November 6, 2013
Fifty Years Ago Three Great Men Died
One of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. What is less well known is that two other great men died the same day -- Christian scholar and author C. S. Lewis, and novelist and pantheist Aldous Huxley.
Philosopher Peter Kreeft knew that Lewis and Kennedy had died within hours of one another. But it was on a Monday more than thirty years ago that he discovered that Huxley (author of Brave New World) had died the very same day as the other two. The possibility of the three of them meeting in the next world, in a kind of anteroom to heaven, immediately came to him. Here were three famous, classic and clever representatives of three great worldviews -- Eastern pantheism, Christian theism and modern humanism. It was a book that had to be written, and in three days Between Heaven and Hell was finished.
It may be intimidating to some to put words in the mouth of perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the last century, but Kreeft (pronounced Krayft) was undaunted. When asked about Kreeft's love for C. S. Lewis, a friend once replied, "Love Lewis? He thinks he is Lewis!"
Be that as it may, in the postscript to the second edition of Between Heaven and Hell Kreeft relates meeting George Sayer, a friend and biographer of Lewis, after Sayer had read Kreeft's book. How many times had Kreeft meet Lewis? Sayer wanted to know. "Never," Kreeft said.
"Impossible," Sayer replied. "You make Lewis sound exactly the way he sounded in real life -- not just his style of writing but his style of talking. How did you do that?"
Following the format of the Socratic dialogs that Kreeft appreciates so much, the conversation among the three in Between Heaven and Hell focuses on the identity of Jesus. Kennedy and Huxley in turn raise many classic objections to Christianity and to the notion that Jesus was God incarnate, with Lewis ready to the defense. Thirty years later, a book about three great men who died on the same day fifty years ago this month is still in print.