In the wake of Christmas and in anticipation of the new year, charitable organizations are asking us for donations. In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens included a brief, horrifying tableau that should give us pause as we consider where to place our money to do good.
Ebenezer Scrooge is about to be left by the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge spots a small foot protruding from the giant’s robe, and what happens next sticks in the mind:
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility.
Scrooge started back, appalled. “Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
Many fine organizations focus upon Want. And the Bible makes it clear that we are always to care for the needs of the poor, the immigrant, the family-less, and the otherwise vulnerable.
I, however, work for two organizations that focus upon Ignorance: a Christian school of higher education, Crandall University, and a Christian public-affairs program, “Context.” And Dickens’s warning bears a second look:
“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Want can be directly addressed and alleviated. But ignorance must be encountered, enchanted, and converted—not merely informed. What we do in Christian schools and in thoughtful Christian media is far more difficult than finding a need and filling it. We have to persuade, daily, audiences that are not always hungering for what we can give them. We need to change minds, not just inform them, so that whole ways of life will be altered for the better.
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