Is Anybody There?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says Yahweh Sabaoth" Zach 4:6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dio di Signore, nella Sua volontà è nostra pace!" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin 1759

Friday, November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy & Aldous Huxley

Today marks the 50th anniversary of 3 people who in their own way have had a huge influence on our politics & culture in general.
Most of the attention has been paid to the assassination of JFK. While the media has mostly ignored it, in Christian circles, people have also been memorializing C.S. Lewis. Meanwhile, except for an occasional footnote, Aldous Huxley's death has been mostly ignored.
At the time, the only 1 of the 3 I was familiar with was JFK. Growing up in an Italiano-Americano Catholic family, it was a big thing for us that the 1st Catholic president was elected in 1960. I was only 5 at the time, so I didn't understand the ins & outs, just that it was a big thing.

In November of 1963 I was 8 years old & in 3rd grade at Sacred Heart School in Oelwein. We had just gotten back from lunch a little before 12:30 pm & had begun our 1st afternoon class (I think it was math). Someone came to our class to tell us JFK had been shot. About an hour later another person came to tell us JFK had died. Classes were canceled & the entire school (grade & HS) went over to Sacred Heart Church to pray a Rosary for the repose of his soul.

To some extent, today's Plugger's cartoon captures that day for me:

The entire weekend, all 3 networks provided continuous coverage of the assassination & aftermath. Of course we followed the coverage mostly on WMT-TV (now KGAN) Channel 2 the local CBS affiliate.  On Sunday the focus switched temporarily from JFK to the alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald because of his being shot by Jack Ruby.
What sticks out most for me are some of the details of his funeral. For some reason, the horse-drawn caisson with the flag covered coffin stuck with me the most.

Looking back, I think the reason is that it was the 1 thing that made everything completely real for me rather than just some bad dream. It was something I could connect with & in a sense imitate. I remember taking some books & covering them with a small flag to mimic what I saw on TV. 
Another memory that stands out was the riderless hose, Black Jack, with the boots backwards in the stirrups. I had never seen anything like it before.

There are many other things about the funeral I could mention, but these 2 memories are the best summary I can come up with.
In the years since the memory of JFK has been invoked by both Democrats & Republicans. There has been a debate about how great a president he really was & whether his achievements were inflated only because of his death. Some inflation, but he still did some good things that made this country better. There have been debates on whether Oswald a loner or part of an conspiracy. IMHO, conspiracy as the Congressional investigation found. But these things will be the debate of historians until the end of time. The assassination also became a plot for a Doctor Who novel, Who Killed Kennedy. It involved a change in the timeline because Kennedy survived as well as a surprise as to who really killed JFK to right the timeline. Stephen King recently wrote his own take, 11/22/63, that involves a time-traveller involved with preventing JFK's assassination.

The 2nd death that day was of C.S. Lewis. He died at a little after 5:30 pm. But since he died in Oxford, England, he was dead an hour before JFK was shot.

At the time I had no idea who Lewis was. I discovered him after making a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat in January 1973. I was looking for anything I could devour that would help me grow in my faith. His writings were recommended to me & I bought up all I could get ahold of. Some where easier to read than others.
While I like The Chronicles of Narnia, they are not my favorite. Like many, I love The Screwtape Letters. Another favorite is The Great Divorce. Both of these have been made into plays I have yet to see. But my favorites are his Sci-Fi trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra & That Hideous Strength. The 3rd novel is even more appropriate today as it deals with what are now considered "New Age" themes & the dangers of being involved in New Age activities.
Over the years his writings have helped me to grow in my faith. At the time I discovered him I had already begun to be a J.R.R. Tolkien fan. But I did not know about the connection that they had. I won't go into all the details as several good books by Joseph Pierce & Brad Birzer go into it better. Tolkein & Lewis, aided by the rest of the Inklings, helped each other to be better writers as well as grow in their faith. They had their disagreements, naturally. According to 1 story, Lewis & Tolkein agreed to write books that would bring their writings to a larger audience, Lewis's was to be on space travel & Tolkien would handle time travel. Lewis did that with his Sci-fi trilogy, but Tolkien never did complete his time travel stories, but did go on to write Lord of the Rings.
Lewis never did become a Catholic, despite how close to Catholicism he was in his views. A lot of this is probably due to what Joseph Pierce says was his childhood in Ulster & how, as a protestant, he was raised to view Catholics. That didn't stop him from becoming friends with Tolkien. Interestingly enough, it was the writings of another Catholic, G.K. Chesterton, that lead him out of atheism & into belief.
After his death, Tolkien had a Mass said for the repose of his soul.

Finally we have Aldous Huxley.

If anyone had told me that day that Huxley had died, he wouldn't have registered with me any more than the death of Lewis. In fact I never heard about Huxley until I read his distopian novel, Brave New World, in high school English class. Part of the story looks at the dangers of reproductive technology, something very much a burning issue these days.
Beyond that, I really didn't know much about Huxley until recently. I only found out about his connection to JFK & Lewis in the '80s for a reason I will get to shortly. What I recently found out was that he could be classified as a prime example of a New Ager. Among the things he was into were parapsychology, mysticism, Eastern religions, & universalism.

This leads me to how I found out about their connection. In about 1983 I discovered a book at a Christian book store by Peter Kreeft called Between Heaven and Hell. What caught my attention was that it involved JFK & Lewis.

At the time I didn't have the money to buy it. Later it was no longer available & I, mostly, forgot about it until 2010 when I discovered it had been re released.

I then made sure I bought a copy. It was well worth it & lived up to my expectations.
For those of you who are not familiar with Peter Kreeft, He is a professor of Philosophy. This book took him only 3 days to write. It is done in the form of a Socratic Dialog.
In the book he used Lewis, JFK & Huxley to represent 3 major world views or philosophies. Lewis represents Christian theism. JFK was chosen to represent modern humanism (more in a moment) & Huxley represented Eastern Pantheism that is found in much of New Age thought these days.
I have to expand a bit on the humanism aspect. Lewis would be what is called a Christian or Religious humanist. That type of humanism views the value of man over & above the rest of nature. That value is based on the fact that man is made in the image & likeness of God.
JFK's humanism is more of a mild form of secular humanism. Yes he was a Catholic. But the type that left his faith mostly a part of his private life. This humanism puts the emphasis on man, not God. It emphasizes social activity & does away with anything in religion that has to do with the supernatural, such as divine revelation, dogma miracles & authority. I will add that we have seen the fruit of JFK's philosophy in how many Catholics, not just politicians, (mostly Democrats) have so separated themselves from what they claim to believe that they take positions in complete contrast to authentic Catholic teaching. Pelosi & Biden are prime examples of this. As are those Catholics that vote for Obama & the rest of their pro-abortion ilk.
Note: Kreeft makes it clear he did not chose Lewis to represent protestantism or JFK to represent Catholicism. Lewis represents those Christians of all faiths who are Christian theists. JFK could very well echo the beliefs of a huge number of humanist protestants we have around these days.
The story (dialog) takes place on 22 Nov 1963 "Somewhere beyond death". It is neither Heaven or Hell, but much more like a waiting room. In this dialog, Kreeft looks at many of the questions we are still debating. Does life have meaning? Can we know about life after death? How? Can we prove Jesus was God? What is salvation? Is there a Hell? & many others.
I recommend you read this book. It gives insight into what are behind a lot of the cultural & political conflicts we are seeing these days. While it was written as a philosophical tome, you don't have to be familiar with philosophy to understand it. You just need to be someone who is sincerely seeking the truth.


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