A Memorable Day: November 22, 1963

A Memorable Day: November 22, 1963

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Today is November 22, 2017. Do you remember where you were when….? This is a question that used to be asked commonly—especially in the U.S. The rest of the question was “John F. Kennedy was assassinated?” “Do you remember where you were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?” I do. But Kennedy wasn’t the only important person to die that awful day in 1963. On that fateful day C. S. Lewis died as did Aldous Huxley. Everyone knows who Kennedy was; most know who Lewis was. Some know who Huxley was. For those who don’t know, Huxley was a leading secular humanist scientist and philosopher.

Some years ago I read a book of an imaginary conversation between these three men who died on the same day. It was by Protestant-turned-Catholic Christian thinker Peter Kreeft and was titled Between Heaven and Hell (1982). Soon after its publication I invited Kreeft to speak at the Christian liberal arts college where I was on the “Convocation Committee.” He spoke about the book and about the differences between the worldviews of the three who died on November 22, 1963—Kennedy’s apparent hedonism, Huxley’s secular humanism, and Lewis’s Christian theism. I was privileged to have lunch with Kreeft that day and I greatly enjoyed his sparkling wit and deep insights.

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

Like almost everyone else (beyond infancy) who was alive in the U.S. on November 22, 1963 I remember vividly where I was. I was at home eating lunch during the usual lunch break at school. We didn’t have television and the radio wasn’t on, so I didn’t learn about Kennedy’s assassination until I was walking the mile back to school. I was in sixth grade and attending a new school. We had just moved to that city from another one in the Upper Midwest. As I was crossing an empty field (which later became a Methodist church) toward Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School (yes, that’s where she and her family camped on one of their many moves between towns) a schoolboy I didn’t know (I didn’t know hardly anyone yet) informed me that “Kennedy got shot.” I didn’t believe him, but when I arrived at school everyone, the whole student body and faculty, were in the dining room watching Walter Cronkite on television. I remember well how Cronkite teared up and choked up as he report at 1:00 PM that Kennedy was dead.

My family borrowed a television from someone and we spent much of that weekend watching the uninterrupted reporting about the assassination and all that followed it. I spent my week’s allowance on a book about the assassination which I ordered by mail. I’m sure my parents wondered why. I still have it. It’s a large picture book with no pictures of the assassination itself. I knew then that there was a color film of the actual shooting (the so-called “Zapruder film”) and I desperately wanted to see it. I did see it years later.

Over the years I have become somewhat obsessed—like millions of other Americans—about what actually happened and have read numerous books, watched numerous documentaries, visited the scene, etc. To me, the most revealing documentary about the assassination to date is one currently showing on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary show “Fifth Estate.” Watch it if you are able. According to these reporters and the people they interview who have spent years combing through government files and documents (including the recently released “secret documents” which do not include all of the ones that should have been released this month) the assassination was a “coup d’état.” However, I will let you watch it for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I find the case convincing.

On a more personal note, one thing I remember vividly is that my family was sad for Kennedy’s widow and children, but not all that broken up about his death. My family, and most people in our church, thought Kennedy was almost the Antichrist. They were wrong, of course, but that was the mindset of most conservative evangelicals in the U.S. at that time. There were in my family and church some people who sympathized with the John Birch Society. Not that the JBS actually thought Kennedy was “the Antichrist,” but what they thought about him then, mixed with our apocalyptic theology, made it easy to label him that or “almost” that.

None of that is to suggest that my family or anyone in our church cheered the assassin; they didn’t. Their response was somber, but not particularly broken up—except for the president’s family. But you have to realize that ALL major, negative world events were “read” by our particular kind of evangelical Christians (in the U.S.) as “signs of the times” leading up to the rapture and Armageddon and the Great Tribulation and then the visible return of Christ followed by the millennium. How well I remember watching the Six Day War in the Middle East and thinking it was going to include the rapture and end with Armageddon and praying that I would get to have sex at least once before I was raptured. But I was despondent because I was too young to get married and I knew I wouldn’t go up in the rapture if I had sex before marriage.

Seriously, people. Some of you will remember that religious milieu. I’m so far from it now that it sounds very strange even to my own “ears.”

Pause with me now, for a moment, on this (US) Thanksgiving Eve to remember these three great men of history who died on the same day so many years ago….

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).

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