T. S. Eliot, in an essay entitled Religion and Literature notes that “the author of a work of imagination is trying to affect us wholly, as human beings…. and we are affected by it, whether we intend to be or not.” He continues to say that most of the reading material written by contemporary authors that we come in contact with today is written by people who have no belief in the supernatural. He states that benefit can be found in reading such literature as long as we recognize the vast gulf that exists between our Christian frame of reference and that of the contemporary authors.
But how conscious are we of this gulf as we live in our post modernist, post Christian culture? Through the mass media and the printed word we are constantly bombarded, as Eliot says, by writers who “are really all working together in the same direction.” And for the most part, this direction is not towards God. Unless we are acutely aware of the tension between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews, we are in danger of being sucked in by the prevailing culture that surrounds us.
How do we solve this dilemma? Totally avoiding the culture is not the answer. Eliot suggests that as Christians we must know both how we really feel about things and understand our own shortcomings. He says we have “the duty of maintaining consciously certain standards and criteria of criticism over and above those applied by the rest of the world; and that by these criteria and standards everything that we read must be tested.” We can’t take a passive approach to this, or we will be negatively affected. We must actively engage our minds, reflecting upon and evaluating all that our culture brings to us with our core beliefs. Too often we take a lackadaisical attitude towards our faith. We don’t see it as something that we should work at to make it sharper. We don’t, as Eliot states, maintain higher standards than the rest of the world. Therefore we fall under the same indictment as ancient Israel, for as God says “For lack of knowledge the people perish” (Hosea 4:6). Without the ability to test the things we read and see and hear we will be adversely affected by them.
Eliot’s comments also touch on the question of worldviews. Are the standards by which we evaluate things based upon a Christian worldview? Our worldview dramatically impacts how we view everything with which we come into contact. For instance, a Christian worldview makes room for the supernatural, while a materialistic worldview totally rejects even the possibility of the supernatural. Throughout our lives we are constantly developing and refining our worldview. It becomes so ingrained in the core of our being that we don’t even realize how much it is affecting everything in our lives. It affects how we view the world, our relationships with others and our relationship with God.
There is no question but what we are immersed in the world in which we live. We are constantly bombarded by the media, entertainment, the global economy, politics etc. All of these industries are attempting to grab our attention and gain our allegiance. The extent to which they succeed depends largely on how we interact with the beliefs behind their statements. This leads to two questions. What standards and criteria have I developed in my life? How effectively am I using them to evaluate everything I see and hear and read as I intersect with the culture in which I am immersed?