Rush Limbaugh recently accused the Pope of preaching “pure Marxism” because he spoke out against the “idolatry of money” and said we should “share one’s wealth with the poor.” Let’s set aside the strangeness of accusing the head of a church of backing a philosophy that opposes religion. Instead, I’d like to point out another work that Limbaugh might find objectionable, Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.” It shows a similar subversive wealth-reallocating philosophy as the Pope’s encyclical. (Add Dickens’ story to the subversive It’s a Wonderful Life, and Limbaugh may have to rethink his whole stand against “the war on Christmas.”)
Scrooge’s transition from being a “a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone” to becoming someone who “knew how to keep Christmas well” seems Marxist enough. The truly subversive part of “A Christmas Carol” is its theme of how greed hurts the greedy. Despite Scrooge’s declaration that the poor should die “and decrease the surplus population,” the only person he really hurts is himself.
He is described at the beginning of the story as “Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” Even the death of his partner and only friend Jacob Marley didn’t move him: “And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.”
Scrooge’s materialism hurts him in numerous ways. It caused him to lose the girl he loved. It hurt his relationship with his family. It threatened to leave him alone in death with no one to mourn for him. Money was the only thing that mattered to him, and as the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”
Scrooge wasn’t always that way. In his encounters with the ghosts, he showed the soul and generosity he used to have. As he told the Ghost of Christmas Past, “There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.” However, circumstances made him hard, and the accumulation of wealth was the only thing that gave him a sense of self-worth.
But this pursuit had its price. As Marley’s ghost pointed out his chain made of “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel” and told Scrooge:
I wear the chain I forged in life…I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…Or would you know, the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!
If you look at the cautionary tales of fallen CEOs and financial managers, you could see the chains they wore. The luxury cars, mansions, and loving families that weren’t quite enough. The lies they spun to conceal bigger lies wrapped around even bigger lies. The pursuit of wealth brought them more pleasure than the wealth itself. In the end, they lost it all.
The call to charity isn’t just to save the poor. It also saves the wealthy who are poor in spirit. When we give, we realize that we are more than just producers of money. We have value because we can do something good for others. We can experience joy because we see how our generosity brightens someone’s life. We can feel love because we open ourselves to others.
We pay a terrible price when we fail to do this, as Jacob Marley learned too late:
Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!
This is what Christmas and “A Christmas Carol” is all about. And if such a sentiment is “Marxist,” then Christmas itself is a subversive holiday and spirit.