Transhumanist Advent: The Lessons of Scrooge’s Ghosts

Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge is the recognizable curmudgeon-y old man who just can’t get the spirit of Christmas. Instead of enjoying the season, he sees it as just another excuse to pick a man’s pocket. But if we congratulate ourselves, rather than see ourselves in Scrooge, we miss enduring lessons of the three ghosts.

With Scrooge, for the most part, we are caught up in selfish desires, and our selected idols, and may even feel justified because society encourages these (even praiseworthy values such as thrift, frugality, and prudence have become idols for Scrooge), and shrouds the results of our harmful activities, or our shameful neglect. But there are consequences to our desires, actions, and inaction. Despite the good we may do, in light of the pain and suffering in the world, to feel justified in our efforts--whatever they may be--as if they were enough is to play the Scrooge.

Scrooge is visited by three ghosts. The ghost of the past shows Scrooge his younger years, and demonstrates that he has experienced joy and pain, triumphs and successes in his past. With Scrooge, we hold beautiful memories of kindness and generosity, as well as regret for the coldness we’ve shown, and our misplaced priorities. But no amount of joy or regret we feel about the past or the good we have done may redeem us. The past holds lessons, but no salvation.

The ghost of the Present demonstrates that there is still joy in the world, and our work is to experience and spread it; to welcome and be welcomed into fellowship, and see to the suffering and injustice we might make right. The work of the ghost of Christmas Present is to lift the veil to expose more joy and sorrow than we could otherwise see--to extend the reach of our gaze and responsibility.

While the ghost of the past focused on Scrooge and his immediate acquaintances, the ghost of the present expanded this, to show Scrooge others to whom he was connected, including mankind’s emblematic neglected children: Ignorance and Want. The ghost of the present teaches Scrooge that his work is to do what he can to lift others, to bring joy, food, money, knowledge and fulfillment to those wanting. It’s an inspiring message, one that, to that point, Scrooge had failed in ways both recognized and not. If caring for others, looking after their needs, and expanding the circle of who these others are was all that was required, we would need no third ghost. But a third ghost arrives.

Like all of us, Scrooge fears the Ghost of the Future more than the other two. And for good reason. The ghost of the future shows that, despite our best efforts to welcome others, spread joy, and alleviate suffering and injustices, it’s not enough; death remains the end, for us and others, and it’s knocking at the door. So what if we once had joy? So what if we find and spread a fleeting joy? So what if we right a wrong or a million wrongs? In the end awaits death.

The story ends with a renewed Scrooge, not yet dead, but who has seen how it will all play out, unless he changes course. It’s the exact scenario in which we all find ourselves. So he vows to change: to remember, experience and spread joy and fellowship; alleviate suffering and injustices to the degree he can (a degree that is always expanding), and finally to fight to overcome death. These are the lessons of the ghosts.

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew.

And so must we all. God bless us in these efforts, everyone.

-Ben Blair

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