Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Scrooge’s Real Sin

It’s December and that means it’s time to watch the endless parade of awesome Christmas specials. Of course, one of the first ones I turned to was The Muppet Christmas Carol. I apologize to all others who have English degrees, but I just can’t stand Charles Dickens. Not that he wasn’t brilliant—writing a ghost story to celebrate Christmas is awesome—but I just loathe his writing style. Thankfully, I don’t have to read his writing to enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol. (And besides, everybody loves Muppets!)

muppet-christmas-carol

While I was watching this amazing movie, I started thinking about Ebenezer Scrooge and how he was portrayed primarily as showing the deadly sin of greed. However, the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking that greed might not be his main problem.

Most people are familiar with Scrooge’s story, and the Muppets don’t stray far from it. Scrooge is a coldhearted man who cares more for his money and his own comfort than the needs of others. He also hates Christmas, viewing the whole thing as a waste of time. His attitude leads him to be unkind to others, regardless of if they are his employees or even his own family. He is eventually visited by the ghosts of his former partners, Jacob and Robert Marley, who are suffering in the afterlife because of their past misdeeds. They tell him he’ll be visited by three spirits who would help change his ways, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future help Scrooge become a more loving person. In the end Scrooge repents of his sins and begins reaching out to and helping others.

jacob-robert-marley

Throughout the movie, we see that Scrooge is obsessed with his business and making money. We are led to believe that Scrooge’s main issue is his greed, but the more I watched, the more I started thinking that it was more than that. Greed is definitely still a problem for Scrooge, but the man has a larger issue than that—sloth. Sloth is the deadly sin that is often described as laziness, but it is actually much more than that. Originally sloth was believed to be a sin that primarily affected monks who no longer cared about their duties and their devotion to God. Many orders of monks believed that some form of work at the monastery or in the large community aided spiritual growth. Monks couldn’t get away with not doing their work, but they could grow complacent or bored in what they were doing; this made it difficult for them to grow closer to God and greatly harmed their spiritual growth. As I watched the movie, I thought the real issue was that Scrooge didn’t live. He doesn’t really seem to enjoy his job; he is just obsessed with making money. This is one of the things that the Ghost of Christmas Past tries to show him. Scrooge ignored friends and family to work, and even missed out on marrying the woman of his dreams because he never felt he was making enough money. Again, at first glance this seems like greed and it still is—I’m not negating greed as one of his vices—but Scrooge’s biggest issue is that he is ignoring caring for himself and others, which is an effect of sloth.

An article on sloth by Fr. Charles Pope explains sloth thusly:

While sloth often manifests as a kind of boredom, aversion or laziness toward spiritual things, one can also see it at work in the kind of frantic indulgence and workaholism common today. Many indulge in an excessive activism in the world of politics, career, business and other worldly pursuits. Sloth is a deep and sinful drive rooted in a disordered preference for passing worldly things.

I think once we understand this, it becomes very clear that Scrooge is suffering from the sin of sloth. He cares more for worldly pursuits than he does for others or for God. He doesn’t give to charity, he abuses his employees, not wanting to even give them Christmas off, and as I mentioned earlier, he ignores all friends and family and has no desire to connect on any level with any other person. This is seen clearly with his nephew Fred, who consistently asks for him to spend Christmas with him and his wife Clara. Fred reaches out to Scrooge despite Scrooge’s negative attitude and comments, like making fun of Fred for getting married and telling him that it is silly that he fell in love. Scrooge is constantly given chances to engage with others and help others but always ignores them, because he views it as too much of an inconvenience to himself. Despite any actual reference to Jesus, this is still a quintessentially Christian story, specifically a more Anglican or at least Anglican-influenced story given the setting, a denomination which, like Catholicism, discusses the seven deadly sins. Essentially Scrooge ignores any of the good things that God has given him and disobeys God’s laws by refusing to give to charity or by helping others. This is when sloth is at its worst. This is described very clearly by the theological site New Advent, which explains theologian and saint Thomas Aquinas’s teachings on sloth:

In other words, a man is then formally distressed at the prospect of what he must do for God to bring about or keep intact his friendship with God. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity. It is then a mortal sin unless the act be lacking in entire advertence or full consent of the will. The trouble attached to maintenance of the inhabiting of God by charity arouses tedium in such a person.

We see this clearly in how Scrooge treats those who are collecting for charity. In the movie, Beaker and Bunsen Honeydew play two men collecting for charity during the Christmas season. During Scrooge’s conversation with them, he says that he already pays taxes which go to prisons and poor houses and insists then that the homeless and others in need should just go there. He doesn’t want to put in any extra effort. He feels he already gives more than enough simply through paying taxes and the idea that he should give more is seen by Scrooge as tedious and a waste of time and resources.

scrooge-with-his-family-muppets

Scrooge also doesn’t take care of himself. For a man with money he certainly doesn’t spend any of it to help himself. In the movie we are told that Scrooge doesn’t even light the lamps in his home because darkness is cheaper. He never takes a break from working, and when we are shown the inside of his home, it is bare with almost no furniture or any sort of comforts. Scrooge’s home might as well be an empty warehouse. It’s very clear that Scrooge is only doing the bare minimum to keep himself alive and moving. He isn’t taking care of himself, which again is another sign of sloth.

I should note here that in the past the Christians have had an unfortunate history of viewing depression as sloth and professing the ableist belief that one can simply pray depression away. While it is possible that Scrooge struggles with depression, the movie never really shows evidence of this. Scrooge’s unwillingness to engage with himself and others seems to be more because of his lack of care and concern than any sort of depression. As someone with depression, I know how depression can demotivate someone and cause them to avoid human connection. But the movie makes it clear that Scrooge could do all these things but simply chooses not to, not that he is unable to. So it is not depression but Scrooge’s sins that cause his issues.

Sometimes sin can lead to other types of sin. I think Scrooge started out greedy, which led him to ignore everyone and neglect himself and others. He is being lazy about gaining human connections that would allow him spiritual growth. He values the worldly value of wealth and power to the point that It causes him to be lazy and avoid connections with others, which ultimately leads him into sloth. His lack of spiritual growth causes him to believe what the world says it means to be successful, and so he falls into greed which causes him to be lazy and never truly engage anyone on an emotional and spiritual level. The overall message of the movie is similar to many of those with Christian themes, which at its most basic simply is to be like Christ. Scrooge is encouraged to be charitable, to engage with his family and those who have tried to befriend him, and to in general actively care about and help others.

muppet-christmas-carol-2

We see Scrooge overcome both his sin of greed and sloth at the end of the movie. He could have simply given away some of his money to the needy, but instead he makes sure to take an active role in life and begins engaging with people. He visits his nephew and his wife, goes to give gifts to his old teachers and employers, gives to charities, and even puts together a Christmas feast for Bob Cratchit (here played by Kermit the Frog) and his family, on top of raising Bob’s salary and helping pay for Tiny Tim’s medical bills. He isn’t just giving away his money or acting less concerned about his wealth, but instead he is actively getting involved and working towards helping others instead of ignoring the plights of others. Through the virtues of charity and diligence, Scrooge is able to overcome both his sins of greed and sloth and actively work to better his life and others.


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