Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society

Mar 25, 2018 by

by Shaun Rieley, The Imaginative Conservative:

In 1939, as the storm clouds of World War II were gathering in Europe, famed modernist-poet-turned-Anglo-Catholic, T.S. Eliot, penned an essay entitled “The Idea of a Christian Society,” in which he lays out a vision of a Christian society over and against the powerful totalitarian ideologies of communism and fascism. Eliot, however, is careful to say that he is less interested in producing anti-communist or anti-fascist arguments than he is in examining “the more profound differences between pagan and Christian society.” Still, for Eliot, only a society that recognizes God can have any means by which to resist—and indeed, any justification for resisting—the worst excesses of paganism. As he famously declares: “If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.”

Today, the Stalin and Hitler regimes are now long since relegated to the dustbin of history, but the conflict between neo-paganism and Christianity continues in the West. Indeed, in the seventy-seven years since Eliot’s essay was written, the conflict has greatly intensified, and Christianity once again finds itself in retreat, though this time from a very different adversary. Rather than totalitarian ideologies of the communist or fascist sort—“comprehensive doctrines,” in Rawlsian terms, complete with their own internal systems of truth—Christianity is now faced with a new ideology whose overarching ethic consists in what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” The primary behavioral expectation of this dictatorship is “non-judgmentalism”: that is, refusing to pass judgment on the lifestyle choices of others.

It is this paradigm that R.R. Reno, editor of the influential journal First Things and former theology professor, seeks to challenge in his new book Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society. A clear allusion to Eliot’s earlier work, Dr. Reno seeks to revisit and update Eliot’s conception, though in a less abstract manner.

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