Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Between Heaven and Hell"

Few Americans fail to remember that November 22, 1963, was the date of the assassination of President Kennedy. And the public media has already widely publicized the upcoming 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 (b. 1937) 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.
(It is a bit puzzling, though, to speak of Purgatory as “between Heaven and Hell,” for according to Catholic doctrine that is a place of purification for those bound for Heaven, not a way station for people headed to Hell.)
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.
C. S. Lewis (11/29/1898 - 11/22/1963)
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.)
Or, perhaps some of you would like to take two minutes to watch to 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.


  1. I've read works by all three of these men (if you can consider Kennedy's Profiles in Courage his book), and I admire Kennedy greatly, although that might not be true, had he lived. I've used C.S. Lewis's work on numerous occasions. And Lewis was a gracious and charming Christian apologist but an awful theologian, I would contend. The common tactic of dismissing theological paradoxes and contradictions as "mysteries beyond our finite minds" is in some ways more honest that Lewis's illogical and sleight-of-hand resolutions. I haven't read Huxley's Eastern thinking works, but to use him instead of Aurobindo or Rabindranath (or even Tagore) and some of the later stuff by Taoists and neo-Confucianists to represent Eastern thought seems, well, odd, to say the least. I'm wondering if Kreeft knows the difference between pantheism and panentheism. And Kennedy is Kreeft's representative of secular humanism? Okay, Leroy, you know now how unpersuaded I am that this book is worth reading. You're going to have to come back at me with something more persuasive. :D

    Thanks, as always, for your energetic studies and sharing, which help keep us informed and thoughtful about many things.

    1. Anton, thanks for your prompt and pertinent response to this blog posting.

      Your criticism of Kreeft's book is well-founded. You noted, I assume, that I indicated that I thought he fudged in how he characterized Kennedy and Huxley. He sort of used them as straw men to present his apologetic for traditional Christianity along the same lines that Lewis did.

      If you are interested in Lewis's apologetic and an updating of that apologetic by a contemporary (Catholic) apologist, the book is worth reading and considering. If you are looking for an authentic discussion among the three men who died 50 years ago today, that is not what you find in Kreeft's book, in spite of its subtitle.

  2. i have been reading and enjoying your blogs. This is another good and informative one. Thanks for your good writings. Ed Kang

    1. Thanks, Ed! I appreciate you reading my blog postings and taking the time to post your comments this time.

  3. Leroy,

    I didn't realize this was the 50th anniversary of Lewis's death until a couple of days ago. So it was a nice serendidpity to be reading a daily devotional book of Lewis's writings in 2013. The book was compiled by John Hooper in 1984 and is called "The Business of Heaven." I will pay particular attention to the writing for Friday, the 22nd.

    On that day 50 years ago, My dad turned 40 and I was only a few months old. When news of Kennedy's assasination came, he was at his parents' home for a birthday lunch.

    Thanks for letting us know the significance of that date with the deaths of two other significant writers.

    1. David, thanks for regularly reading, and regularly commenting upon, my blog postings; I appreciate it.

      It is interesting, and somewhat sad, that after 1963 your father had to share the joy of his birthday with the sadness of Kennedy's death. I also found it interesting what you posted about that on Facebook today.

      I was happy to learn about the daily devotional book of Lewis's writings. This year I am reading such a book of D. Bonhoeffer's writings and had wondered what to do next year. "The Business of Heaven" sounds as if it would be a good choice for 2014.

  4. This interesting conjunction of lives reminds me of the book "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder. Even Jesus deals with a somewhat similar situation, when he discusses the collapse of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:1-5), which killed several workers. In each case we are looking for pattern and meaning. In each case, it is dangerous to find too much.

    It sounds like Professor Kreeft may have brought too much baggage to his analysis. Which is too bad, because a deeper understanding of these three men would be a fascinating work, and a humble reminder that all of us have our turn awaiting us.

    1. Yes, I am afraid Kreeft's own agenda caused him to manipulate the true positions of Kennedy and Huxley whereas, as you suggest, an accurate accounting of them, along with Lewis, would have made a valuable study.

    2. Further reading for those interested, an article just posted on Kennedy's faith: