November 22, 2011

11/22/63 ... a book review, but not THAT book!



So today is the anniversary of three deaths. JFK was shot on this day in 1963. Also, Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World, among other books) died of an intentionally lethal overdose of LSD. In 1963. Finally, C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia books) died on this day, as a result of a long battle with kidney disease. In 1963.

A couple weeks ago, one of the best-selling American authors of all time released a book entitled 11/22/63, about a time traveller who intends to stop the events of that date. You've probably guessed it has to do with the Kennedy assassination, not the two British authors. I haven't read the book (it's a brick -- seriously, a couple hundred copies of that book and I could build a garage) but that's okay, because that's not the book dealing with this date that I'm writing about for this blog post.

No, the book I'm writing about -- and recommending -- is called Between Heaven & Hell: A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley. Written by philosopher and C.S. Lewis scholar Peter Kreeft, the book is a modern Socratic dialogue between these three men.

Kreeft uses each of the men to express a different philosophy and a different view of who Christ was. Kennedy represents a modern American "Christian", or "humanist Christian" as Kreeft puts it. Someone who believes Christ existed and was wise, but that Jesus was not God and miracles were exaggerations of Christ's true actions. Huxley represents a universal philosophy, one that makes Christ's teachings an expression of universal truth, but not THE expression of THE truth. And Lewis represents "mere Christianity", the common and essential beliefs of Christians and the catholic (little "c" is intended here) church.

The book itself is brilliant. Sometime after these deaths on 11/22/63, these three men meet . . . somewhere "between heaven and hell". As the title suggests. Of course, their actual location becomes a matter of debate. As their conversation continues, they begin discussing "life, the universe, and everything" (not in those words). Questions arise about Jesus' divinity and whether someone can be intellectually honest if they merely believe Jesus to be a good teacher, the historicity of the Bible, free will, and what does "truth" even mean?

The book tackles deep questions and gives deep answers. It's a dense book, too, packing a lot into its 100 pages. But it gets you thinking. It gets you asking these questions. It gets you mulling over the answers.

It's all imaginary. Yes, yes, I know, obviously it is imaginary. But that's not what I mean. This isn't a matter of Kreeft creating a true "dialogue" through the manipulation of three men's writings. Rather, he casts these three men in representations of an argument, as opposed to the arguers themselves. Using these three famous men, who all happened to die on the same day, as a storytelling device, he crafts an engaging and dramatic conversation. In Kreeft's own words, "the purpose of the dialog is not historical accuracy; the argument is all, as it is with Plato's Socrates." Thus, Kennedy, who rarely spoke publicly about his religious beliefs becomes a symbol for modern "casual Christianity". Only when reading Lewis' lines, which contain numerous allusions to his famous writings about why Christianity can claim to be Truth (capital "T" also intentional), did I feel that this might actually have been what he would have said. (I've not read anything by Kennedy, and my knowledge of Huxley is limited to a few readings of Brave New World over a decade ago.)

So I do recommend it. I recommend it to people who are Christians and want to explore answers to some of the questions being posed to them about their faith. (And these are important questions. Christians are, too often, afraid to approach some questions. Perhaps because they are afraid that the answer might invalidate their beliefs?) I recommend it to people who are not Christians, but wonder how anyone could possibly believe such hogwash as a man who claimed to be God.

But beyond saying it's a good book, with a lot of meaning, I'd also like to recommend HOW you read it. Take your time. Reread some of the passages. It's a short book, perhaps an afternoon read. But I said before it is dense. Every sentence builds on the last, as arguments are made, challenges given, and answers explained. But don't let that deter you. Rather, embrace that and use exercise some of your extra brain muscle.

~ Ben

1 comment:

Hank Harwell said...

This may not suprise you, but I've actually read his book. As well as another Kreeft book, Socrates Meets Jesus.

Both are HIGHLY recommended!