11 November 2009

Review: The Pillar of Fire

The Pillar of Fire The Pillar of Fire by Karl Stern

“What if all that is folly in the eyes of the Greeks, and scandal in the eyes of the Jews, is Truth?”

This is the question asked by psychiatrist Dr. Karl Stern (1906-1975) in the forward to his wonderful spiritual autobiography, The Pillar of Fire. It describes his journey from liberal Judaism to Marxist Dialectical Materialism to Orthodox Judaism to Christianity and Roman Catholicism, while simultaneously becoming a doctor and neuroscientist, and experiencing the horror of Hitler’s Germany. What is refreshing about this book, apart from the author’s warmth and intelligence, is that Stern unites within himself what is often artificially opposed; Music, Art, Social Justice, Science, Religion, and Psychology all find their places. Near the end of the book, Stern writes:
“I have said that in entering the Church one does not have to give up any single positive value one has ever believed in. You think of yourself as a traitor to your past. You think you have to leave Goethe behind, or Tolstoy, or Gandhi, or Judaism, or whatnot. But there is nothing which is good in all these things which you do not find again in the Church. Now it is ordered and synthesized. It is molten in Christ.”

The last chapter in the book is a letter to the author’s brother, at the time living on kibbutz in Israel. It is an incredibly prophetic analysis of twentieth century society, and worth the price of the book. For more about this section see this post from the wonderful, but unfortunately currently inactive blog Ora Et Labor. See also the 2007 St. Vladimir's Seminary commencement address by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

Published in 1951, it is out of print, but if you can find it, please read it.


amyelizabeth said...

i think you got off track with your Southern reading list. neither of the last two books were Southern, though you did make a convincing connection between the South and Russia?

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