A Memorable Day: November 22, 1963
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.
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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.
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….
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