In A Christmas Carol (1843), Dickens tells us the story of how Jesus intervened in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge. The story opens with Ebenezer demonstrating energetic indifference toward all others on Christmas Eve. His Olympian personality definitely dominates.
Strangely, Jesus does not remain indifferent to Ebenezer even though Ebenezer is hostile to him. Instead, Jesus decides to energetically care for Ebenezer. His goal is to significantly weaken Ebenezer’s Olympian self and equally strengthen Ebenezer’s Christian self.
He starts by confronting Ebenezer on Christmas Eve with the ghost of Jacob Marley. Jacob had been Ebenezer’s partner in life and had died on Christmas Eve seven years before. Jacob managed to speak such words of truth, and support them with a sufficient rattling of chains, to loosen the suffocating grip that Olympian Ebenezer had on Christian Ebenezer. After Jacob’s visit, Olympian Ebenezer no longer enjoyed unquestionable control of truth. His power was broken but not yet ended.
To eclipse that power, Jesus sent other spirits to Ebenezer: the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. They further strengthened Ebenezer's Christian self.
Ebenezer is then confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Future. This ghost first leads Ebenezer to the London Exchange, his daily haunt, where Ebenezer overhears a Christmas Eve conversation between old business acquaintances. They are talking about the unexpected death the night before of a business associate. None of them are at all saddened by the event. During their discussion of it, one man yawns. They make rude remarks about the dead man and make jokes at his expense.
“It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral…for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?”
“I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided,” observed the gentleman with the excrescence [an abnormal growth] on his nose. “But I must be fed, if I made one.”
“Well, I am the most disinterested among you, after all,” said the first speaker, “for I never wear black gloves, and I never eat lunch. But I’ll offer to go, if anybody else will. When I come to think of it, I’m not at all sure that I wasn’t his most particular friend; for we used to stop and speak whenever we met. Bye, bye!”
Although Ebenezer doesn’t know it yet, these acquaintances of his are talking about him. He’s the dead man at this future moment. The Ghost of Christmas Future reveals to him that even his closest friends will fail to mourn his death. Instead, they will treat him with all the callous indifference of a bad joke. Between Olympians, relationships are based on usefulness. Business associates exchange pleasantries because it’s good business to do so. But there’s no Christian meaning in these relationships. There’s no love there. There’s nothing there.
The Ghost of Christmas Future leads Ebenezer to another conversation.
He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of business: very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view.
“How are you?” said one.
“How are you?” returned the other.
“Well!” said the first. “Old Scratch [nickname for Satan, reference to Scrooge] has got his own at last, hey?”
“So I am told,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it?”
“Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skaiter [skater], I suppose?”
“No. No. Something else to think of. Good morning!”
Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.
Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach such importance to conversations apparently so trivial…”
Dickens makes it easy for us to see just how trivial, shallow, superficial, being Olympian makes our personalities, our lives, our churches, cultures, and societies. These two businessmen, because they had great wealth, were regarded by their Olympian society and neighbors as very important. Because, in terms of Pluto (or in a business point of view), these men were superior to Ebenezer, he strove to maintain their respect. He was indifferent to them as human beings, but he did care about their opinion of him because their good opinion was useful to him. They knew they meant nothing meaningful to Olympian Ebenezer. He knew he meant nothing meaningful to them. That was their shared truth denied by their shared hypocrisy. How many of our relationships are like this? How much are our churches and society like this?
The Ghost takes Ebenezer to a dodgy area of London he’d never seen before. The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly. Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.
The Ghost guides Ebenezer into a pawnshop. There, three people—his charwoman (janitor), laundress, and the undertaker’s assistant—sell his possessions which they stole while he was lying dead on his bed. These include his bed-curtains, blanket, and even the shirt he had been wearing.
One of the thieves explains the reasoning of all of them. “If he wanted to keep them after he was dead, a wicked old screw,” pursued the woman, “why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.”
The reasoning is perfectly Olympian. It justifies their callous Olympian behavior toward the dead Ebenezer. But while alive, Olympian Ebenezer’s reasoning had been identical. Worse, it had justified his own callous indifference toward the living.
Scrooge listened to this dialogue with horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man’s lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they themselves had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.
Our Olympian personalities daily engage in dialogues similarly horrible in their indifference. The tragedy is that these trivial yet destructive conversations don’t seem horrible because they’re normal. Perceiving their horribly Olympian nature requires conscious Christian personalities which, in our time, are embarrassingly unusual.
The Ghost takes Ebenezer to the scene of his death. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.
He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say he was kind to me in this or that, and for the memory of one kind word I will be kind to him. A cat was tearing at the door, and there was a sound of gnawing rats beneath the hearth-stone. What they wanted in the room of death, and why they were so restless and disturbed, Scrooge did not dare think.
At Ebenezer’s request, the Ghost of Christmas Future did show him some tenderness connected with a death. He took him to the Cratchit’s where they mourned the death of Tiny Tim. Dickens the narrator tell us, Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God!
The Ghost, at last, takes Ebenezer to the site of his grave. In the story, Ebenezer understands at this moment that he is indeed that dead man unmourned and unloved by any human being.
In response, Ebenezer desperately assures the Ghost of Christmas Future that he is not the dominantly Olympian personality he had once been. That personality has definitely been eclipsed by his newly revitalized Christian one. “I will honour Christmas in my [Tufluvian] heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.