The Idea of a Christian Society Summary

T. S. Eliot


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In 1928, T. S. Eliot defined himself as “Classical in literature, royalist in politics, anglo-catholic in religion.” After his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927, the satirical poet of The Waste Land (1922) became the devotional poet of Four Quartets (1943). Likewise, Eliot’s social criticism was boldly guided by his faith, addressing the problems of an increasingly secular Western culture.

Eliot wrote The Idea of a Christian Society in the pre-World War II political climate of Europe in the 1930’s, under the shadow of fascism and communism. Facing the very real threat of domination by a totalitarian, pagan regime, Eliot argued that democratic societies in the West were now “neutral,” that is, not running on any positive principles but merely the principle of “Liberalism,” which tolerates all ideas and has no “positive” culture of its own. In fact, liberalism produces a “negative” culture, moving away from anything definite in its inclusiveness. However, a society that is neutral or negative will not remain so. It may dissolve further and further into chaos, but more likely, it will reform into a positive pagan culture. If the idea of a thoroughly secularized culture is unappealing, the only alternative left is the formation of a positive Christian Society.

This Christian Society would be composed of three elements: a “Christian State,” a “Christian Community,” and a “Community of Christians.” The Christian State would govern legislation and public administration. All the citizens of the Christian State would constitute the Christian Community, those who are mostly unconsciously living according to the norms of Christian behavior. Within the larger Christian Community there would exist a small group of people who are consciously practicing Christians, the Community of Christians, those with exceptional spiritual and intellectual gifts.

Eliot stresses that for the majority of citizens in a Christian Society, religion would be “a matter of behaviour and habit.” Thus, Christian principles would guide and direct the lives of all citizens, regardless of their personal faith, and a small group of citizens, because of their personal...

(The entire section is 909 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Donoghue, Denis. Words Alone. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. The tenth chapter of this biography discusses Eliot’s preoccupation with how the Christian vision of life could be presented and advanced.

Frohnen, Bruce. “T. S. Eliot on the Necessity of Christian Culture.” Witherspoon Lecture, Family Research Council. This lecture places Eliot’s views in the context of the Western tradition and applies them to the secularization of American culture.

Kirk, Russell. Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century. Peru, Ill.: Sherwood Sugden, 1988. The seventh chapter places the essay in the historical context of the imminent World War II and provides an insightful summary of its ideas.

Yancey, Philip. “T. S. Eliot’s Christian Society: Still Relevant Today?” The Christian Century, November 19, 1986, 1031. This article argues that while Eliot correctly diagnosed the ills of modern society, his solution of a Christian Society may not be the best for living out the Christian life.