JFK, Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis: Whose Vision of the Future Was the Most Accurate?

COMMENTARY: On the 60th anniversary of their deaths, it’s clear it was Lewis who was truly prophetic — for he offered an apologetic for Christ, not for man’s own mastery of the future.

A collection of some of the nonfiction works of C.S. Lewis, who died the same day as President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley.
A collection of some of the nonfiction works of C.S. Lewis, who died the same day as President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley. (photo: Shutterstock)

What did the future look like 60 years ago?

On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. On the same day, two significant writers also died: C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley.

That historic coincidence prompted Peter Kreeft to write a book imagining what the three souls might discuss as they meet in the afterlife. Entitled Between Heaven and Hell, it is a “dialogue somewhere beyond death” featuring JFK arguing for “modern humanism,” Lewis for Christian theism and Huxley for Eastern pantheism. The book can be read, according to Kreeft, as a “defense of the central Christian claim (that Jesus Christ is God incarnate) against both modern Western secular objections and ancient Eastern religious objections.”

There is another way to look at the three deceased, though, namely in relation to their vision of the future. Here, JFK and Huxley find themselves opposed, while Lewis offers the truly Christian approach to the future, the virtue of hope, which is neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

JFK belonged to a “new generation,” as he styled himself in his inaugural address, and was the herald of the “New Frontier” — most vividly expressed in the project of putting a man on the moon. The Kennedy election of 1960 seemed the presidential equivalent of the accession of the young Queen Elizabeth, except that American Camelot was more glamorous than the British royals.

The future was bright, prosperity was spreading and technology was both powerful and friendly. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe, to be sure, but was resolved in a way that reaffirmed the strength of the free world. The civil-rights movement invited America, not without struggle and pain, to a more just future.

Aldous Huxley was a generation older than JFK and lived through the horrors of the Great War. His most famous work, Brave New World, was written in 1932 but set in A.D. 2540 or AF 632 — After Ford. The year of “Our Lord” has been replaced with “after Ford,” as the world is now shaped by assembly-line production. The cross of the 26th century has had its top cut off to resemble a “T” — an homage to Henry Ford’s Model T.

Technologically driven comfort has been achieved by mass production of homogenous consumer goods. All tastes have been standardized. The challenge of unity in diversity has been replaced with uniformity in docility. Man has become sanitized, not sanctified, bred in artificial wombs and educated by state conditioning.

The Christian drama of creation, sin, redemption and salvation has been eclipsed. There are priests around, but not ones who do the ancient priestly work of offering sacrifice. Christians in AF 632 are led not by the archbishop of Canterbury but the Arch-Community-Songster, who has good manners and leads happy singalongs in praise of Ford.

While JFK imagined the state harnessing technology to achieve scientific and social advances, Huxley did not regard technology as friendly. Indeed, allied with state power, it could become a malign force against man’s welfare. Both JFK and Huxley had valid insights, though the rise of consumerism, globalized production, artificial reproduction and the internet has made Huxley’s warnings increasingly relevant.

Huxley’s novel was greatly acclaimed. Many lists of the century’s best novels include it. For Kreeft, whose favorite recent author is Lewis, Brave New World is “one of the two most prophetic books of the twentieth century, the other being Lewis’ The Abolition of Man.”

For Lewis, the solution to man’s travails in history is not better material production or greater distance from matter altogether, but salvation in Christ Jesus. To all that threatens to abolish man, the remedy is redemption. Thus Lewis was the great Christian apologist of his time, whose works are as relevant, if not more so, 60 years after his death.

Indeed, the return of The Chronicles of Narnia to the big screen is a reminder that Lewis’ Christian witness was not restricted to apologetics but embraced the breadth of his imagination. If the future is a different country, then Narnia is a world where the great Christian drama plays out in different form. They are chronicles of hope.

The future looked different 60 years ago; there was a great optimism abroad then. Today, it seems that Huxley rather than JFK was the more accurate prognosticator. But it is Lewis who was truly prophetic, for he offered an apologetic for Christ, not for man’s own mastery of the future.

Kreeft concludes his book with a Lewis poem, The Apologist’s Evening Prayer, suitable enough for the 60th anniversary of Lewis arriving at the evening of his life.

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more From all the victories that I seemed to score; From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh; From all my proofs of Thy divinity, Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.
Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee, O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye, Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, JFK, Aldous Huxley: Requiescant in pace.