Thursday last, through Wednesday of this week, I had what can only be described as the plague.
Don't ask. Just wash your hands and drink lots of water.
But because I was too sick to move or think, I binged-watched British Charles Dickens series on Amazon until I was talking to Arthur in a cockney accent.
I watched many hours of Bleak House, David Copperfield and Martin Chuzzlewit. Over Christmas, we also watch several versions of The Christmas Carol, so I've been glutted with Dickens for weeks! (But I love his books. I have a degree in 17-19th century English Literature and know his books well. )
And of course, as I do with all things, I start cross referencing Dicken's stories with every bit of philosophical, historical and theological information I ever read.
My mind must be part pantheist because it assesses all new data as if it is all marvelously, cosmically interconnected.
What WAS Dickens trying to say? What did he mean to teach us and how is it going to change my life?
When you watch it back to back, it becomes quite glaring that Dicken's overarching theme in all his works is: money.
Think of his most well-known figure, Scrooge, and the man's terrifying enlightenment of his filthy greed through three supernatural spirits. His conversion pivots on learning to give his money away to help others—through money.
Dicken's not a strictly Christian view of money. Jesus warns us that it's harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than a camel go through the eye of a needle. He also warned us that the love of money is the root of all evil.
No, Dickens is quite post-enlightenment in his view of money. Greed is always the main archvillain masquerading behind various entertaining and pasquinade characters.
But, and here's my focus, money ALSO plays the great hero too. The great reward at the end is: money! Money plays the dual role of the atonement of good and evil. Dicken's saw to it that the great reward is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Historically, the happily-ever-after in literature was that the main character became a hero through some sort of noble sacrifice or overcoming the dragons in his life. It was about becoming great.
Over the last three hundred years, our worldview has morphed into seeing life through the lens of money.
Notice how capitalism and communism/socialism are two sides of the same coin. Both see money as the savior either through economic opportunity or money as the great equalizer through redistribution. Financial justice IS social justice. All evils can be washed away through monetary restitution.
Now that Dickens has been interconnected with theology, philosophy and history, I always finish my mental analysis on the question:
How are Dicken's stories going to change my life? (Oh it happens whether we do it voluntarily or not. The Bible tells us that by beholding we are changed.)
Well, as I lay pondering this question, my head foggy and my body writhing in nausea, I realized something. My entire life I have been fighting this idea that money is some type of savior.
Yes, money—like any pleasure such as eating ice cream and sexual stimulation—if repeated enough can give one the appearance of happiness—at least fun.
But I was situated as a child, in a position to be able to see the outcome of wealth, great wealth. I knew instinctively at the youngest of ages, that I held in my hand one of the rarest gifts of God—the ten talents that would require my utmost responsibility.
I grew up around lavish wealth—you know—the Hollywood version of American wealth: the Rockefeller, Carnegie—pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, nouveau riche wealth (not the European aristocracy version).
I could clearly see, to my great astonishment, something that few if any others could see. Money doesn't make you happy. I had a view from the 50-yard-line. The cream of the crop are no more happy than anyone else. Those ten talents given to me by God, were the priceless gems of understanding that told me to search out what really does make us happy.
And I did.
My immediate family was incredibly happy. But I also knew that it had very little to do with money. Living in a very rich neighborhood and with many wealthy relatives I assessed that money just gave people more opportunity to be miserable in many different ways. It could be a luxurious hell. And of course most people would prefer a gilded enslavement rather than a poverty-stricken one. I get that.
But what made people truly happy?
My middle-class friends weren't any happier than my rich ones. And it grieved me that my fifth-grade friends were so unhappy that they despised their parents and took drugs. And when I did encounter poverty, and I did, these people seemed less unhappy than the rest of the world. It was a puzzlement.
Through a hyper-awareness of people, I discovered what Dicken's didn't seem to. That doing the right thing makes one happy. Not directly, but indirectly. You had to face the giant of temptation to be mean, arrogant, rude, you had to face the tempest of temptation to lie or cheat, or steal, you had to face the agonies of being humble and asking forgiveness and conquering these temptations to feel that lasting joy.
It was the difficult choices of doing what was right that did more for one that all the money available to men. Your heart would soar higher from winning the battle with the dragon of selfishness than from opening all those perfect presents from the long list you made for Santa.
And, I am sorry that so few have ever really believed that.
Dicken's gave an ending to the story of the young man who asked Christ was he needed to be saved. Jesus told him to give away his wealth and follow Him. Scrooge was that rich young man who awakened from his encounter with God changed, but able to keep his wealth and do good with it. Dicken's changed God's requirements.
God didn't ask the rich many to do good with his money, he said to give it up.
Yes, that makes even me uncomfortable.
But… but … but….
I know the Biblical arguments for Christian capitalism. I do.
But what I know is that Jesus is clear as crystal. Money should never be seen as our Savior. Dickens gave mammon the dual role of demon and angel, subverting Christ's commandment.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.
Christ understood the deceptive nature of making money the savior of mankind.
Happiness is to know the Savior livin' a life within His favor, makin' a change in my behavior.
Happiness is the Lord.