Friday, June 10, 2016

When T.S. Eliot Became a Christian

State Theatre, Ann Arbor

On June 29, 1927, the brilliant T.S. Eliot converted from Unitarianism to Anglicanism. Some of his former fellow atheists were scandalized. Virginia Woolf was one of them. Her reaction, writes Peter Hitchens (Christopher's brother), was one of fury and almost physical disgust which was, he says, typical of the educated British middle class.

Woolf wrote: "I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic, believes in God and immortality, and goes to church. I was really shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God." (Hitchens, Peter, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith, p. 24)

Woolf's response is similiar to that of Richard Dawkins who shrinks back in horror every time some brilliant scientist (like Francis Collins) speaks of his conversion to Christ.

Hitchens comments on Woolf's Eliot-response. "Look at these bilious, ill-tempered words: “Shameful, distressing, obscene, dead to us all.” There has always seemed to me to be something frantic and enraged about this passage, concealing its real emotion—which I suspect is fear that Eliot, as well as being a greater talent than her, may also be right." (Ib.)