A Christmas Carol

(originally published as a Q&A under the title "How to Lead a More Integrated Life This Holiday Season")

By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

[OBJECTIVIST Q&A:  "How to Lead a More Integrated Life this Holiday Season" by Chris Matthew Sciabarra and David M. Brown; first published on TDO December 17, 1999]

Dear David M. Brown: Regarding Michael Levin's interesting article "Scrooge Defended," recently published on TDO... Yes, yes, yes...I'm sure Levin makes some good sturdy points that Objectivists should welcome; and yes, Dickens was a basher of business. (Sigh.) But ... I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable as Objectivists. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives. Doesn't it? --- Chris Matthew Sciabarra

A. Well, seems to us that Levin concedes your basic point here, Dr. Sciabarra. (See the conclusion to his piece.) His complaint is that the various messages were all lumped together as a package deal. If his own counter-analysis is a tad ironically one-sided ... well, so what? The dialectic has been skewed all too much the other way---as you point out, through much of English literature. Sure, as "responders" to a work of art each of us is often obliged to forgive a fair amount of thematic gunk so as not to deprive ourselves of the values and pleasures that are there. But the fact that we do so doesn't mean that those more poisonous strands can't or oughtn't be independently analyzed, and criticized for their actual implications.

Furthermore, "A Christmas Carol" is a special case, exerting an especially destructive influence precisely because of its ingeniously effective affirmation of the spirit of human joy and benevolence that is symbolized by Christmas as inextricably blended with the most gooey altruistic sentiment imaginable! It's persuasive, to be sure! Dull, unread literature is no enemy of capitalism and rational self-interest.

Cratchit in particular is such a simpering whiner in any rendition of this story that you really do want to strangle the guy on sight. And that puling brat of his, Tiny Tim---don't you want to just grab the crutch and bash him over the head with it?

Q. Actually not... I'm a sucker for the story---and it brings tears to my eyes anytime I see the cinematic version with Alastair Sim. But I understand your frustration with many of the mixed cultural expressions throughout English literature. I'm able to recognize and name the mixed messages, but bracketing them out does enable you to appreciate the story on another level entirely.

A. Bah, humbug. Everybody who believes in Christmas should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

Q. Well, let me share with you how I celebrate Christmas with my family: the same way I always have. Not because I slavishly reproduce a tradition, but because I was taught early on to believe in love and gift-giving and the magic and joy of the holiday. Of course, as a child, I was told that Santa Claus existed. But I never resented the fact that Santa didn't exist, when I came to realize---quite young---that he was not real. It inspired my imagination to think about the fantasy, and I enjoyed all the wonder of getting up in the morning and finding presents under the tree. Till this day, even without Santa Claus, I do not open my gifts until Christmas morning, and I celebrate with all the pomp and cirumstance of the traditional holiday: we put up a tree, with all the trimmings, and we even display an ancient family artifact under the tree---a very old nativity scene that has been part of my family for well over 50 years, with lifelike sculptured figurines that are almost Renaissance-like in their beauty.

For those who celebrate and appreciate the humanism of Renaissance art, let us not forget that nearly all of it was religious in character: it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic of traditions that one might not accept as true.

Oh, and we sing the carols too---still some of the most beautiful music ever written---and we watch things like Sim's "Christmas Carol," and the original "Miracle on 34th Street" or "The Bishop's Wife," and we eat up a storm. Raised in a Greek and Italian household---that is one thing that can never be avoided: great food, great desserts, and wonderfully warm family gatherings. For some members of my family all this has a very deep religious significance (my grandfather, after all, was a Greek Orthodox priest, the founder of the Three Hierarchs Church, first Greek Orthodox church in Brooklyn). For others, it has no religious significance. Still, each of us "keeps Christmas" in his or her own special way. And it remains, easily, the most festive of family holidays.

And just walking around this---the greatest city on the planet, of course---provides enough eye candy till next year. New York City is magnificent in its glory at Christmas time---not just the celebrated lights of Rockefeller Center, but all the homes in the outer boroughs decorated with lights and animated figures. In fact, right here in Brooklyn, every neighborhood is covered with lights. We have several magnificent homes in the Dyker Heights-Bay Ridge section of the borough that have won awards for the beauty of their decorations: you have to see it to believe it (and I'll be happy to take anyone for a tour!). Ayn Rand was right: Christmas does inspire the most incredible creativity and benevolence.

A. Uh...wait...are you saying that Christmas has been endorsed by Ayn Rand? Well...guess it's all right then...

Chris Matthew Sciabarra is a dialectician living in Brooklyn. David M. Brown is the editor of The Daily Objectivist.

Copyright 2000, The Daily Objectivist

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