket, where the couple waited for the cashier to ask for payment.  Then they grabbed several bags of groceries and bolted.)  This is why I think the Court is going to side with the food stamp fraudster in the Range case; someone who lies about his $9/hour job to get food stamps to raise a family of five is hardly a threat to society.

The important lesson of A Christmas Carol has always been about the Christian duty to alleviate suffering.  This is not unlimited.  2 Thessalonians 3:10: 

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Our laws have always recognized that children are not responsible for their parents' failings.  As much as it should bother the left, our society has long recognized a Christian duty to those who are poor and unable to provide for themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment