September 29, 2020

Dickens and Christmas: My Take


Dickens and Christmas: My Take
In which Chaplain Mike responds to two recent posts about Christmas and the way we celebrate the season.

• • •

Readers: Feel free to click the links and read the complete posts by Scot and Trevin. I have excerpted what I think are the most pertinent passages.

Scot McKnight: “Dickens Christmas is no more Christian than a Starbuck image”

A Dickens Christmas is about joy and singing and big family dinners and dashing to and fro giving and receiving, and caring for the poor and turkeys and frosty windows. It’s now about Christmas trees and open mouths singing carols in the snow with stars in the sky.

[I]t is not the church’s mission to tell the world a Dickens Christmas story. It is the church’s mission to tell the real story about Christmas, about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever. I can’t imagine Starbucks telling that story well.

Trevin Wax: “In Defense of Christmas Cheer”

Scot is absolutely right about Charles Dickens’ view of Christmas not being synonymous with the Bible’s. But behold a very good point, with a perfectly wrong conclusion! “I say the less Dickens the better,” he writes.

Bah humbug to Scot’s bah humbug!

I agree we need more emphasis on the real meaning of Christmas, but I believe, in this, Dickens is our ally, not our foe. Why? Because the Dickens vision of Christmas would be impossible apart from a society in which the values of Christianity had taken root. G. K. Chesterton described Dickens’ Christmas as a defense of “eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.”

“Joy and singing and big family dinners and giving and receiving and caring for the poor” may not be what the original Christmas was all about, but it’s certainly part of Christianity as an atmosphere, is it not? And no one succeeded at creating “atmosphere” better than Dickens.

…Scot is right to remind the church about our mission “to tell the real story about Christmas, about a God who entered into the world in a socially shamed family in order to lift the socially shamed to the highest name ever.” Yes and Amen.

Playing Scrooge to his Scrooge, however, I would only add: the Dickens vision of Christmas does not take away from the truth, but complements it. ‘Tis the season for joy and feasting! So give me a hearty helping of meat and potatoes, and another slice of Dickens’ pie.

• • •

9c30fad40663f45a8fc15b358e3f1156Chaplain Mike:

Both Scot and Trevin make good points, but I also think that they are talking past each other to some extent.

  • The most significant phrase in Scot’s article is “the church’s mission” — “It is not the church’s mission to tell the world a Dickens Christmas story. It is the church’s mission to tell the real story about Christmas…”
  • In Trevin’s piece, I would highlight “Dickens is our ally, not our foe,” “it’s certainly part of Christianity as an atmosphere,” and “the Dickens vision of Christmas does not take away from the truth, but complements it.”

Let me start by responding to Scot.

I would want to question Scot as to what he means, specifically, by “the church” in this context. Is he speaking of the church in its gathered state, as a community of people that comes together to worship Christ, proclaim the good news in word and sacrament, and mark the season? Or is he speaking of that and also of the role of individual Christians as members of the church as they are scattered among their neighbors and living among the community and participating in its cultural practices? When he says that it is the church’s mission to tell Christmas’s real story, is he saying that both churches and individual Christians should stand apart from cultural celebrations and counter them by this more accurate message? Should we — more or less — be iconoclasts when it comes to Dickens and/or other cultural practices that have attached themselves to Christmas?

I don’t think that is what Scot means, but I know Christian people and Christian churches who take that stance, whether it’s about Dickens or Santa or singing Christmas carols during Advent. In context, his post was written to counter the recent “Starbucks” controversy, and I simply think he was making a point: “If you’re going to complain about Starbucks taking certain symbols out of Christmas, then you should stop and remember that such symbols are not really part of the Christmas story anyway.” I interpret Scot’s post as a firm reminder that we have gotten the Story of Christmas mixed up with lots and lots of cultural baggage, and that, in order to make the biblical narrative clear, we ought to not emphasize all that stuff as much as we do in order to tell the Story of Christmas clearly.

Scot’s no iconoclast, I’m sure; he’s just trying to balance things out a bit. At least that’s how I read him.

Now, a few words about what Trevin says.

Trevin, it seems to me, is concerned to remind us that what is “biblical” or “Christian” can go beyond the actual outline and text of the Story. When the narrative of Jesus takes hold in various places around the world, not only do people change, but so do cultures. “Joy and singing and big family dinners and giving and receiving and caring for the poor” are vitally connected to the spirit of the Christmas Story, even though they may not detail that narrative for people.

Therefore, I hear him saying, “Be of good cheer!” He encourages us away from an iconoclastic spirit to celebrate Dickens and any other Christmas tradition that reflects the spirit and virtues of the true Nativity. He writes, “Christianity is not generosity, but generosity is part of Christianity. Who knows? Perhaps when caught up in the moment of cultural gratitude, the secular heart may long for Someone to thank.”

Trevin’s point is not that different from that of the Apostle Paul, who urged the Philippians, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Paul’s list of virtues is taken from Greek culture, not any specific biblical text or tradition. He expects the Philippian believers to affirm the god-like evidences of moral excellence that are reflected throughout their world, not just in scripture.

Trevin wants a Jesus-shaped Christmas too, and he sees that Dickens can fit into that quite nicely.

leech-fezziwig-8Finally, a word from your chaplain.

Both Scot and Trevin are making a point about keeping Christmas Christian. I have a slightly different take.

I think this discussion would be helped by making a couple of distinctions.

  • First, let’s distinguish between the Story of the Nativity and cultural Christmas celebrations. They never have been the same thing, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Scot is right in reminding us to keep the narrative primary and Trevin is right to say that this can have cultural ramifications. But I say, even if the cultural celebrations don’t exhibit or promote Christian themes, Christians are still free to participate in them as fellow human beings with their neighbors as a part of life in this world. We shouldn’t feel it necessary to baptize everything we do as “Christian” — even Christmas!
  • Secondly, we should distinguish between what churches as gathered communities of believers do and what individuals do in personal practice as they live among their neighbors and in their communities.

I would follow Scot’s counsel to leave Dickens (and other cultural additions of Christmas) out of the church as much as possible. When the church gathers, it should be all about the Story, and our practices, preaching, and programs should focus on that. Whatever we do should distract as little as possible from the message as Scot outlined it. Christians should not expect their churches to provide a “Dickens Christmas” atmosphere for them. And in terms of outreach, I don’t think churches should expend huge amounts of resources to imitate our culture’s rituals in order to attract people and then throw Jesus in for good measure. Be the church. Focus on the Story. Follow the liturgical year, proclaim the Word, serve the Sacraments, reenact the drama of redemption in worship and teach the biblical narrative. When you gather, let the Messianic hope shape your Christmas.

But then, churches, set your people free to go home and live among their neighbors. Don’t try to control them with a lot of rules about the hows and whys of participating in the cultural celebration of the holidays. Let the Holy Spirit guide them. If they want to play Santa with their children, don’t look down on them. If they want to use the season as their time to give extravagant gifts to one another, don’t criticize. Feasting? Alcohol? Office parties? Silly Christmas songs and movies or over-the-top decorations? Special fund-raising drives for the poor? Rich desserts and hot toddies? Let them “Dickens” up (or “Santa” up, etc.) Christmas as much as they want to.

In my opinion, these issues are adiaphora — I’m not concerned with “making them Christian” or “finding the Christianity” in them. This is mostly about people enjoying life through participating in cultural celebrations, just like some people are sports fans and others take up any number of avocations and recreational pursuits. Even though these cultural practices coincide with a Christian holy day, we don’t have to agonize about making sure they’re “Christian” or faithful to the Story to enjoy them.

If churches have taught people the Story deeply and faithfully encouraged them to be people of faith, hope, and love, and if their pastors have walked with them and have given them spiritual direction about loving God and loving their neighbors, we need not think we must direct the details of their lives. Immerse them in the Story, but don’t insist that there is one specific “Christian” way to think about or do all of this.

I’m thinking that some of the things Michael Spencer wrote about Halloween practices in America could be said equally about Christmas — basically: lighten up, love Jesus, and enjoy as you wish.


  1. Never do I feel more out of place than at this time of year. If I can get by the rest of the year pretending to be “just a Christian, like the rest of you guys”, Orthodox Advent rubs my nose in the particularity of my communion.

    We are fasting, although the fast is not rigorous. We are allowed fish and wine on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but all the festivities and Burl Ives-ery catch me like a clip to the chin. Then it all disappears on Dec. 26th. For the Orthodox, the feasting comes AFTER the Nativity, with a whole host of fun times that lead up to little Pascha of Great and Holy Theophany.

    I heard once on NPR another crusty old reactionary [I think it was Buckley, but it may have been George Will] say that December is the “oldest” time of the year. The cultural survivals that have accrued around the celebration of the birth of Christ and a Christmas well-celebrated are older than any other stratum in our culture, except maybe nursery rhymes. What he was saying is that Christmas is about all we have left of Christendom, and I would hate to see it strangled because of a misbegotten desire to see a “pure” Christmas celebrated.

    You put your finger on it, Chaplain. It’s iconoclasm, pure and simple.

  2. David Cornwell says

    Chaplain Mike, you’ve been able to bring some clarity to these important issues. Marge and I have been discussing these very same things several days. And they are discussions that go on annually almost as far back as I can remember.

    This is a year that the call to “”lighten up, love Jesus, and enjoy as you wish.”” is very relevant in many ways. Thanks for your respectful consideration of various views and the synthesis you bring to them.

  3. Marcus Johnson says

    If McKnight is looking for some more support, maybe he can acknowledge A Christmas Carol, which features a substantially deeper message regarding class and socioeconomic privilege than what McKnight implies by the term “Dickens Christmas.” Even in the comments to the article, he admits to basically taking the label “Dickens” and attaching it to his own definition of a superficial, cosmetic cultural phenomenon. Not cool, especially for those of us who, you know, have read a Dickens novel at any point in our lives.

    • Yes, I think he is using it in a general way to describe the overall Victorian-style celebration which has come to dominate our thinking about Christmas: good cheer, family gatherings, “goodwill toward men” in the sense of general kindness and beneficence, with all the symbols that go along with that.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    But then, churches, set your people free to go home and live among their neighbors. Don’t try to control them with a lot of rules about the hows and whys of participating in the cultural celebration of the holidays.

    i.e. Don’t Witness for Jehovah(TM).

  5. That Other Jean says

    This is, it seems to me, another case of Both/And, not Either/Or. Surely there is room in our brains and our lives for both particular worship and generalized beneficence. What we ought to be trying to avoid is turning the season into a generalized consumer-fest of money and greed and things, forgetting both Christ and our neighbors.

  6. The “true meaning” of Christmas? Really? It’s astonishing the way some Christians go on and on about cultural appropriation. And utterly clueless. If there was ever a “manufactured” celebration it has to be Christmas. Right from the beginning. If there ever was a beginning. The Winter Solstice perhaps?

    The truth is that Christmas has become a largely secular hoiiday whose sacrament is the sale and whose blessing is “transaction completed”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The “true meaning” of Christmas? Really? It’s astonishing the way some Christians go on and on about cultural appropriation. And utterly clueless.

      Well, the annual all-hands panic mobilization against The Devil’s Holiday(TM) ended November 1; you have to do something to keep the proles stirred up and mobilized, hence the War on Christmas(TM) from November 1 to December 25.

  7. What? No Trolle today?

    The Church today is so enmeshed in culture and cultural practices that the apostles would have a hard time recognizing it if they were transported to this time. In the same way, most Christians, is transported to Palestine in the early first century, would walk right by Jesus and not recognize Him for who He is/was.

    So lets put away arguments about “true” celebration and just proceed with the light we have…

  8. Adiaphora. That would sum up the whole message for me this morning in one word. For those of you who don’t know Greek, it means tiresome stuff that some folks insist is of earth-shaking importance and eternal consequence. One of the few faddish Greek words I find useful. It can also be translated as “Give me a break.”

    Did Jesus get all bent out of shape if the Apostles forgot his birthday? Did he celebrate it or even remember it himself? I’m scouring the memory banks for mentions of birthday celebrations in the Bible. Let’s see, wasn’t that how Job lost all his children in one feel swoop? Wasn’t that how Baptist John lost his head? What else, help me out here.

    In the little church I have been attending, there are six candles lit on what they call the “altar” and I would call the table. Off to the side is one much bigger solitary candle, which is called “the Christ candle”. I’m usually the one lighting these candles and putting them out because no one signs up to do it. For Advent the drill is that the Christ candle doesn’t get lit, but there are four candles around it which get lit progressively as the season advances.

    I come to church desperate for the light of that Christ candle. It helps keep me alive and able to get out of bed in the morning and deal with another day. This is the hardest time of the year for me. Each day is shorter and each night longer. If this continued without end, we would all die along with the whole world. I don’t need a vital light withheld in order to make me aware of what life would be like without it. I am painfully aware of this and don’t need some stupid Sunday School story to remind me. What I need is the Christ candle alive and proclaiming I will NEVER leave you, NEVER forsake you.

    My three dollar string of lights is on over my doggie porch door. I am listening to seven instrumental Christmas songs that are recorded at a non-standard tuning pitch designed to uplift and strengthen the spirit. I am wearing my Feel Bright Light visor designed to counter the symptoms of Seasonally Affective Disorder, a name that is kind of depressing in itself. These are all technological solutions to a universal and recurring problem. They work a lot better for me than either the desperate “Sale Extended!” or desperate “True Meaning of Christmas” harangues, neither of which seems to be working very well any more.

  9. Clay Crouch says

    Bah, humbug! It appears that McKnight is conflating Advent and Christmas. Christmas is a celebration. You know, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men, and all that.

  10. the journey through Advent . . . the liturgy including the verses of Scripture begin ‘The Story’ . . . and we are led to Christmas Eve . . . beautiful!

    I don’t know how it can be that those without an Advent season can experience Christmas the same way . . . as always, I am left with a sense of ‘for them, I want more . . . they are missing something really meaningful TO THEM’

  11. I’m all for pointing to Jesus—but yeah, celebrate Christmas as you want.

    However I’m dead set against people straight-up lying to their kids about Santa Claus. Go ahead and tell the stories, have the kids sit on his lap, watch the movies, and all that. But when deception becomes part of the fun—which “Christmas magic” is purported to be real, just the same as when phony psychics claim their magic is real—we have a serious disagreement. Jesus is the truth, and untruth has no place in Christendom.

    • When our kids began to ask if Santa was real, I always answered by telling them the story of the kindly Christian bishop Nicholas and how he gave many gifts to poor people because he loved Jesus. The kids pretty much made the connection all on their own. No need to lie, and a great opportunity to connect them to the Christians of other times and places.


  12. For some people, Advent has been replaced with shopping season. For others, the whole of December is “Christmas” – the tree and lights go up the weekend after Thanksgiving, and come down on December 26, when “Christmas is over.” There is no anticipation – only more of the same instant gratification focused on things. Very few people know to what the song about the Twelve Days of Christmas refers.

    When I was a child, used to buy cheap paperbacks of all sorts from Scholastic Books. One of them was “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.” Even growing up Catholic, reading about the family’s holy-day celebrations and how integrated the Church practices and Austrian customs were in their everyday lives was a revelation to the 11-year-old me. Everything was centered on Jesus, even the things we would call “fun” – no somberness at all, but rather a mix of quiet joy and spirited brightness. I found much the same thing when I visited my family in Italy for Christmas, even with the world situation in the mid-1970s, including threats of terrorism in Europe.

    My problem is not with any supposed “Dickensian” holiday, either playing to its Christian roots or avoiding it. What makes me very sad is that so many professing Christians, while rejecting any sort of “traditions of men” have bought in to the commercialism of the “holiday season” so completely , even while making a fuss over coffee cups or greetings by salespeople – the irony totally escapes them. Other than possibly borrowing the Dickensian thing by virtue of our country’s connection to England, they have no deep Church or cultural practices and customs (yes, that 4-letter word, the harbinger of all evil: “traditions”) to draw them into the brightness of the meaning of the season that ***begins*** on December 25.

    It might be time to pull out this link again:

    Also, in an article in “Touchstone” in December 2003, William J. Tighe writes: “But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals. Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun”, instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ is a myth without historical substance. The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.”

    Just a few thoughts, probably worth no more than two cents.


  13. Randy Thompson says

    Actually, going even further back in Western history, way before Dickens and the Victorians, Christmas had more in common with Halloween at Key West, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or New Years Eve in Times Square. WIthout going into detail here, let’s just say it was a pretty wild time. If a group of “wassailers” showed up at your door in late December, it wasn’t to sing Christmas carols. In other words, hide the silver.

    Dickens’ Christmas, as has been noted here, reflects a celebration that has been purified of much of the drunkenness and debauchery that were associated with this festival in earlier centuries. Remember, the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas, and they were not without reason. A 16th century Anglican Bishop, Richard Latimer, described the season as follows: “Men dishonour Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas than in all the twelve months besides.”

    And then, there’s the Krampus, and other odd, semi-demonic figures that showed up all over Europe this time of year. If Santa determines who’s “naughty and nice,” then the Krampus shows up to deal with the naughties. (I noticed that one of the “Christmas movies” this December features Krampus, introducing a whole new genre in cinema, “Christmas Horror.”)

    All in all, Dickens portrayal of Christmas reflects a deep, Christianization of a holiday that was nourished by both Christian and old time pagan sources and was very much a mixed bag in terms of its influence.

    Christ is born. If people want to bring trees indoors and decorate them, roast geese, sing carols, put up gaudy (even tasteless) electronic decorations, and indulge lunatic fantasies about red-nosed reindeer and frosty snowmen, then great! Go for it! Have fun!

    My wife and I just became grandparents for the first time. (Her name is Audrey, by the way.) When a baby is born, no one goes more nuts about it than the grandparents. The birth of Christ should be celebrated as though we are all grandparents of the Baby Jesus. Go nuts!

    I, for one, will thoroughly enjoy every bit of tinsel, glitter, and fruitcake I come across. I will marvel at large, lit-up and inflated snowmen, santa’s, and reindeer. I will remember with fondness late December at Rockefeller Center, and the decorated windows of Sak’s5th Avenue. I will gorge on Christmas cookies and drink eggnog (preferably with rum in it). I will put too many ornaments on too large a tree. I will put up too many lights outdoors.

    And, through it all, I will remember why I’m doing it.

    • Christiane says

      you can’t put up too many lights, RANDY . . . it’s a dark world out there . . . I’m into lighting candles around the house . . . more, the merrier . . . so peaceful

      • Randy Thompson says

        Thanks, Christiane. I forgot about candles. May there be so many of them that they become a fire hazard. . .

  14. Wonderful and wise words, Mike. I think the distinction you make between the gathered church and individual Christians is very helpful. I don’t think I’d feel very happy about a church program featuring Santa. But I wouldn’t mind at all watching a school recital or a cheesy movie in which he appeared.

  15. We are Catholic. Someone at church was selling these creche magnets for the car that said keep Christ in Christmas so my wife bought two of them. She thought it was a great sentiment and that we should put them on our cars. It is a great sentiment. My only problem with putting it on my car was that I felt as though I was becoming associated with the giant, right wing, fundamentalist, conspiracy to keep Christ in Christmas. I don’t want to be associated with that vociferousness. I’m not part of that conspiracy, that effort, that undertaking. Christ is Christmas and Easter in my house with no work at all. If some wish to influence the culture at large I don’t begrudge them the effort. I’m just not sure that it doesn’t come across as saying Christ is in my Christmas so he should be in yours to those who have no intention of adding him. Perhaps that is the nature of all evangelism but I don’t feel the compulsion to get involved in this particular case. It just has too many associations with the culture wars that I am barely familiar with (only to know that this is part of it) and am not fighting. I’ll keep my evangelizing unaffiliated with Paul or Silas, so to speak.

    • Christiane says

      “My only problem with putting it on my car was that I felt as though I was becoming associated with the giant, right wing, fundamentalist, conspiracy to keep Christ in Christmas. I don’t want to be associated with that vociferousness.”

      Hi CHRIS S.
      I thought about your statement and it occurred that these ‘fundamentalists’ are very distant from a proper Church year celebration and are counting on the commercial affirmations of the season in place of celebrating a real Advent and Christmas holy day. Their frustration seems to expose their own lack of substance, rather than affirm their ‘respect’ for the season.

      I just don’t get how ‘fundamentalists’ are so huffy and insulted by so many things. It is outside of the Christian way of living to be ‘easily offended’ and it certainly isn’t classy or endearing to those not of the faith to see a whining fundamentalist perpetually upset about being insulted . . . it gets old. I can feel sympathy for them, no.

      • Christiane says

        correction: I can’t feel sympathy for them

      • Very astute observation about jumping yo the defense. Don’t mean to bash but I just don’t feel compelled to be a part of that defense. You might say this time of year is no so much about taking a stance as it is about bowing down in awe. Silent night, what child is this…not we will prevail. Seen from one perspective I’m sure you could say it’s caving to the world’s agenda and not standing up for the gospel but for me to jump on that bandwagon for the next month would be to miss the glad tidings of peace altogether.

  16. Stephen S. Mack says

    Lighten up, people! Go to church, obey the Commandments, help someone in your community who needs help and can never pay you back, and do so with a spirit of joy. Enjoy all of the sights and sounds of the season.. Tell a close family member you love them.

    Enjoy your own life, and love God.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

    Or, as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us, every one!”

    And let me know if you find a good fruitcake recipe.

    • Christiane says

      quick fruitcake recipe: use two boxes of cranberry nut bread . . . substitute orange juice for the liquid, add your choice of some additional extra chopped nuts and assorted candied or dried fruits . . . bake in a bundt pan and cool . . . remove from pan . . . gradually add a tiny bit of rum at a time for a day or so . . . or a week or so 🙂 OR make a rum sauce or a brandy sauce and pour over the top of the cake . . . SO good


  17. Most years over the last several, my wife and I have attended a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol by one local theater production company or another. It’s become a Holiday tradition for us. It’s a powerful tale of personal transformation, and it never fails to move me, because it makes me feel anew all the un-transformed aspects of myself, but also because it emphasizes the idea that it is by compassion, for others, yes, but also for oneself, that this transformation takes root within.

    I don’t view this story as entertainment only ; it’s far too powerful to be only that. Maybe that’s what makes some Christians uncomfortable with it: it is a powerful narrative of redemption in which Jesus is not at the center, and may appear to them to be in competition with the Christmas story. But I see it differently: wherever redemptive things come to pass in life or art, I believe that Jesus Christ is present. There is no competition, only complementarity, and I know that the name of redemption, no matter where or how it occurs, is Jesus.

    Anyway, this Saturday a theatrical adaptation of A Christmas Carol is being staged by a local theater company in the basement fellowship hall of the Lutheran church for which my wife works, and she was instrumental in arranging for it to take place. The parish counsel approved it, saying that it the message of the story is in harmony with the church’s mission. So, we’re transgressing CM’s newly promulgated rule about not doing this kind of thing in church, but I have to say, I’m very happy about it, and I’m looking forward to it. I know it will move me once again, and I know that it will do me good as well as entertain me.

  18. John Duffy says

    All I will say about the Christianity of Dickens’ Christmas is that Ebenezer Scrooge presents as powerful a picture of repentance as is to be found in extrabiblical literature. Given the centrality of repentance to the Christian faith, I’d say that Dickens’ Christmas is Christian indeed.

  19. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    Wait; what? Don’t you know you have to pick sides???!!!???

  20. Best fruitcake recipe: Nova Scotia Black Fruitcakfe. Recipe in Craig Claiborne ‘s book (old, his first may be). My Canadian husband was picky about fruitcake and this is fabulous, IMHO. Fun to make also, gets you into the season. Kind of a bellwether, Christmas is coming!

  21. Orwell’s essay on Dickens seems apropos:

    “Roughly speaking, his morality is the Christian morality, but in spite of his Anglican upbringing he was essentially a Bible-Christian, as he took care to make plain when writing his will. In any case he cannot properly be described as a religious man. He ‘believed’, undoubtedly, but religion in the devotional sense does not seem to have entered much into his thoughts. Where he is Christian is in his quasi-instinctive siding with the oppressed against the oppressors. As a matter of course he is on the side of the underdog, always and everywhere.”