In connection to yesterday’s post on the subject, valued commenter A. Probst noted the following:
I don't disagree with your general assessment of the story, but Tiny Tim's averted early death is less a turning away from life eternal but performs the function of underscoring Scrooge's conversion. The child would now receive the nourishment and medicine he needed.
Mr. Probst is right, of course. Tiny Tim’s averted death is not indicative of any sort of turning away from life eternal, and it does indeed serve to underscore Scrooge’s miraculous overnight transformation from an icy, embittered skinflint into “as good a man, as the good old city ever knew…” On top of that, it works narratively. From the perspective of storytelling, it would be inconceivable and unsatisfying to imagine Dickens ending the novella any other way.
The ending also “works” within the framework of Christian values – Scrooge is not only saved but also redeems himself by saving Tiny Tim. As Mr. Probst observes, Tiny Tim’s averted death does not imply any sort of turning away from the eternal. On the contrary, the crippled child’s survival merely emphasizes the magnanimity and depth of Scrooge’s transformation.
None of this points to any eclipsing of heart-set Christianity, so what, precisely, was I complaining on about in yesterday’s post?
Well, let’s conceive the inconceivable and simultaneously commit a literary crime by conjuring up an alternate ending to A Christmas Carol.
Let’s pretend that Tiny Tim DOES die at the end of the story despite Scrooge’s attempts to save the boy.
Such an ending would render the story utterly unsatisfying narratively. Notwithstanding, Tiny Tim’s death would not oust the story from the framework of authentic Christian values, where the boy’s loss – though sad and tragic – is of secondary importance to Scrooge’s spiritual transformation.
Bear with me here.
The question of the eternal does not hinge upon Tiny Tim’s salvation, which, I believe, is all but assured. Nor does it hinge upon some notion that Scrooge’s prolonging Tim’s life may have exposed the boy to the possibility of losing that salvation. The question hinges upon Tiny Tim’s averted death as vital and indispensable to Scrooge’s redemption and transformation.
Imagine the redeemed Scrooge at the end of the story doing everything he could to save the boy’s life but failing. Is Scrooge’s redemption and transformation contingent upon Tiny Tim’s averted death? Put another way, would the boy’s death diminish the quality of Scrooge’s transformation and subsequent act of love?
Max Scheler offers the following viewpoint in Ressentiment:
There is no longer any “highest good” independent of and beyond the act and movement of love! Love itself is the highest of all goods! The summum bonum is no longer the value of a thing, but of an act, the value of love itself as love—not for its results and achievements. Indeed, the achievements of love are only symbols and proofs of its presence in the person.
From a Christian perspective, Scrooge’s act of love should be considered higher than any result or achievement of the act. To say that it matters little whether Tiny Tim lives or dies comes off as callous, yet the point remains – Tiny Tim’s life or death should have no bearing on the spiritual value of Scrooge’s movement of love.
When the rich youth is told to divest himself of his riches and give them to the poor, it is really not in order to help the “poor” and to affect a better distribution of property in the interest of general welfare. Nor is it because poverty as such is supposed to be better than wealth. The order is given because the act of giving away, and the spiritual freedom and abundance of love which manifest themselves in this act, ennoble the youth and make him even “richer” than he is.
As a brief aside speculation, it is interesting to contemplate how the other characters in the story would have responded to Scrooge’s failed attempt to save Tiny Tim’s life. Would they have continued to praise him as “a good man," or would they have resentfully grumbled about Scrooge’s conversion coming too late?
Although Scrooge spurned the poor and wretched before his transformation, Dickens depicts him as a veritable champion of the downtrodden after the conversion. Once again, we must pause to examine where the value lies. Is Scrooge a good man because he suddenly wants to do everything he can to alleviate sickness and poverty, or is he a good man simply because he is engaging with his fellow man through love?
Scheler, once again:
When a person’s spontaneous impulse of love and sacrifice finds a specific goal, an opportunity for applying itself, he does not welcome it as a chance to plunge into such phenomena as poverty, sickness, or ugliness. He does not help this struggling life because of those negative values, but despite them—he helps in order to develop whatever may still be sound and positive. He does not love such life because it is sick, poor, small, and ugly, and he does not passively dwell upon these attributes. The positive vital values (and even more, of course, the spiritual personal values of that individual) are completely independent of these defects and lie much deeper. Therefore, his own fullness of life can (and therefore “should”) overcome his natural reaction of fearing and fleeing them, and his love should helpfully develop whatever is positive in the poor or sick man. He does not love sickness and poverty, but what is behind them, and his help is directed against these evils.
Love is no spiritual “institution of charity” and is not in contrast to one’s own bliss. In the very act of self-renunciation, the person eternally wins himself. He is blissful in loving and giving, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Love is not valuable and does not bestow distinction on the lover because it is just one of the countless forces that further human or social welfare. No, the value is love itself, its penetration of the whole person—the higher, firmer, and richer life and existence of which its movement is the sign and the gem. The important thing is not the amount of welfare, it is that there should be a maximum of love among men. The act of helping is the direct and adequate expression of love, not its meaning or “purpose.” Its meaning lies in itself, in its illumination of the soul, in the nobility of the loving soul in the act of love. Therefore, nothing can be further removed from this genuine concept of Christian love than all kinds of “socialism,” “social feeling,” “altruism,” and other subaltern modern things.
I touch upon this because it is key to the eclipsing of heart-set Christianity I mentioned in my previous post. The phenomenon of loving the poor and the sick because of their poverty and sickness began to flicker during Dickens’s time. Dickens himself was quite aware and critical of such altruistic standpoints, which is evident in some of the caricatures he created, most notably, Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House.
A further characteristic: Love in Jesus’ sense helps energetically. But it does not consist in the desire to help, or even in “benevolence.” Such love is, as it were, immersed in positive value, and helping and benevolence are only its consequences. The fake love of ressentiment man offers no real help, since for his perverted sense of values, evils like “sickness” and “poverty” have become goods.
But this does not mean that the value of love in the genuine Christian sense lies in the usefulness of its helping deed. The usefulness may be great with little love or none at all, and it may be small while love is great.
Thus, the increase in value originally always lies on the side of him who loves, not on the side of him who is helped.
The last point above focuses on the eclipsing of the eternal I mentioned in my previous post. Dickens certainly understood the fake love of ressentiment, and I will wager that he understood the true Christian value of “loving energetically,” yet the distinction between these two understandings and approaches was already blurring during Dickens’ time.
I will close off the post with some concluding thoughts from Scheler:
This element is also present in the metaphysical-religious conceptions of man's relation to God. The old covenant between God and man, which is the root of all “legality,” is replaced by the love between God and his children. And even the love “for God” is not to be founded on his works alone, in gratitude for his constant gifts, his care, and his maintenance. All these experiences of God’s actions and works are only means to make us look up to “eternal love” and to the infinite abundance of value of which these works are but the proof. They should be admired and loved only because they are works of love!