On November 22, 1963, three great men died within a few hours of each
other: C. S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. All three believed, in different ways, that death was not the end of human life. Suppose they were right and suppose they met after death. How might the conversation go?
It would be part of “The Great Conversation” that has been going on
for millennia. For these three men represented the three most influential
philosophies of life in our human history: ancient Western theism (Lewis),
modern Western humanism* (Kennedy) and ancient Eastern pantheism
These three men also represented the three most influential versions
of Christianity in our present culture: traditional, mainline or orthodox
Christianity (what Lewis called “mere Christianity”), modernist or humanistic Christianity (Kennedy), and Orientalized or mystical Christianity (Huxley).
Lewis took his Christianity straight, or “mere.” Instead of reinterpreting
Christianity in the light of any other tradition, ancient or modern, Eastern
or Western, he interpreted those traditions in the light of Christianity.
Following the lead of the medieval Christian philosophers in this way, he used
much of ancient Western culture, especially Plato and Aristotle, as an aid
for his Christian apologetics.
Kennedy, though not a philosopher or theologian, was probably in a
vague and general way a humanistic Christian in the sense defined above.
Although he did not give public expression to his personal religious beliefs
(which is itself a humanistic rather than traditional attitude: relegating religion to private life), there is good evidence for this classification of Kennedy.
(Much of it is presented in Gary Wills’s Bare Ruined Choirs.) In any case, I take the literary liberty of supposing Kennedy to have been a typical
modernist Christian in order to set up this complete and typical threesome.
The purpose of the dialog is not historical accuracy; the argument is all, as
it is with Plato’s Socrates.