Scrooge’s Atheism & Certain Problems of Writing “Imaginative” Fiction

lyWas Scrooge an atheist?  Was Dickens?  I suspect that the small heads (evangelicals and some others) would argue that the character in the story was “at least” agnostic, pointing to old Ebenezer’s miserliness and his apparent blasphemy in turning “Merry Christmas” into “Bah! Humbug!”  They might even argue that turning Christmas into a secular holiday is Scrooge-like, a joke considering most evangelicals are totally ignorant of the fact that “His” birthday once was that of Father Mithras, the religion Constantine sold out when, in 323  c.e., he convened his council of bishops (minus those he had slaughtered for their embrace of Arianism) and declared Christianity as the Official Religion of Rome.  Gibbon showed how Christianity’s conquest of paganism played a prominent role in the decline and fall of the empire.


If anyone posited that Scrooge is the alter ego of the author, I would argue to the contrary, that Dickens was a devout fellow who only wished to use his protagonist as an exemplary, typical miserly blasphemer.  Besides, there is absolutely nothing about Dickens to suggest that he would have resorted to hypocrisy to tell his tale.  It would be hypocritical of an atheist (if not an agnostic) to employ supernatural means to bring about Scrooge’s transformation into the Christmas-loving benefactor of the Cratchit family for the last of his days.  Anyone who has heard The Great Randi on supernatural phenomena knows how firmly convicted atheists are to the notion that ghosts, spirit travel, and such amount to nothing so much as pure bunk.  Hokum.


This creates a problem for writers who would like to try imaginative fiction.  I have such inclinations rather frequently, but each time some supernatural agent suggests itself, or some story line that depends upon supernatural means (as did the “Carol”), I immediately suppress my urge.  Perhaps I am caught in the vestiges of a former lifetime (that is, the one I once lived as a believer), a period when I accepted not only ghosts but all manner of psychic phenomena.  Perhaps I feel guilty about using supernatural elements because I no longer believe in that sort of thing.  In any case, having such misgivings doesn’t help combat writer’s block.  I stop before I can start.

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What an interesting topic!


Does the fact that Scrooge accepted the presence of the ghosts, at least in the end, as more than delusions and nightmares not suggest that he believed in the supernatural?  Also, I feel that to be so ornery about a Christian holiday would require anger towards god, not indifference or lack of belief. 


As to writing imaginative fiction:  I am so glad you brought this up!  I am currently working on a novel (or procrastinating about working on a novel… depending on the day) that is by most descriptions, a fairy tale.  I was just thinking of finding ways to work “out” the mysticism/magic that is currently in it and considered finding ways to explain certain events in a scientific manner.  Kind of like a “See? It really wasn’t magic after all!”moment.  It’s trickier than I’d thought it would be, but I think it is doable.  However, I worry that it will take something away from the finished piece.


I don’t think there should be any guilt involved in using anything from the make believe.  If you are a fiction writer, you write things that aren’t true all the time.  Many stories are meant to take the reader to another place, and often that place is nowhere to be found in reality.  Next time a supernatural agent suggests itself to you, it might be a fun exercise to see where it goes.  Good luck!




Christians like Scrooge to be an atheist, because he isn't very nice.  I saw no evidence of his religious beliefs one way or another.  Many devout christians reject our current holiday traditions as being too pagan.  I have met a number of miserly, mean christians - in fact, many of them are rejecting paying any taxes right now.  Scrooge is a mean guy, but judging him solely on his meanness and saying that makes him by default an atheist is wooly thinking.  There are both mean and nice atheists.  Not every single atheist is a mean person.


Scrooge is a character that begs for psycho-analysis.  Obviously, he has a lot of abandonment, loss and family issues.  He can't stand to be around his nephew Fred, because Fred looks and acts a lot like  Scrooge's sister Fran.  One could legitimately say Scrooge's cold heartedness really took hold when he lost  his love and his sister (who was the only person he felt really loved him).  Having psychological problems is not solely the purview of atheists.  Christians can have them, too. 


