In order to understand T.S. Eliots poem, Choruses from The Rock, one must first understand Eliots views on contemporary theology and spirituality. He felt as if people were moving away from the Church and were losing their religion in favor of more secular worship. The following passage from Eliots poem can summarize his entire argument that he makes in Choruses from The Rock.
But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where. Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has never happened before that men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason, And then Money, and Power, and what they call
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, and what have we to do but stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards in an age which advances progressively backwards?
T.S. Eliot – Choruses from ‘The Rock’
Eliot complains that something has happened that has never happened before: for the first time, man stands alienated from God. He believes that man stands lonely, in great darkness, with no light to guide him; and Eliot is right. “Something has happened that has never happened before.” One might ask why or how it has happened. These things do not happen in a certain moment. They happen so gradually that one never becomes really aware of when, where, or how.
The civilized man has lost something because now we live in the man-made world where it is almost impossible to find any sign of God. God is hard to find in the asphalt roads or in cement structures. These things are not alive. How can one find God in machines or in technology? Even facing the greatest machine you cannot feel awe, you cannot feel reverence, you cannot feel like falling on your knees and praying. If you cannot feel like falling on your knees and praying once in a while, how can God remain a part of your being?
Eliot claims that man is facing a tremendous flood of meaninglessness for the first time. Everything seems to be utterly insignificant, and the reason is simple: without God there can be no significance, no splendor. Life can have meaning only in the context of something that surpasses life. The meaning always comes from the context; now man stands without a context. The meaning comes only when you can look upwards to something bigger than you, something greater than you. When you feel related with something greater, holier, your life has meaning.
Man has left nature and has created an artificial world of his own. This fact has been the most shattering phenomenon which has disrupted man from God and all that is implied in God: meaning, significance, majesty, love, prayer, meditation, and all that is valuable. The irony is, man has never been so rich as he is today. Both things have happened together: the inner, spiritual being has become poorer while the outer being has become richer. We have more money than any other society before, we have in every way more power than any other society ever had before, and still no society has ever felt such meaninglessness.
Eliot thinks that we have cultivated reason too much and we have become lopsided. Science functions from the head while religion functions from the heart. Because we have become too obsessed with the head we think that is all there is. As we become more and more hung up in the head, we become more and more oblivious to the existence of the heart, and Eliot thinks that we will become more and more miserable.
T. S. Eliot is right: “… something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where. Men have left God not for other gods…” That was very usual in the past; people used to move from one god to another. That was an evolution. The God of Moses is less sophisticated than the God of Jesus, since there are thousands of years between these two enlightened persons. Moses had to talk the language that could be understood by his people, and those people were very primitive. Therefore, Moses spoke in the language of law, commandments.
By the time Jesus arrived man had evolved. Jesus talked about love, not about law. Love is a higher value than law. The God of the Jews was a jealous god and a very angry god; for small reasons he would destroy cities. It was not really the god that was violent and angry, it was the people. Their eyes were full of violence and anger, they could not see the real God. God is always the same, but our eyes change. Jesus could see God as love and compassion. Man was changing one god for another, for a higher conception of god.
In the past people had been changing gods: “Men have left God not for other gods…” But in the present day something else has happened: Man has not left God for other god. Man has dropped the whole idea of God, the whole idea of a divine presence in existence. Now man is standing alone and is feeling empty.
Man cannot remain empty; it is difficult to remain empty. So a new phenomenon is happening. According to Eliot, man has created his own gods. “Professing first Reason…” — and because man cannot remain empty for long, he replaced it first with reason; reason became god. However, reason is limited, it cannot prove many things. For example, it cannot prove the beauty of a rose, but the beauty exists. Reason cannot prove the existence of love, but love exists; reason is inadequate to prove it.
Money also became god; millions of people worship money as god. Power has become a god. The politician has become the most important person in the world. We have denied God, but how can we deny our emptiness? We have rejected God, and we had to stuff something in the empty space, so we stuff it with political power, with money, with reason, with race, with dialectics.
Man cannot live without religion. Man cannot live without God. If the true God is not available, then man is bound to create home-made gods. “The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, and what have we to do but stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards in an age which advances progressively backwards?” Yes, T.S. Eliot is right. In his poem, Choruses from The Rock, Eliot berates society for losing their faith in God and placing it in non-Christian symbols. This is exactly the movement that will harm us all in the long run.