Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Firm of Scrooge & Marley

The Firm of Scrooge & Marley
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley were business partners in Charles Dickens' December 1843 novella A Christmas Carol.  They ran a counting house or money lending business (akin to a pawn shop today) which took advantage of the poor and desperate by charging usurious interest, driving many into destitution, and sending quite a few into debtors prison.  Marley had died seven years prior, but Scrooge never bothered to change the sign.

As we all remember from the story, Scrooge was a greedy, self-centered, miserly old man who hated Christmas, refused to show charity, had a dysfunctional relationship with his relatives, and treated his overworked, underpaid employee Bob Cratchit poorly.  He only grudgingly gave Bob a  paid day off for Christmas, but he wanted him to come in early the following day to make up for it.

That Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley who warns him that he'll be damned like him if he doesn't mend his ways.  Marley tells Scrooge that three ghosts will visit him over the next three nights; he should listen to them if he wants to avoid the same fate as him.

First, "The Ghost of Christmas Past" visits Scrooge and shows him many of his lost opportunities and how his past choices have affected his present situation.  Second, "The Ghost of Christmas Present" visits him and shows him how his behavior has adversely affected others as well as all the joy he is missing in life.  Third, "The Ghost of Christmas Future" visits Scrooge and shows him what will become of him if he doesn't change for the better.  None of his wealth will do him or others a bit of good if he doesn't mend his ways.

On Christmas morning, Scrooge awakens to discover the three spirits had all visited him in one night.  He takes the lessons to heart and radically changes his ways.  He begins to mend his relationships with his relatives and his employee Bob Cratchit.  And from then on treats everyone with kindness, compassion, and generosity embodying the Spirit of Christmas all year long.

Dickens' novella could be seen as an allegory of Christian redemption.  The regret over lost opportunities and bad choices drives some to amend their ways and atone for their past sins.  Even the worst of sinners can repent and be saved.

Written during the nineteenth-century British Industrial Revolution when laissez-faire capitalism and social Darwinism ruled, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because of society's disregard for the poor and oppressed.  The character of Scrooge epitomized the greed and selfishness of society and the social repercussions of ignoring the poor and downcast especially children.

Since Dickens' time, we've made some progress, but there's still the nagging human problem of greed and selfishness among the rich and corporations today.  If we could identify the bad actors and had the power to send them spirits to haunt them maybe they'd change their ways, but that's just wishful thinking.

The hard truth is that if we want to make our society better, each of us has to do our part starting with ourselves.  Individually we need to carry the Christmas Spirit throughout the year by being kind, compassionate, and generous with others.  Choosing to love God and our neighbor will go a long way in helping to change the world for the better.

Next, we all need to think long and hard about who we elect to public office.  Keeping a non-partisan open mind about candidates who will push that rope of improvement up the hill of progress will help to change our society for the better.  We need political candidates who will put the needs of the poor and working class at the top of their priority list rather than special interest groups and corporations.

We can't idly stand by when the poor and marginalized are ignored.  We have to have a social safety net to care for them.  Charities can only do so much.  We also need to hold governments and corporations accountable for their bad behavior.  Life is not about accumulating money and material possessions; it's about improving the quality of life for everyone.

Corporations need to start looking out for the good of society and not just the wealth of their shareholders.  We need a paradigm shift to convince corporations that it's in their own best interests to treat their employees well, pay them livable wages, and provide them with good benefits.  And if a paradigm shift doesn't work, legislation needs to be enacted to force these changes upon them.

A Christmas Carol is as true today as it was when it was written.  Selfishness and greed are as prevalent today as it was then.  Someday each of us will have to give an account to God of how we lived our lives; hopefully, if we lived our lives right our ledgers will be in the black and we'll be welcomed into the Kingdom of God. 

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