Scrooge and Bob Cratchit illustrated by John Leech in 1843.
A few things should be said in defense of Ebenezer Scrooge. First and foremost, Bob Cratchit and his family would have been worse off and possibly impoverished altogether if Scrooge did not work hard and keep his business going, thus creating a job for Mr. Cratchit. Let’s remember that Mrs. Cratchit did not work to supplement the family income. Mr. Scrooge paid what is commonly known as a “family wage.”
It’s true that Mr. Scrooge balked at paying for a day off once a year, but he didn’t refuse to pay for the many days Mr. Cratchit did work. He could have provided more coal for Mr. Cratchit’s fire, but he seemed to be an otherwise ethical employer.
Secondly, Scrooge was ahead of his times, a true maverick in fact, when it came to recognizing the commercialization of Christmas and of Christian charity. The reindeer and Santas now go up shortly after Halloween. The sacred feast is more trashy every year. It may be going to far too say, as Mr. Scrooge did, that everyone who utters the words Merry Christmas should be “boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” but anyone who says Happy Holidays or Winter Wishes should. Ebeneezer would have been enraged by his own over-appearance in the modern observance of Christmas. I haven’t seen the latest Christmas Carol movie, but I walked by a theater where it was playing. The noise coming from within sounded like explosions and gunfire.
At my local supermarkets, customers are asked in the check-out line if they would like to donate to specific charities. My arm is being twisted in public on behalf of large corporate “charities” about which I know nothing. This sort of awkward social coercion is characteristic of many of the secular rites of Christmas, including the forced giving of gifts and charity at the office. This makes Scrooge’s words an inspiration: “Are there no prisons?… And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?”
Charity should not be indiscriminate and ideally it should not be impersonal at all. “Let not your left hand see what your right hand does” is a worthy principle when it comes to all acts of giving. Conspicuous compassion is corrupted by self-interest. It loses sight of what it’s supporting. The great Victorian philanthropists believed in generosity tempered by a stern awareness of its moral effects. They would have been appalled to see unwed mothers living in comfort off the largess of others and receiving an avalanche of Toys for Tots.
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