Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Eliot is primarily concerned with how the average Christian can best live out his daily life in community, and so he turns to the secondary question of what type of society will make the life of virtue the easiest to live. Augustine’s concept of the Christian citizen’s dual and sometimes conflicting allegiance to the city of God and the city of man is here fleshed out in the context of the industrialized democracy. What if a society’s values, stemming from a desire for profit, have become so antithetical to Christian values that it puts an undue strain on the ordinary Christian’s ability to live a good life? Eliot observes that “to be conscious, without remission, of a Christian and a non-Christian alternative at moments of choice, imposes a very great strain.” Even basic daily decisions become moments of moral crisis when the way of life of a nation is in conflict with the way of life of the Christian, and this, for the average man, is a burden too great to carry.

In a highly industrialized nation, a philosophy of materialism, which is utterly at odds with a Christian philosophy of life, flourishes. The effect of unrestricted industrialism on a people is to make them “detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob.” The life of the citizen is interwoven with the systems and institutions that make up his nation, so that when they begin to reflect non-Christian principles, the citizen is, by his very citizenship, implicated in them. For this reason Eliot argues that a complete separation of church and state is undesirable; the church must have influence in the private and public spheres. Temporal affairs will not remain neutral but will tend toward increasing secularization, with the effect that it is harder and harder for the Christian to live a sanctified life in his political community and to reach beatitude in the Community of Saints.

Eliot offers a warning for Western society as a whole and for its individual Christian citizens against passivity and excessive tolerance: By doing nothing, we make a choice. By allowing Western democracy to be guided by nothing more than the principles of inclusiveness, toleration, and private profit, we create a vacuum that may be filled by positive principles that are in conflict with Christianity.