Smoke on the Mountain (III) Review by C.S. Lewis

Secondly, there is the very theme of the book. What should a Jewish Christian write on if not the Law? But notice that the choice of subject means no relapse into the mere Judaism, nothing that need alarm the most Pauline of us. The author knows quite as well as any of us that Mr. Legality will never bring us to the Celestial City and has got over the fallacies of Moralism fairly early in life. She had good opportunities for studying it at close quarters. She knows that only love can fulfil the Law. That, I think, is the answer to a criticism which someone is sure to make of this book; that in most of its chapters we have much more about diagnosis than about cure. In reality, of course, a "cure" in the sense of some recipe added at the end of each chapter-some "law to be a fence about the Law" and inevitably breeding more Law-is not really being offered at all. The author is not a quack with a nostrum. She can only point, as in her concluding chapter she does point, to the true Cure; a Person, not a set of instructions. Pending that, she is no more inhibited than her ancestors about diagnosis; one might frankly say, about denunciation. A Jeremiad? But should we never read Jeremiads? If it comes to that, should we never read Jeremiah himself? The Canon judges otherwise.

The sins of the Americans (for whom, in the first instance, the book was written) are doubtless not exactly the same as our own. Many of their sins, indeed, we are now hardly in a position to commit. Hence, inevitably, there are passages in this book which English readers may make a bad use of, reading them with complacent self-congratulation. But in the main it is a true bill against all Western civilization. The flaw in us which Joy Davidman seems to me to expose with most certainty will be to some perhaps an unexpected one : the sin of fear, not in Donne's sense but, quite simply, cowardice. Hence she can speak of one minority as being "protected by a fortunate illiteracy from the bombardment of fear propaganda." I am doubtful whether many readers, after reflection, will be prepared to give her the lie. It may be true that great nations have never before faced a greater danger; but have great nations ever met danger with such an appearance of poltroonery? Perhaps it is only appearance. Perhaps, if the moment comes, our bite will prove better than our howls. If not, we shall have to confess that two millennia of Christianity have not yet brought us up to the level of the Stoics and Vikings. For the worst (according to the flesh) that a Christian need face is to die in Christ and rise in Christ; some were content to die, and not to rise, with Father Odin.

I have ventured to use the word "denunciations." This must not be taken to mean anything wild or indiscriminate. On the contrary the quality in this book which, I anticipate, will stand out more clearly the better it is known, is precisely the union of passionate heat with an intelligence which, in that passion, still modifies and distinguishes and tempers. Notice (what I especially value, because it supplies a corrective which I especially needed) how after exposing what is banal, meretricious, and greedy in the popular idea of "Progress," our author unexpectedly, and truly, points out what pure and noble elements originally contributed to that idea. Notice, again, how while admitting the sins worse than murder she shows how disastrously the concept "worse than murder" can be used to confuse and etiolate the reality of murder itself.

I do not of course agree with Miss Davidman at every point. In such a book every reader will have his own crow to pluck with the author. For my own part, what I would most gladly see altered are certain passages where she quotes myself for thoughts which she needed no sense save her own to reach and no pen save her own to express. But every old tutor (and I was not even that to Miss Davidman) knows that those pupils who needed our assistance least are generally also those who acknowledge it most largely.

C. S. LEWIS (1955)

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