“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.
“I don’t.” said Scrooge.
“What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?”
“I don’t know,” said Scrooge.
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
I love this story. It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions to watch various versions of this – A Muppet Christmas Carol, Bill Murray’s Scrooged, and the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern’s Dickensian narration of A Christmas Carol. I went to that last one this week and it was during the piece of dialog above that it dawned on me. Scrooge was a skeptic! I leaned over and whispered thisÂ minor epiphany to my husband who responded “That’s what most people think of when they think of skeptics, I’ll bet.”
And that got me thinking some more. So Scrooge was a skeptic. He didn’t believe in ghosts, even when confronted with them, realizing that human senses could play tricks. But to say that all skeptics are, as Dickens describes old Ebenezer:
… a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
Oh no no no, my friends. Not so. You all probably know this already but I think it needs to be said. Calling all skeptics Scrooge is sort of an argument ad hominem. Or maybe a bad syllogism. Scrooge was a skeptic. Scrooge was mean and cold-hearted. Therefore, all skeptics are mean and cold-hearted. (Moreover, he stopped beinga big ol’ bastard when he stopped being a skeptic.)
I see very few Scrooges in the skeptical community.Â And it is a community. People debate whether it should be called a movement or a way of thinking or an activity, butÂ you can’tÂ denyÂ we’re a community. It’s comprised of some of the kindest, funniest, smartest and noblest people I’ve ever known. But we’re all skeptics.Â We need evidence.Â
Here are some of my favorite examples from the year gone by about what skeptics are and what we do:
We worry about our children and our future
When education is at risk around the country and around the world, skeptics are there to be the voice of reason. We worry when creationists are elected into state government, concerned that science programs everywhere will suffer.Â And we continue to be vigilant as school boards question teaching evolution time and time again.
We work to help our fellow man (and woman)
Skeptical groups around the world spend time, money and energy debunking the myths and publicising the truth about pseudoscience that will hurt people. Others try to demonstrate the dangers of pseudoscience through research and reason. Overall, we worry about strangers and friends alike, who can fall prey to misinformation and fraud.
We fight for human freedoms
When, in the midst of a world-changing election, basic human freedom was stripped away from homosexuals in California, Florida and Arkansas, the skeptical community spoke out and continues to speak out. We demonstrated, we posted and we podcasted in support of gay rights and we will continue to do so. Because freedom for only some means freedom for none. We get that.
We take care of each other
When our dear friend and all around cool skeptic Robert Lancaster suffered a stroke this year, we all did our best to support him. Some donated money, others donated time, others sent well wishes and messages of support in the hopes of a speedy recovery. Some of the people who supported him had never even met Robert, but knew him through the JREF forums or the work he did against Sylvia Browne.
When we found out his site URL had been taken over by squatters, folks on the JREF forum fell over themselves to remedy the problem.
We love to laugh, to socialize and to meet new people
Ohhh the parties. 2008 was quite the year for parties. One and a half Amaz!ng Meetingsplus an Amaz!ng Adventure to the Galapagos!Â Dragon*Con! Skepchicks in New York and California! Oh the people we met and the parties we threw. Plus, Skeptics in the Pub and Drinking Skeptically events have popped up all over the place. People are realizing that being a skeptic isn’t about staying home and eating gruel. Oh no, not when there’s beer to be drunk and friends to be made.
We celebrate Christmas in our own, uniqueÂ ways
Whether we’re believers or not, most of us find a way toÂ appreciate the spirit of the Christmas season. We shop, we give gifts, we think about our families, our friends and the people closest to us. We celebrate the traditions we want to, we laugh at folks who take the season too seriously and we try to live our lives with generosity, peace and goodwill.
So, my skeptical friends, if you do get called a Skeptical Scrooge this Christmas, I’d say people must be referring to the Scrooge at the end of the story:
Scrooge was better than his word…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.
Merry Christmas ya’ll! Have some ‘nog and eat a cookie. You deserve it.