Monday, February 10, 2014
The Faith of Charles Dickens
College spends time discussing a little-known work of the author, The Life of Our Lord, in which he expounds on the life and acts of Jesus Christ, and their relevance to his present world. This work is little known precisely because it was never intended to be sold to the public; it was a private work intended as a guide to Christian living for his children, and only brought to light years after his death. But even a casual reading of Dickens reveals what amounts to an essentially Christian world-view. While A Christmas Carol is sometimes criticized by the religious as almost entirely secular, Tiny Tim Crachit's enduring phrase God Bless Us, Everyone!, and Bob Crachit's observation of Tim's wish that people would see he was a cripple so that they should remember "Who made lame men walk and blind men see," speak volumes, as do the final pages of Oliver Twist, which reference God and heaven and speak of the narrator's belief that the shade of Agnes Fleming (Oliver's deceased mother) will visit her gravesite. College goes further, pointing out the good characters in Dickens' novels exemplify Christian values, while his villains demonstrate their antithesis.
One thing that struck me in particular while reading this was how much emphasis Dickens placed on human charity and working for the common good, and how this so contrasts with today's evangelism, in which "good works" are continually downplayed, sometimes to the point of vilification, while "faith" is exulted. Often (though not always) such evangelists recognize that a saving faith will produce works, though it does not always come across that way. Dickens, however, put the importance of charity and defense of the weak, poor, and disenfranchised at the forefront of Christian living. Nor did he confine such philanthropy to his fiction; as College shows, Dickens own life shows much evidence of personal charity.
So different from the culture-war oriented evangelism of today that often dumbs down faith to a "get out of hell free card." Not that Dickens disbelieved in or disregarded hell's existence: he did not. College provides passages where Dickens strongly suggests that certain non-repentant characters, such as Fagin and Sikes in Oliver Twist, and Rigaud in Little Dorrit were beyond moral redemption at the time of their deaths.
Curiously, however, College neglects to mention a very powerful presentation of a damned soul, perhaps the most powerful in literature: Jacob Marley. However, as I'll discuss in my next post, it is possible that Marley was not as beyond moral redemption as one might have thought--although I'll say right now that that is according to a different author's interpretation.