Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963), an event rightly remembered with a certain solemnity by the American people. Sadly, that tragic event and the various speculations which still surround it can cause us to forget that the President was not the only important figure to pass on November 22, 1963. Two important literary figures, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), also died on that same day, a fact about which I had forgotten until being reminded of it by today’s episode of Dr. Albert Mohler’s podcast, The Briefing. With due appreciation given to Dr. Mohler for the reminder, I would like to begin today’s brief post with reflections upon these men and their legacies before concluding on a happier note.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
The ending of any life by a murderer’s bullet is a sad reminder of man’s fallen condition; when the victim is the head of state of the world’s most powerful nation, it is catastrophic. Setting aside the various conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s death as well as the sense of vulnerability that such events engender, as we look back upon that particular death we realize that a large part of the tragedy of it is the loss of an unknown future. What might have happened if Kennedy had lived and completed his term and perhaps a second one? Would we have pulled out of Vietnam sooner, or made better progress on civil rights? Would President Lyndon B. Johnson’s (1908-1973) Great Society programs have ever taken place? (Kennedy was, after all, a fiscal conservative by modern standards.) Or, would Kennedy’s now well-known moral failings and ill health have proven poisonous for his presidency, his image, and his enduring legacy? We will never know. In the aftermath of his assassination our collective memory of Kennedy’s brief presidency has become perhaps more favorable than his actual accomplishments merit. Still, most acknowledge that there was real promise there, and it is right to lament that this promise was never fully realized.
I was a poor student in high school, and was particularly lazy when it came to reading assignments (I first caught the reading, studying, and learning “bug” as an undergraduate student). One reading assignment that I did complete, though, was of Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World (1932). Unlike George Orwell’s (1903-1950) Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which envisioned a future in which an all-controlling tyrannical government ruled its citizens by means of constant surveillance, carefully controlled information (and disinformation), forced reeducation, and threat of punishment, Huxley envisioned a world in which a similarly powerful government maintained total control not by force, but by pleasure. In Brave New World, a populace given free access to hallucinogenic drugs and recreational sex while participating in an economy based entirely upon consumption is content to accept whatever controls its government chooses to employ. Indeed, questioning the organization and mores of this society, including a genetically-engineered caste system, seems to be one of the few genuinely punishable offenses, as the protagonist finds.
While those who fear that Orwell’s vision might someday become a reality are quick to speculate about a coming harsh totalitarianism, Huxley reminds us that given the right conditions people will more than endure such a government. They will welcome and celebrate it, so long as they receive their “bread and circuses.” Those who are and wish to remain free would be wise to guard themselves and their societies against tyranny of either kind.
Clive Staples Lewis is sometimes mistakenly remembered as a Christian theologian. While he was an able and articulate advocate and defender of our faith he was sometimes not careful with his statements on theological matters and in a few areas was downright unorthodox. His real expertise was in medieval literature, and in his own fictional writings he excelled in bringing earlier generations’ understanding of mythology and its function to bear in his own stories. The seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia series (1950-1956) is a masterful example of this, one which can be read and enjoyed as “mere stories” but which has a definite, if loosely-constructed, element of Christian allegory. A lesser-known but in my opinion more important series of novels is Lewis’s Space Trilogy (1938-1945), which I finally read earlier this year. In these books Lewis masterfully interweaves ancient mythology and science fiction, while maintaining a more expressly Christian message than Narnia and even including some warning against a slowly encroaching tyranny which in some respects places the author’s thinking on political matters in the same “camp” (broadly considered) as Huxley and Orwell. The demonic element in the Space Trilogy is in line with Lewis’s thinking as expressed in the epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters.
Again, Lewis was not always the most reliable theologian, but he was nevertheless possessed of a keen mind and the ability to defend Christianity intelligently and winsomely, in both fiction and nonfiction writings (Mere Christianity is a classic in the latter category). The Christian community is rightly grateful for this man and his work.
Brody Donald Haddon Everett
I would be remiss if in a post about important people associated with November 22 I failed to mention my son Brody, whose fourth birthday is today. I posted a lengthier article last year reflecting upon Brody and what he has meant to my wife and me. Needless to say, we remain grateful to God for bringing him into our home, and are continually humbled by the awesome responsibility of bringing up a child “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). I would welcome the prayers of those readers who share our faith for Brody’s continued physical and spiritual growth; that he would grow up to be a healthy and, more importantly, godly man.