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    Birth Control as an Idea: Margaret Sanger Meets Charles Dickens

    December 11, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    We {my oldest and I} are having a grand time reading through Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the first time. We are reading a few pages each day, just enough to give us something to chew on for the day.

    I was shocked to see a 19th-century refutation of Margaret Sanger’s philosophy nestled in its innocent pages. Given that it precedes Sanger by almost a century, I can only conclude that no idea is really new, not even if it more effectively imposes itself on one generation than another.

    If you are not rich and have more than the allotted 2.1 children {and a dog}, there is a good chance that someone has insinuated to you that you should not have done so because you cannot afford it. This concept, that children are a luxury reserved for the rich, is an extension of Margaret Sanger’s ideas, which is to say that birth control and abortion {which is the ultimate form of birth control} were both intended as a form of negative eugenics used to eliminate the poor, minority races, and also what Sanger called the “feeble-minded” which even included epileptics. This was a form of Social Darwinism, where Sanger aimed to eliminate certain genes from being passed on, certain families from continuing their lineage.

    Sanger even discouraged gratis maternity care for needy women because she believed their unborn children did not deserve to survive, or that such benevolence would encourage them to continue procreating in the future. These women, Sanger reasoned, should be discouraged from having children to the point that we did not offer them charity, even when they were already pregnant.

    In her work, The Pivot of Civilization, Sanger wrote:

    Eugenics seems to me to be valuable in its critical and diagnostic aspects, in emphasizing the danger of irresponsible and uncontrolled fertility of the “unfit” and the feeble-minded…

    This is the viewpoint of none other than Mr. Scrooge himself who, when confronted by two men gathering alms for the poor on Christmas Eve, replies concerning the poor: “If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.” Later, during his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge’s heart is beginning to soften. He expresses concern for Tiny Tim, the youngest child of an extremely poor Cratchitt family who has been bountifully blessed with numerous children. When he worries aloud about Tiny Tim’s future health, the Ghost rebukes him with his own words, asking Scrooge why he would be concerned for, “if he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

    Scrooge’s response to this correction was a Christian one:

    Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

    This wintry day, it is worth pondering the teaching of Christmas Present:

    “Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

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    2 Comments

  • Reply Brandy December 15, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Willa, This is my first time reading A Christmas Carol, and I already have such an appreciation for it. It is such a simple tale, and yet so much is revealed beyond the surface–the inhumanity of a miser and what it means to become human again. I haven’t reached the end yet, but I cannot help but think that there is significance that Scrooge is redeemed on Christmas, a day that offers redemption to us all…

    On a lighter note, I, too, envy the ladies with lidded pans. They always seem so neat and tidy. 🙂

  • Reply Willa December 13, 2008 at 2:21 am

    This is fascinating, especially as I planned to start reading A Christmas Carol to my 12 year old next week. I loved your grown-up Christmas list too. I really covet those pyrex baking pans with lids when I see them at church hospitality gatherings.

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