Between heaven and hell

The deaths of JFK, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley all on the same day prompted one author to imagine what the three might say to each other at a meeting in the hereafter.

By Leroy Seat

Americans remember Nov. 22, 1963, as the date of the assassination of President Kennedy. And the public media has widely publicized today’s 50th anniversary of that tragic event.

Some Christians will remember that Nov. 22, 1963, was also the day on which C.S. Lewis, the noted British author, passed away. And the cover story of this month’s Christianity Today magazine is about Lewis.

Fewer will remember that on that very same day, another noted writer died. That was Aldous Huxley, an Englishman best known as the author of the novel Brave New World (1932).

At the time of their deaths, Huxley was 69, Lewis a week shy of his 65th birthday, and Kennedy only 46.

Peter Kreeft has been a professor of philosophy at Boston College since 1965. He is the author of nearly 70 books, one of them being Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley (1982; 2nd ed., 2008).

Kreeft claims that the three most basic worldviews are what he calls Christian theism, Eastern pantheism, and modern Western humanism or secularism. And those three viewpoints were well represented, he thinks, by Lewis, Huxley, and Kennedy. So his book is about the confrontation of ideas springing from those three competing worldviews.

Since Kreeft is a Catholic, who interestingly enough became a convert to Catholicism when he was a student at Calvin College, he pictures the three men who died on 11/22/63 meeting for a lengthy discussion in Purgatory.

In reality, Kreeft may have “fudged” a little. I am not at all sure Kennedy’s Catholic faith was as shallow, nor Huxley’s pantheism as developed, as Kreeft implies. Huxley was probably more of an agnostic, a term coined by his grandfather Thomas Huxley in 1869.

Since he is a (rather conservative) Christian apologist, in his book Kreeft mainly presents “a defense of the central, unique claim of Christianity (that Jesus Christ is God incarnate) against both modern Western secular objections and ancient Eastern religious objections” (p. 139).

In fact, Kreeft’s book primarily uses ideas similar to Lewis’s to rebut the ideas of pantheism attributed to Huxley and the ideas of humanism/secularism attributed to Kennedy. As such, it is a good, and fitting, tribute to Lewis, well worth reading.

At the time of this 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death, you might also like to take time to listen to some of the only extant recording of his radio addresses in the early 1940s, which became part of his most famous book, Mere Christianity. (Here is the link.)

That book was by far the first choice when in 2000 Christianity Today asked more than 100 of its contributors and church leaders to nominate the 10 best religious books of the 20th century. A multitude of Baptist pastors and laymen alike have been significantly influenced by that and other of Lewis’s many books.

Or, perhaps some of you would like to take two minutes to watch the video "Celebrating 50 Years of C.S. Lewis’s Enduring Legacy."

So now the lingering memories of these three remain: Huxley, Kennedy, and Lewis; but the greatest of these is Lewis, for his influence had, and still has, eternal and not just temporal ramifications.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.