Charles Dickens and Institutional Religion

Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago this year (2012).  While the man was deeply religious and was not a fan of institutional religion.  According to Peggy Fletcher Stack writing for the sltrib:

Dickens, a member of the Church of England (Anglican), believed deeply in Jesus as savior and in his moral teachings, but many of the novelist’s most avowedly Christian characters represent the worst in religion:  greed, hypocrisy, indifference to human suffering, arrogance, self-righteousness and theological bullying.

“He was more interested in the general spirit than the specific letter of the faith,” said Brian McCuskey, who teaches English at Utah State University.  “Holding broad, loose beliefs, he had little patience for either institutional or evangelical Christianity.”

To Dickens, says Barry Weller, a professor of English at the University of Utah who specializes in 19th- and 20th-century British literature, “any sectarian commitment got in the way of essential Christianity.”

It was Christian zealots’ attitude toward the poor that bothered Dickens the most.

“What we find again and again in [his] novels is that [these Christians] want to do charity in a wholesale rather than an individual way,” Weller says.  “They are not sensative to the needs of the individual families and their situations.  Instead of giving them what they need, they hand out a bunch of [religious] pamphlets.  When they visit the poor as representatives of a religion, they seem more eager to impress [on the needy] a certain doctrine than try to help them.”

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