Three Elements of a Christian Society

T.S. Eliot, writing of the nature of a “Christian society,” notes that we should make distinctions between the Christian State, the Christian Community, and the Community of Christians.:”(T.S. Eliot, “The Idea of a Christian Society,” in Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society AND Notes Toward the Definition of Culture [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1968], pg. 20.)”:

The Christian State is not a state in which all the rulers are Christians, for “A regime of Saints is apt to be too uncomfortable to last.” It is, rather, a State run by people who have had a thoroughgoing Christian education, and who can thus think in Christian categories. This in turn does not mean compelling belief or an insincere profession of belief. Rather, “What the rulers believed, would be less important than the beliefs to which they would be obliged to conform.” In this light, it might actually be better to have a “skeptical or indifferent” statesman than a devout Christian statesman, for the skeptic “would be required to design his policy for the government of a Christian society.”:”(Ibid., 22-23.)”:

Second, the Christian Community is the entity comprised of the great mass of citizens, who would not, as a rule, have to have much more than an ingrained faith resulting in “largely unconscious behavior”–i.e., Christian behavior not solidly grounded in conscious thought about Christianity. “For the great mass of humanity whose attention is occupied mostly by their direct relation to the soil, or the sea, or the machine, and to a small number of persons, pleasures and duties,” thoroughgoing Christian thinking is not necessary. Indeed, “as their [the masses] capacity for thinking about the objects of faith is small, their Christianity may be almost wholly realised in behaviour.” While they “should have some perception of how far their lives fall short of Christian ideals, their religious and social life should form for them a natural whole, so that the difficulty of behaving as Christians should not impose an intolerable strain.” :”(Ibid., 23.)”:

In our industrialized, mechanized, urbanized world, Eliot thinks (rightly, in my opinion) that it is very difficult to navigate frequent conflicts between what one’s faith dictates and what a daily social life to which religion is increasingly felt to be irrelevant. The mechanization of our Modern life encourages a number of anti-Christian modes of thought and life, not least of which is the marginalizing and dilution of religious impulses by their increasing confinement to the insides of men’s homes and churches. I think Eliot is correct to stipulate that in a Christian society “The mass of the population…should not be exposed to a way of life in which there is too sharp and frequent a conflict between what is easy for them or what their circumstances dictate and what is Christian.”:”(Ibid., 24.)”:

The realities of urban life have revealed, says Eliot, that “In its religious organisation Christendom has remained fixed at the stage of development suitable to a simple agricultural and piscatorial society, and that modern material organisation…has produced a world for which Christian social forms are imperfectly adapted. But since we can neither simply roll back the clock to a “simpler” form of life (the error of repristinators) nor engage in a wholesale adaptation of Christianity to Modernity, we face huge and often controversial questions about what a Christian society should look like and how to bring it about.:”(Ibid., 26-27.)”:

This leads to Eliot’s third distinction, the Community of Christians. “These will be the consciously and thoughtfully practising Christians, especially those of intellectual and spiritual superiority.” This group will be needed in a Christian society to counter the twin errors of the State’s tendency toward political expediency (especially if the leaders are not themselves Christians) and the tendency of the masses of people to lethargy and superstition.:”(Ibid., 28.)”: The Community of Christians would be made up of both clergy and laity of varying degrees of knowledge and skill, the aim being to provide plenty of room for intellectual fermentation and cultural advance.:”(Ibid., 29-30.)”:

This last group is especially necessary to check the gross tendency of the mechanized-industrialized world toward mass culture. Mass culture, organized as it is on the principle of profit, silently depresses standards of art and culture, and isolates true cultural creativity from its outlets: “the more serious authors have a limited, and even provincial audience, and the more popular write for an illiterate and uncritical mob.”:”(Ibid., 32.)”: More forcefully, “You cannot expect continuity and coherence in literature and the arts, unless you have a certain uniformity of culture, expressed in education by a settled, though not rigid agreement as to what everyone should know to some degree, and a positive distinction–however undemocratic it may sound–between the educated and the uneducated.”:”(Ibid., 33.)”:

Lastly, the Community of Christians is not an external organization, but “a body of indefinite outline.” Of it Eliot concludes, “It will be their identity of belief and aspiration, their background of a common culture, which will enable them to influence and be influenced by each other, and collectively to form the conscious mind and the conscience of the nation.”:”(Ibid., 34.)”:


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