The same T.S. Eliot who battered the traditional uses of poetry to a pulp in his own poetic masterwork The Wasteland, here directs his formidable intellect toward the problems presented by the juxtaposition of Christian and secular culture. Originally existing in the form of three lectures delivered at Cambridge University, these two essays have (justifiably) become the standard for much Christian thought on the subject. The first investigates the nature and appearance of an actual "Christian society,"while the second is an attempt to define culture in general.
While he isn't writing fiction, Eliot's first essay does require a certain suspension of disbelief. One of the necessary prerequisites to the establishment of a Christian society, he claims, is for Christianity to be taken seriously by Christians and secularists on both intellectual and practical levels. While such a utopian situation is greatly to be desired, it seems about as likely as Americans electing William Lane Craig to be President of the United States. But Eliot's claims on our credulity only increase—to be truly Christian, he suggests, a society must enjoy the unification of all its saints, as well as a national Church that avoids class inequalities and political corruption.
But these aren't just pointless fantasies. Though he admits to the unlikeliness of most of his ideas ever being implemented, Eliot's brilliant essay is designed to make us think about society and culture as Christians, and not simply accept those notions of them we've been fed by secularists and worldly Christians. His observations in the second essay are at once more practical and more theoretical: more practical in the sense that he suggests changes that can actually be accomplished, and more theoretical because he engages each topic on a more academic level.
Eliot was renowned even in his own day for his impressive intellect and academic background. Yet he never abandons his reader in a morass of jargon and complicated argument, instead guiding him carefully and logically with exquisite prose. That he is able to create a book that is at once deeply intellectual and an aesthetic masterwork is reason enough to pay heed to what he says—that he approaches the idea and problems of culture deeply rooted in biblical and Christian thought only increases the appeal.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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