Sometimes the best way into a sacred Good News story is through a secular narrative, and that, it seems to me, is what happens in the movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas. It’s about Charles Dickens and how he came to write the famous 19th-century classic, A Christmas Carol.
After seeing the film a few weeks ago I did some research into both the secular and religious nature of the Dickens drama, which I would like to share.*
The Man Who Invented Christmas is a sentimental but gripping tale—drawn from Dickens’s personal experience that evolved into a parable of exalted human values. There is much debate about how profoundly Dickens was influenced by his Christian faith, but we do know that he challenges us with both sacred and secular values to proclaim a gospel account that towers above our general celebration of Christmas.
The transformation of Scrooge is central to the saga, and his character development is exceptional. The protagonist begins as a two-dimensional figure, but grows into a person who possesses an emotional depth with significant regret for lost opportunities.
Some believe the narrative has a conversion theme running through it and that it serves as an allegory of the Christian concept of redemption. Dickens’s attitude to organized religion was complex, and I am not sure he set out to write a religious epic, even though he had a faith based on the New Testament.
Other scholars believe that Dickens wanted to present a secular vision of a sacred holiday so that it would speak to a broad range of people in society—religious or other. His was a focus on charity and altruism, if not a redemption story centred on a Christ-figure.
Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because, from his own experience, he was appalled at how British social policy treated children at the time. He used his anecdote as an argument against the status quo and advocated charity for the poor without alienating his largely middle-class readership.
The author reframes a religious account in a way that helps readers transfer the genius behind characters and events into their own contemporary situation. It is a fable of conscience and moral consequence in which an anxious, animated young man confronts the ghosts of his own past and reflects upon his current attitudes and actions. His readers identify with him, and as Scrooge repents and is redeemed, we too are saved and have Good News to share with the world.
Dickens did not invent the term “Merry Christmas,” but he did popularize it among his Victorian readers. It was also at this time that the Christmas tree was adopted by many of the population.
I would concur with some fans of The Man Who Invented Christmas that the best way into a sacred gospel story can be through a secular narrative.
But it takes a special kind of spiritual discernment.
*Some of the insights in this article are from Wikipedia.