While Nov. 22, 1963, is etched in the minds of Americans as the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, few remember that two other historically influential men died about an hour earlier.
The deaths of Oxford don, fiction author and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis along with “Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley were swallowed up in the monumental event that took place on a street in Dallas 50 years ago today.
The convergence intrigued Boston College philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft, who made the three 20th century giants the center of his 1982 book “Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.”
“It’s funny that divine providence seems to arrange things that way,” he told WND in an interview Friday. “Mother Theresa died on the same day as Princess Diana, and her death was also overshadowed by a secular event.”
Noting that the men each represented one of the three major worldviews of the modern era, Kreeft imagined what might have happened if they had had a conversation with each other about the big questions of life moments after they left this world.
Putting his imagination to work along with his academic experience, he portrays Lewis as a Christian theist, Kennedy as a modern humanist and Huxley as an Eastern pantheist in a Socratic discussion that centers on what he calls “the Great Conversation” about ultimate reality that has been going on for centuries.
While Kennedy inspired a generation of social and political activists, the Englishman Huxley, though best known for his dystopian novel, influenced a generation of intellectuals who sought enlightenment through psychedelic drugs.
Half a century after that history-altering day, however, Kreeft believes it’s clear whose life, among the three, has been the most consequential.
“From heaven’s point of view, Lewis has had more impact,” Kreeft told WND.
Lewis, who taught at both Oxford University and Cambridge University, is best known for his fictional classics “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters” along with his non-fiction “Mere Christianity,” the book that former Nixon aide Charles Colson cited as influential in his famous conversion.
Lewis’ influence only seems to grow as new generations are introduced to his work, making him more popular today than he was in his lifetime.
“He possessed a unique ability to make difficult ideas clear and to bridge a gap between specialists and generalists and intellectuals and ordinary people,” Kreeft said of Lewis, who at one time regarded himself as an atheist before his conversion to Christianity.
Along with his acclaim as a literary scholar – Lewis was a member of the informal discussion group of Oxford dons called the “Inklings” with “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien – he remains in the conversation of Protestants and Roman Catholics alike. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and his Narnia series alone has sold more than 10 million copies.
Kreeft, a Roman Catholic who also teaches philosophy at the evangelical Protestant liberal arts The King’s College in New York City, said Lewis placed himself in the middle of the theological “battlefield,” where he centered on the essential questions.
Lewis asked, said Kreeft: “Is Christianity a true supernatural religion, or is it just a myth. Is Jesus really divine or is he just a good guy? Did he really rise from the dead, or is that just a nice fairy tale?
The question Lewis posed about Jesus, Kreeft told WND, “divides people radically, and it’s a life-changing question.”
That question and related issues are at the heart of Kreeft’s fictional discussion between Lewis, Kennedy and Huxley.
Asked if there is current interest in his book, he told WND there’s a “move among certain people in Hollywood to make a movie of it.”
The rights to it have been bought, he said, though he recognizes many books that have enjoyed that distinction never make it to the silver screen.
“I don’t think it’s very cinematic, but who knows?” he said. “They put even ‘Screwtape Letters’ on as a play, and that doesn’t look like a play.”