It should not surprise me that my neighbor reads Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and takes the position that Scrooge was better off before his conversion. He feels the problem in the story truly lies with Scrooge’s liberal neighbors who judge him negatively for his conservative values. My neighbor feels that they are hypocritically disobeying the Second Commandment to love thy neighbor when they judge Scrooge in this manner. I cannot entirely dismiss my neighbor’s point of view. Often times “judgment” does not come from a place of love and compassion. Frequently judgment of others results from the ego trying to mitigate the pain of its own shame. In this sense judgment is the ego telling itself, “Look! I am better than him.” Accordingly, to the extent Scrooge’s liberal neighbors did judge him in this way they certainly were not acting in accordance with the Second Commandment.
However, not all of Scrooge’s neighbors judged him in this manner. Certainly, Scrooge’s nephew did not judge him this way. Fred made a special point of inviting Scrooge to dinner despite his uncle’s abusive behavior. Fred did judge Scrooge in the sense that he made clear that he disagreed with Scrooge’s perspective on Christmas. But in my reading of the story this judgment came from a place of compassion. Fred truly wanted to connect with his uncle and not to put himself above uncle for the purpose of gratifying his ego.
It could be argued that Dickens himself is judging Scrooge in the egocentric sense. Certainly the following paragraph exudes this type of energy:
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone. Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster…
Now, if I know my neighbor (and I think I have had enough experience with him to know him well enough although he does possess the ability to surprise me often enough) I can anticipate how he would react to that description. I suspect he would say that this is Dickens’ description and Dickens is the same type of judgmental, hypocritical liberal as are Scrooge’s neighbors. Assuming this actually reflects my neighbor’s potential reaction, it is interesting how he can project such a consistently schizophrenic view of the world into every situation. To him, even the author of a story (the creator of a universe in a sense) is unaware of his own warped, destructive and self-annihilating view of the world. It is as if there is a real story about Scrooge that exists elsewhere and Dickens’ version is a contrived piece of propaganda serving some nefarious purpose. If I am correct, my neighbor sees the story “A Christmas Carol” itself as a humbug in the fullest sense of the word.
I would argue, however, that the story is not written from an egocentric, judgmental perspective but from a compassionate one. True, in the opening scenes we see him acting abusively towards his clerk, his nephew, the two solicitors and the young caroler. When the first of the three spirits displays scenes from his past we see that he seemingly valued money more than the love of his fiancé. All these exhibits display the negative aspects of Scrooge’s value system. But then we also see the reasons why this behavior came about. We hear of Scrooge’s neglectful upbringing by an abusive father who blamed him for Scrooge’s mother’s death. We also see glimpses of Scrooge’s good nature; his gratitude for Fessiwig’s kindness and his compassion for Tiny Tim. We see his remorse for pushing away his fiancé and his fear of dying an unredeemed man. All these examples are to show that Dickens wrote this story from a place of compassion for Scrooge. As readers we pick up on this energy and root for Scrooge despite his negative behavior.
Therefore, I cannot agree with my neighbor’s assessment that Scrooge was better off as a bitter, lonely, old man. Nor can I agree with my neighbor that all of Scrooge’s neighbors were hypocritical, judgmental liberals who hated Scrooge for his conservative values. Nor can I agree with my neighbor’s shame-based, egocentric judgment of the “liberals” he seems to despise. His judgment does not come from a place of compassion and in my assessment is in violation of the Second Commandment. I now must examine my conscience to determine where my judgment of my neighbor comes from.