Scrooge, our favorite population controller
December 23, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Every time December 25 rolls around, I’ve made it a tradition to watch A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim. It’s such a great film. Unfortunately, it never fails to remind me of work.
This is because (as readers may remember) Charles Dickens cast Scrooge as the population control everyman: “If they would rather die, they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population,” he says of the impoverished masses herded into prisons and workhouses.
Whether it’s for the “green” crusade or some other guess at the common good, top ethicists today have embraced Scrooge’s insight that there’s a shortcut to achieving that good: do away with the people who aren’t benefiting from it. Voila!
Scrooge makes a fine population controller because they are the very definition of Scrooge. It’s just that these days, when such characters show up in the flesh instead of a film, society’s anti-Scrooge alarm - a repulsion towards those who say others should do us a favor by not existing - sadly fails to go off.
As Scrooge later beholds the ailing Tiny Tim, the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds him that according to his own theory, the little boy’s death would mark one step in the right direction. But the message doesn’t really hit home until Scrooge is prompted to consider leading by personal example with his own death. Now that, as other characters observe, the old man had never seen coming.
This is the plague that nearly all population misers must have in common: a ho-hum attitude toward their own end. Some probably have floating in the backs of their minds a soothing idea of slipping into a restful nothingness, while others may have more pessimistic or optimistic ideas, but they are just that: ideas. Especially in this world of near-miraculous health care, we run the risk of death remaining largely in the realm of theory.
This isn’t healthy.
Not to get too depressing, but this is important: please, let’s not pretend death is anything short of a total disaster. Except on a supernatural level, death and life are pure enemies. The problem with death is that it’s impossible to represent it; it is nothing and absurdity. True appreciation is thus left to experience: life left to itself can lose its sense of its own throbbing energy, its own insatiable greed for more and more life. But nearness to the void provokes the most violent of natural instincts, the craving to be.
We’d be better off getting in touch with this instinct again; it gives us insight into the problem with eliminating the “surplus population,” that is, with eliminating people. When someone else dies, a person vanishes. But if I die, everything else vanishes too, and that’s what is so terrible.
This is in fact accurate. Without people things are only things, or even less than things. Scrooge’s gold is a collection of atoms with seventy-nine protons that signify nothing more than those of compost. Trees and animals live and decay lacking the capacity to know their own beauty and poetry, and thus with no one aware, there is no beauty or poetry at all. The world, a huge mass of particles occasionally engaging in chemical reactions, would just be: and in the end, may as well not be.
So the story of Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t the story of a man learning that people are worth more than money, but that worth means people. People can’t be weighed in the scales because they are the scale. That’s exactly why we all love A Christmas Carol, and why population misers are wrong.
Whether conservative or liberal, green or not, stories that tell this tale are the ones we like best. Stories that tell the reverse are not stories at all.
In September we encountered a non-story like this in the extreme. James Jay Lee, the Discovery Channel gunman, met an absurd end as he held hostages while demanding that the network air programming to help us stop “breeding any more disgusting human babies.”
Lee was so alienated from the true common good that he thought people were not only not its purpose, but a hindrance to it. Who was the protagonist of his story? How could there be a happy ending? It’s hard to say, given that he himself was a member of that “filthy” race - and had strapped bombs to his own body.
This is where we come to the point, the one Lee sadly missed and that Scrooge nearly did. Death truly is the wrong ending to any story, for it steals both people and the meaning they endow - and had it not been for Christmas, all of human history would have been just such a non-story.
Our frightful encounter teaches us just how great a rescue God pulled off by the birth of a tiny, impoverished child on Christmas Day. Death, the total disaster, has been forced into service as the gateway to life. Christ’s coming is another of those stories we like best, so much so that even modern secularists can’t quite seem to let it go: this one tells how the human soul will never vanish but can hope to conquer even death itself.
It’s been a hard year: as we look on, people seem to go on finding ever more and more ways to suppress life. Steeping in these reports too long can be unhealthy, and make us forget the way things really are. To detox, find a comfortable spot on Christmas Day and listen to a story that ushers back to center stage the two things that really belong there: life, and the Child who made it abundant forever.
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