Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of the most horrendous of fictional characters. Asked by two “pleasant,” “portly” gentlemen to donate to the poor, he refuses, saying that if they die it would decrease the “surplus population.” In short, he would rather see the poor die than release some of his money to help them.
But of course as we all know, Scrooge changes by the end of the book. Confronted with his own past and the realities around him, he becomes a beneficent and ebullient donor, a truly changed man. The things that seemed ridiculous to him in the past, helping those in need and being kind to family and friends, suddenly seem of prime importance to the new Scrooge.
But notice that Scrooge is never forced to change. None of the ghosts compel him to become virtuous. No government official comes and takes half of his money and gives it to the poor. Scrooge’s transformation is all about a voluntary change of heart. In this sense, his story is the most Christian story of all: he changes from CS Lewis’s tin soldier into a real man of flesh and bone, a person much more like the Savior himself.
Scrooge’s story would be completely meaningless if compulsion had been involved. We can imagine “Robin Hood” scenarios where “good” people come to take his money and give it away to the more deserving. But such scenarios seem ludicrous precisely because the point of the story is the beauty of Scrooge’s voluntary transformation. Christ does not want an unwilling, forced virtuousness: he wants us to come to Him because we are contrite and anxious to change.
We know compelled change is ludicrous because we rejected such a solution before. Modern-day revelation tells us that Satan offered us a chance to all be saved through the use of force. Instead, we all chose free agency, meaning we all accepted the very common sense notion that forcing us to be good does not change us in the long run. Scrooge forced to give his money to the poor would remain a miserable penny-pincher, resentful and filled with hate. Scrooge offered the chance to be good through persuasion becomes one of Christ’s disciples, a shining city on a hill showing the marvelous power of true Christian charity and love.
There is no true charity without free agency. People compelled to give are not charitable, in fact they are usually the opposite, unwilling, spiteful givers. There is no purity without free agency. People forced to be pure find ways to rebel against all that is good.
Joseph Smith showed us the way: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” (D&C 121:41–42).
People who would compel others to do something — no matter how good and necessary it may seem to them — must face this reality: compulsion is not part of the Gospel. Forcing people to do what you think is virtuous does not make you virtuous. Just the opposite: it makes you a tyrant.
“When we undertake to…exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” D&C 121:37–39
You may believe that your desire to force others to do what you think is virtuous is “righteous.” In reality, Joseph Smith has shown that “almost all men” begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Are you the exception to this rule?
There is an alternate course: give people freedom. Allow them to learn on their own. We do not want a world of resentful Scrooges. Instead we want a world of the truly charitable, filled with the love of Christ and the desire to go throughout the world helping others because they truly want to.