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T.S. Eliot On The Post-Christian Society

T.S. Eliot, from his The Idea Of A Christian Society,excerpted on Mars Hill Audio Journal’s blog:

The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. This notion would seem to have become accepted gradually, as a false inference from the subdivision of English Christianity into sects, and the happy results of universal toleration. The reason why members of different communions have been able to rub along together is that in the greater part of the ordinary business of life they have shared the same assumptions about behaviour. . . . The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma — and he is in the majority — he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. Anything like Christian traditions transmitted from generation to generation within the family must disappear, and the small body of Christians will consist entirely of adult recruits. . . .

What is often assumed, and it is a principle that I wish to oppose, is the principle of live-and-let-live. It is assumed that if the State leaves the Church alone, and to some extent protects it from molestation, then the Church has no right to interfere with the organization of society, or with the conduct of those who deny its beliefs. It is assumed that any such interference would be the oppression of the majority by a minority. Christians must take a very different view of their duty. But before suggesting how the Church should interfere with the World, we must try to answer the question, why should it interfere with the World?

Read the whole excerpt, in which Eliot answers his question.

I wonder what Eliot, who wrote this nearly 75 years ago, would think of the Benedict Option? It has never been for me about running away from the world and living in a compound among the elect. Rather, it has been about the idea that Christians must mount in some sense — not necessarily a literal, geographical one — a limited strategic withdrawal from the world to protect the ability of the faith to survive from generation to generation through what is, from an orthodox Christian point of view, a dark age. Following the Benedict Option could be as simple as choosing homeschooling, or committing one’s family to a solid parish school community like St. Jerome’s.

Anybody in the readership familiar with Eliot’s book, and care to offer speculation on how Eliot would modify his view for the 21st century world?


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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