Can a Scrooge actually prosper today?

Robert Houk • Dec 24, 2017 at 12:00 AM

On Dec. 26, 2010, I wrote a column proposing a year-long experiment that I called the Scrooge Project. I invited folks who thought they could go 12 months without giving to any charitable causes to contact me from time to time during the year to share their thoughts with our readers on how it made them feel to be so stingy. 

I got no takers. instead, I received reprimands from readers who thought I was making a reckless political statement.

That was certainly not my intent.

Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of greed, remorse and redemption has always intrigued me. “A Christmas Carol” is so much more than a Victorian ghost story. It’s a thoughtful examination of the nature of charity and what it truly takes to keep the spirit of Christmas every day of the year.

Pre-haunting Ebenezer Scrooge is a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out a generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

Dr. Seuss borrowed from Dickens to create his Grinch. Filmmaker Frank Capra updated Scrooge in “It’s a Wonderful Life” with the vile banker, Henry F. Potter.

Unlike Scrooge and the Grinch, old man Potter is not made to repent for his greedy ways. Instead it’s George Bailey, a man who has devoted his entire life to helping others, who is taught a lesson by an angel.

Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence.”

Perhaps, Potter is a more realistic depiction of someone we now automatically refer to as a Scrooge. I doubt the uncharitable among us are actually visited early Christmas morning by three spirits. It’s also unlikely any would change their tightfisted ways if they were.

I like to think a true Scrooge is the exception, not the rule. Certainly, it would be impossible for this newspaper to carry out a successful Christmas Box campaign in a world full of Scrooges. It’s the George Baileys among us who help us meet the annual United Way fundraising goal.

I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry.”

Charitable contributions are simply tax deductions to some. To others, it is the joyous feeling they get in giving to others. Neither motive is wrong if it helps the less fortunate, right? Maybe, but is it truly charity if the giver expects a reward? Scrooge’s nephew Fred didn’t think so — especially at Christmas.

 “And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

And what about those who think taking care of their own families is charity enough? Is it fair to call someone a Scrooge for simply expecting others to do the same?

The question that nags me is: Can a Scrooge prosper? Can someone actually go through life without exhibiting charity to others, and if he did, could he truly live a wonderful life?

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]


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