We discount Scrooge’s sins too steeply if we make him merely stingy. Scrooge’s stinginess made him a bad neighbor and subject of the Crown.
This was his chief sin and the Ghost of Christmas Future reveals that the City is better off without him. His story is the reverse of that of George Bailey: it was a Horrible Life chiefly because his absence made the community better. Mostly, Dickens lays the blame on his “worldly mind.” Secularists need not become Scrooges, but all Scrooges are secularists. This is not because a Christian, Jew, or Muslim cannot be stingy, many are, but because their worldview cannot support their stinginess.
They engage in humbug, like Mr. Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit, a sin as grave as that of Scrooge, but different. The Pecksniff applauds the values of the community, even participates in them, but he breeds Scrooges sickened by his humbug. The difficulty is that Scrooge soon makes of every benevolent gentleman a Pecksniff and so misses the chance to do good.
Scrooge also lacks a basis for morality outside of himself. When he says “right” or “wrong,” he judges right and wrong by his own light and is hardened to the appeals of religion. Charity continues in a secular culture for a time, but common consensus or “education” are insufficient defenses against man’s selfishness. Even the claims of the Almighty do not stop Pecksniff from sin, so how much easier is it for a Scrooge to justify his selfishness as virtue.
Selfishness, often tricked out as love, is the great sin of Dickens stories. The selfish man may embrace his selfishness, like Scrooge, or hide it like Pecksniff, but selfishness is the root of much human misery. We see it when a man acts for his own interest, even his own loves, against the good of others or of the community. Dicken’s heroes, like Tom Pinch or Bob Cratchitt, sacrifice their own loves for the standards of the community and receive the reward of happiness.
A man might justify his past, people were mean to him, or ignore the immediate future, but the score will be tallied at the hour of his death. Well and good, perhaps, if the game ends at death, but Dickens did not believe it did and neither do most Americans. If there is Justice beyond, then one measure of a man’s life will be how he left his family, his community, his country.
The happiness of an individual counts for Dickens, but it counts as part of the cumulative happiness of the society. Dickens looks at secularism and finds it wanting in concern for the future . . . in all but the best of men (and such do exist) it devolves into “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Scrooge has fallen for another trap, more sophisticated, where the eating, drinking, and merry making are put off for tomorrow so that fear of want and powerless is removed.
What Scrooge has missed is happiness and making others happy and when he the ghosts, by their very existence, reveal to him that his materialism is false, then he is doomed.
Scrooge knows this in his heart, like all secularists he fears the Ghost of Christmas Future most of all.
Judgement comes with the sight of the grave, but it is not the finality of the grave that brings him to repentance, but the haunting knowledge that haunting comes. He will in the life to come have to purge his sins through ceaseless remorse and witnessing what he might have done: past, persent, and future.