Ebenezer Scrooge and Atheist Obscurantism

I love Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (as well as everything else Dickens ever wrote).  There is generally a reason the classics are classics.  I love the book.  I love every film adaptation I have ever seen, from the Muppets to Magoo to the 1984 George C. Scott version.  Patton makes a great Ebenezer Scrooge.

Scrooge is one of the great characters of English literature.  He has everything a Dickens character should have, including a recurring catchphrase exemplifying his whole persona – “Humbug!”  He is a selfish miser, concerned only for his own personal profit, yet he undergoes a glorious Grinch-like transformation through his encounter with Jacob Marley and the three Christmas spirits (including one played by The Equalizer).

One of my favorite scenes in the book is Scrooge’s encounter with the macabre specter of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley.  On his way home from the office that Christmas Eve he sees Marley’s ghost’s head showing up everywhere – in the doorknocker of his home, on the faces of the portraits in the hallway.  “Humbug,” he dismisses it all.  After locking himself in his room (experiencing some disquiet) he is shocked when he hears doors thrown open and approaching footsteps.  “It’s humbug still.  I won’t believe it.”  The words here are important.  He doesn’t say, “I don’t believe it,” but, rather, “I won’t believe it.”  This is vital (and a keen insight into the unbelieving mind on Dickens’ part).

Soon Marley makes his way bodily (so to speak) into the room chains and all and a fascinating conversation ensues:

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don’t,” said Scrooge.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”

“I don’t know” said Scrooge.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them.  A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats.  You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.  There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

OK – that is just brilliant writing.  It is also illustrative of the spirit of unbelief.  There Marley sits, right in front of him, and Scrooge won’t believe.  It isn’t due to a lack of evidence.  He is determined not to believe, whatever the evidence.  His problem is a problem of the will, not the mind.  It is a presuppositional bias against the possibility of spirits, not any kind of reasoned rejection based on the evidence.  Scrooge doesn’t want to believe.  Not until Marley terrifies him with a terrible cry and further intimidates him that Scrooge is chased fleeing from behind his meager psychological defenses.

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”

“I do,” said Scrooge.  “I must….”

At the end of the day Scrooge, the man of the worldly mind, must deal with otherworldly realities.  Whether he likes it or not, there are spirits with whom he must do.

The believer is often dismissed by the unbeliever as being one who hides his head in the sand, plugging his ears against the facts of science and evident reason, all of which indicate that there is no God.  But the shoe is very much on the other foot.  The evidence for God’s existence is all around us.  He is plainly evident from what he has made.  He has revealed himself in his Word.  Think for five minutes about notions such as truth, beauty, or goodness in a way that is meaningful without considering God.  You could just as well be Scrooge dismissing Marley as a bit of undigested potato.

There are reasons for unbelief, but a lack of evidence for the existence of God is not one of them.  Such an act of unbelief is not reasonable at all, but it is willful.  One day we all, like Scrooge, must deal with spiritual realities, whether we like it or not.