I would go ahead and use ghosts, etc in my fiction writing if I were you.  Everyone knows fiction is not real.  I enjoy a murder mystery series where the crimes are all solved by  a psychic cat.  Having owned many cats over the years, I have never met a psychic cat let alone one who could solve crimes, but I still enjoy the books.

If there is a such a thing as psychic ability, I am willing to bet cats have it.  I like to think the "sixth sense" is just what we lost when we came in out of the Ice Age.
I may need to amend my last post.  First off, I know little about Dickens' work, so my musings might illustrate that.  I wonder, though, could Scrooge have been a symbol of finding god?  The stereotypical grumpy atheist.  He doesn't believe in the first ghost that visits, and assumes he had a nightmare, yet as the 2nd and 3rd ghosts visit, he comes to accept them as real.  And then of course, after accepting them as real, he goes through this transformation... he becomes loving and caring, offering food to his relatives on the holiest of days for Christians (or is Easter holier?  I don't remember).
Well, that would explain the Christians' liking the story.
Ha ha.  Yes, it would.  Thanks to your original post, I've been reading up a bit on Dickens tonight.  I've only read three of his works, and didn't know until tonight that he was a poet as well.  Interesting, I came upon his final words.  Of course, who knows if these truly are his final words, as they sound much more profound that what I would think anyone would utter on their deathbed.  But here it goes:  "Be natural my children.  For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all rules of art."  James Martin, what do you make of that?  I'm still chewing on it, and would love to hear your thoughts.

I don't presume to know, but "nature" and "natural" mean different things to different people.  In Dickens' time, they were well aware of at least some science, so they knew what was natural and what was supernatural.  Robert Anton Wilson wrote a good book a few years back called Natural Law, in which he did a thorough send up of the Christian dogma on this theory.  The late "Lord" (Richard) Buckley did a stand up comedy act on the Marquis de Sade, saying that his friend, Prince Minsky, a "a real coooool cat" into S&M, was out riding in his coach and outriders when they came upon a voluptuous lass.  The Prince stops the coach and says, "Baby, it's you and me/Behind the tree."  Buckley then quotes a Puritan Chorus: "No, no, that's goin' against nature!"  Silly me, I thought that if you could do it it was natural by definition.  The Laws of Physics are the only natural law there is. 

I don't presume to know anything I've written thus far, but I sure am having fun sharing thoughts about this.  I just tried to find the origins of the word "supernatural", but have had no luck.  You bring up such important points.  We'd have to understand the definition of natural during Dickens' time to really get a full grasp of what he was saying on his death bed (if he said this at all).  I look forward to spending a little more time learning about the meaning of nature or natural in Victorian England.  By y9our example, "nature" means something completely different than how we interpret it today.  I love a good puzzle!


I've read a lot of Dickens, but it's been a few years.  At this time, England was moving from an agrarian to an industrial society.  As people moved from the farm to the city, because the farm could no longer provide an adequate income, the cities became over crowded cess pits of human misery.  There was a tendency among writers of the period to romanticize England's agrarian past or an agrarian life as the best sort of lifestyle as opposed to the filth and poverty of Victorian  cities and false piety. 


The classic example of this is Lady Chatterly's Lover.  Sometimes, when they referred to "natural" they meant life on the farm not out in the woods.  I don't know what exactly Dickens meant.    I do know that his main goal was to shame the rich into  doing something about the appauling conditions the poor were forced to live in in London.  He knew the rich lived in glass houses and didn't know or give a damn about how bad the poor had it. I think Scrooge is a metaphor for the attitudes of the wealthy in his era.  This is the kind of behavior he witnessed out of the rich everyday who thought they were the most righteous, pious things around.

He definitely was the Upton Sinclair of his era.
It's sad to see these attitudes are coming in vogue again. :o(  I love A Christmas Carol.  It's my favorite holiday movie.  I think I've seen about every version but the Jim Carey animated one which I have heard is not very good.




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