Ladies, gentleman and children of the Christmas jury, on this date, Dec. 25, 2007, two villainous defendants are presented before you for judgment.
Defendant 1: Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge of London — a ‘‘squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire . . .’’
Defendant 2: The Grinch from the mountainous environs above Who-ville, whose story — 50 years old this year — recounts multiple crimes entered into evidence — breaking and entering, burglary, robbery, animal cruelty to a dog named Max and impersonation of St. Nick. All committed in a wanton attempt, by his own admission, ‘‘to stop Christmas from coming!’’?
But who, in your judgment, is truly the meanest Christmas character of all? And why?
To be sure, the stories of Scrooge and the Grinch share much in common — bitter cold heartedness melted by the warmth of Christmas.
But is miserly Scrooge truly the meanest? Legally, he committed no overt crime but rather adopted a life long, cold-blooded and hard-hearted disdain of mankind.
‘‘If they would rather die,’’ he said in denying help to those in need, ‘‘they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.’’
To him, Christmas was a ‘‘humbug!’’ But as his nephew, Fred, testified to his friends, ‘‘I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself, always.’’
Or perhaps the meaner is the Grinch, who deceived innocent Cindy Lou Who as Santy Claus and, in the very first household he entered, stole: ‘‘Pop guns! And bicycle. Roller Skates?! Drums! ‘‘Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums! ‘‘And he stuffed them in bags. Then the Grinch, very nimbly, ‘‘Stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimbly!’’
Once you have judged, you have one more task — to determine whose subsequent redemption is greater.
The Grinch, by understanding that Christmas spirit could not be stolen, found that his small heart grew three sizes. He returned everything he’d taken, sat at the Who feast and carved the roast beast.
Scrooge, transformed by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future and haunted by the vision of his own death, helped Tiny Tim and more.
‘‘He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world,’’ as Charles Dickens wrote.
We asked these same questions to various others — a boxer, a therapist, a cop, theologian and judges — all experts on matters of toughness, tenderness, crime and clemency.
Here are their opinions:Hear their opinions and then tell us what you think. Ernest Johnson, Wyandotte County, Kan., District Court judge.
The worst offender: ‘‘I think Scrooge was the greater offender because he had power and abused it. He had power over people and abused the people and abused his power. I consider the way he treated people to be offenses against humanity, even if they are not illegal. Scrooge, as well as having been a jerk, was also an unscrupulous lender. He also treated his employees bad.’’
Greater redemption: ‘‘Scrooge. My own reading of the Scrooge story was that, whatever the psychological vehicle was that generated his dreams, it was a self-redemption. It was internal and real.’’
The Rev. Angela Sims, theologian, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Mo. The worst offender: ‘‘I would have to go with Scrooge. One would have to ask, ‘Can one (the Grinch) really steal Christmas? Is the person really seeking to take something, or is it an internal struggle? I’m saying the Grinch was really trying to find self."
‘‘Given that, I see Scrooge being a little meaner. Scrooge has a little bit more personal information about those with whom he was interacting. He knew them.
‘‘In my context, what are the theological and ethical implications of one’s actions? There is the whole notion of community, the impact on family structure, the economic impact, of who can and cannot participate in what one perceives to be the common good. His actions were guided by self-centeredness, selfishness, egotism, hubris, but taken to an extreme level. It’s the level of how much harm is done.
‘‘Because of his resources, he could make their lives good or bad. Scrooge had an amazing ability to do good. He actively chose not to. I don’t think the Grinch had as much impact as Scrooge.’’
Greater redemption: ‘‘I would probably stay with Scrooge. He may have been guided somewhat by self-interest, but in the end, Scrooge recognized how he could use the privilege given to him. He could be an agent of transformation. The reason may not matter much.’’
Sgt. Mike Foster, supervisor violent crimes and robbery unit, Kansas City, Mo., Police Department.
The worst offender: ‘‘I would go with the Grinch because he went into town and broke into houses and stole everybody’s stuff. Scrooge is just a mean person who doesn’t happen to care. He’s not going to help you, but the Grinch went out of his way to ruin everyone’s Christmas.’’
Greater redemption: ‘‘That’s a tough one. The Grinch, still, because he realizes what the spirit of Christmas means and went out of his way to help. The Grinch turned good on his own. But Scrooge had to do it because he sees his own life in front of him.’’
Desmond Jenkins, middle weight boxer, Kansas City, Mo.
The worst offender: ‘‘The Grinch is just a thief. But Scrooge was cold-blooded. The Grinch stayed up in that mountain by himself with his dog. He doesn’t have it to give. Scrooge saw those people every day. He was probably the richest man in that town and wouldn’t part with a penny. Scrooge really didn’t do bad, but he was just a mean, cold-blooded person. He was that way all the time — humbug, didn’t like Christmas, just keeping his money to himself. I can’t say the Grinch is better, but he gave the stuff back. Scrooge didn’t steal nothing, but he had it to give and never gave anything.’’
Greater redemption: ‘‘The Grinch. He didn’t have to give anything back. He could have taken all that stuff and kept it. He gave it back and still doesn’t have nothing. But Scrooge, he could have given it in the first place. Scrooge had a nice redemption, bought a turkey for Tiny Tim and all. But it’s not big enough redemption for me. Any good man, with wealth like that, should help a poor family out at Christmas.’’
Vicki Cederburg, therapist, the Family Conservancy, Kansas City, Mo.
The worst offender: ‘‘Scrooge is probably the more desperate of the two. He was so incredibly oblivious to the human need around him. Even if he happened to notice it, it wasn’t something that intruded on his world. He was just able to bypass it and not notice that people were hurting. I think it’s a sin if you notice need and don’t pay attention to it, whether that is financial resources or giving of your time. The impression I always had of the Grinch is that he was tormented as a child. Unfortunately, now, I’m flashing on the Jim Carrey movie.’’
Greater redemption: ‘‘Scrooge. The dreams that Scrooge had redeemed him. They were all connected to him, about what his future would have been like if he didn’t get his act together. It was self-centered, self-focused stuff. It wasn’t, ‘‘Have compassion because people have needs.’’ He was going to die without anyone caring for him. But people get redeemed for different reasons. What matters is if you’re redeemed. Whatever happened to him, certainly at the end, he was recognizing the world in a different way. Hopefully he carried that forward.’’
Brian Wimes, Jackson County Court Judge, Kansas City.
The worst offender: ‘‘I’d have to go with Ebenezer Scrooge. Ebenezer is just more profound in his disdain. He had disdain for the poor and the unfortunate. It was global. It was year-round. I get a different sense of the Grinch. He didn’t hate everything. He just hated Christmas. He’d go down and try to spoil it for the sake of spoiling it.’’
Greater redemption: ‘‘Scrooge. I think it’s one of self-interest, but doesn’t that beg the question? What’s the end result? He’s a better person.’’