This is an off-the-cuff reflection, meaning my beautiful wife, who normally proofreads blog posts, hasn’t check over this. Maybe she’ll look at it later, but I wanted to capture the immediacy of my thoughts.
Today marks 50 years since the death of three very important men: President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States of America, C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, and Aldous Huxley, author of the classic distopean novel Brave New World. The fact that all three men died on November 22, 1963 prompted Catholic philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft to write his novel Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley. While not strictly a serious examination of these three men’s thought, the work does look at some of man’s greatest questions as these great men might have answered them.
All three men changed the world in which they lived, but in vastly different ways. I do not know a lot about any of these men, but I do know something about all of them. Kennedy became president of the USA in 1960. He faced great opposition while running because of his Catholic Faith. In his famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) speech to the Greater Houston Ministreial Association, a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, he assured his listeners and the American public the following: “Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views — in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.” This speech changed the way in which Catholic politicians in America and around the world viewed their role in government. More liberal-minded politicians would use Kennedy’s words as an explanation as to why they would not support some law that might seem as if they were supporting the Catholic Church’s view the issue. More conservative-minded politicians try to critique Kennedy’s words, distancing themselves from liberal Catholic politicians.
We will never know what might have come from Kennedy’s presidency during the tumultuous sixties. His death fifty years ago from a bullet fired by Lee Harvey Oswald ended our certainty. What we do know is that he was a politician. He wanted to be known as that, not as a Catholic, and so he was. Everything of his presidency, from his election through the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis to the sordid affairs that everyone remembers from his presidency, capture him as a politician. And so he was.
C. S. Lewis, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, held views which put him at odds with many around him. He wrote in defense of Christianity (Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, etc.), novels of high fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia series), novels of science fiction (the Space Trilogy), theological fantasies (The Screwtape Letters, The Piligim’s Regress, The Great Divorce), and many essays on various topics. He was also a literature professor at Oxford and Cambridge, something many fans of his writings forget. He was a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, and with Tolkien and Charles Williams formed the Inklings, a group of writers who would share their works in progress. Though he never became Catholic, Lewis has brought many to the Faith, like a modern-day Virgil for a new world of Dantes. He spread the Gospel like few of his contemporaries, a preacher to the nations.
Of these three men, Aldous Huxley has perhaps the most variant life. He was neither on fire for Christ (in fact, he embraced parapsychology and Eastern mysticism, particularly Vedanta) like Lewis, nor was he involved in political life like Kennedy. However, Huxley wrote a novel, Brave New World, which presented a world over 500 years in the future, a world where the Henry Ford is held up as a god (and people cross themselves with a T, in honor of the Model T cars). Here people are grown in factories (with propaganda slogans playing in the background while the fetuses develop), women walk in a world of recreational sex with contraceptives on their belts, and the delightful soma pills provide a drug-induced escape from reality. Into this world enters the hero, who, raised in the wild with those who do marry and raise children and read alone. He enters the utopia to find it horrifying and, unaccepted in either his original home among the “savages” or in the cities, he hangs himself (which I TOTALLY did not pick up on when I read the novel in high school).
The novel is a dark glimpse into what we might see in the coming centuries. Like Children of Men, it predicts a world of sterility. Like Nineteen Eighty-four it predicts a completely government-run world. Huxley didn’t live to see the horrors which have plagued our world today, nor did he live to see the explosion of “free love” and over-the-counter contraceptives for preteens. He did not live to see the expansion of political life into every aspect of everyday life. Some may call him a prophet, seeing the doom of a coming age.
So there were three men who went to their judgement this day fifty years ago. One was a politician, a man of crucial words, cut short in a flash of red. One was a preacher, who preached in the darkness with a light in his hands. The third was a prophet, whose dire predictions rolled snowball-like through history. All met God, and all gave an account of their life. I do not know more than that, and I would not dare to guess where they are now, as many have debated.
We shall see their legacy as the decades progress. In another fifty years, will their words still matter?
For Further Reading
Joseph Pearce, C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press)
Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley (Intervarsity Press)