At the same time, each one of us has a wholly Christian personality. It is a gift to every one of us from Jesus: the only true god/man of freedom, truth, love, and vitality. Hopefully our churches are structured in terms of him too. In that way they would provisionally represent the Kingdom of Heaven already present here on Earth.
At any given moment, it’s always a matter of which personality is stronger: our Olympian or our Christian one.
At the beginning of A Christmas Carol (1843), that timeless tale by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge’s Olympian personality definitely dominates. Indeed, during the conversation with his nephew Fred on Christmas Eve, it is solely his Olympian personality expressing itself. In refreshing contrast, it is Fred’s Christian personality responding creatively to Olympian Ebenezer rather than Fred’s Olympian personality fighting Scrooge’s hostility with some of its own.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” (Stave 1, “Marley’s Ghost,” here and following).
Christian Fred starts out well with an energetic wishing that his uncle might benefit from both a joyful holiday marking the birth of Jesus and from God’s benevolent intervention in his life. Unfortunately, it was Olympian Ebenezer who responded. He did so by contemptuously dismissing his nephew’s good wishes and regarding the whole birthday holiday as nothing more than a trick. What’s a Christian nephew to do?
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure.”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! what right have you to be merry? what reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” retorted the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? what reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
“Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”
At first Christian Fred is a bit confused. Could anyone truly regard Christmas as nothing but a fraud?
Olympian Ebenezer assures his nephew that he is in earnest. Then Olympian Ebenezer tells us why. It’s all about Pluto: god of money. Olympian Ebenezer adores him and believes him when he says that only lots of money can possibly make one happy. Indeed, the more one’s money, the happier one will be. In Olympian Ebenezer’s worldview, his nephew can only be trying to deceive him in some cunning Olympian way. His nephew can’t really be happy because he’s too poor to be.
Unfortunately for Olympian Ebenezer, Christian Fred is in a mischievous (playful yet irritating) mood. Quite spontaneously and cheerfully, Fred teases his uncle by pointing out the irony of his logic: if his uncle thinks he is too poor to be happy on Christmas, then surely his uncle is too rich to be gloomy on that same glorious day!
Olympian Ebenezer can only drearily repeat his initial dismissive response.
“Don’t be cross, uncle,” said the nephew. Christian Fred attempts to strengthen his uncle’s Christian personality by making a direct appeal to it.
“What else can I be” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge, indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
Once again it is Olympian Ebenezer who responds. He also reveals to us the true nature of all our Olympian personalities. Olympian Ebenezer again speaks out of his Olympian worldview. According to Pluto, Christmas is a wicked time because people waste money rather than invest it. People who do so are fools. According to Pluto and his minion Olympian Ebenezer, such idiots merit death.
Let us pause to imagine what Jesus might have to say in response to Olympian Ebenezer: “You have heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who does will be brought to trial.’ (Matthew 5:21-22). Olympian Ebenezer responded to the goodwill of Christian Fred with anger and linked it quickly with his desire for the murder of people just like Fred.
Olympian Ebenezer even professed that such fools should then be buried with a stake of holly through [their] heart. That’s the traditional punishment for vampires. The painful irony here is that it is Olympian Ebenezer fulfilling the role of spiritual vampire; struggling, as he is, to suck the vitality right out of Fred’s Christian personality. Will he succeed?
Olympian Ebenezer then goes on to assert that Christmas has never once done his nephew any good. Still his nephew somehow continues to make a Christian response by speaking the truth with love: “There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
This really was quite a Christian response. It included many Christian points of view gently spoken. Fred acknowledged his lack of perfection and accepted the risk in doing so. He regarded Christmas as an unusually good time because of its association with Jesus. He noted that, at Christmas time, people open their Christian hearts to others whom they regard, if too briefly, as fellow companions through life rather than vicious competitors in the struggle for power.
Bob Cratchit, Olympian Ebenezer’s longsuffering clerk, suddenly had to endure another hostile threat to his livelihood. After Bob spontaneously applauded Fred for his Christian witness, Olympian Ebenezer once again enjoyed threatening to fire him.
Fred graciously invites his uncle to join him, his wife, and his friends for Christmas dinner the following day. Ebenezer wants the whole irritating conversation to end, so bids his nephew a good afternoon.
“I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?” For our Olympian personalities, relationships with others are strictly useful, utilitarian, or not. If not, there’s no point in making or maintaining them. In terms of Pluto, we form useful friendships with those who will help us to get rich. They are strictly means to that end. Rich people might agree to form a relationship with us if they expect that, by doing so, we will usefully enable them to grow even richer, provide them with some pleasant company, or at least allow them to abuse us.
Here Fred attempts, again, to form a Christian relationship of meaning with Ebenezer. He states plainly that he wants no money from his uncle. He has no ulterior Olympian motive for the relationship. Ebenezer will have none of it.
“Good afternoon,” said Scrooge.
“I am sorry with all my [Christian] heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”
“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.
“And a Happy New Year!”
“Good afternoon!” said Scrooge.
His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding.
Fred remained a Christian witness to Jesus to the very end of his disappointing conversation with hostile Olympian Ebenezer. This is both important and difficult. Sometimes we are tempted to be nice as a means to the end that others will be nice in return. Olympian Ebenezer never loosened his tight grip on Ebenezer’s brain, tongue, or body. He remained in strict control of Christian Ebenezer and allowed it no thought, word, or action whatsoever. But Fred remained Christian anyway. May we do the same.