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The day they died: JFK, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis on life, liberty & sainthood

22 novJFK, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis have all had a significant impact on my life and all died on the same day 50 years ago next week- 22 November 1963.

Coincidentally, it’s also St. Cecilia’s day – the patron saint of music.

Brave New World

I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in my teens. It was one of the first books I encountered which made me question whether ‘progress’ was always positive. Famously the ‘savage’ quotes Shakespeare to the disdain and bewilderment of the citizens. I now question whether just because we can do something we should, especially in the scientific realm and appreciate that we can choose the direction of our research. Scientific agendas are and should be political.

Most importantly Huxley, along with Orwell gave me a deep suspicion of government and anything that could be construed as an infringement on civil liberties. In Brave New World the elite engineer a society where everyone is happy and secure with shocking consequences. Our safety is vital and our freedom more so and we should never, ever, trade one for the other.

Secular Sainthood?

JFK presided over significant steps forward in Black Civil rights in the early 60s, although it was Johnson who was able to sign the Civil Rights Act into law in 1965. And his calmness during the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 certainly helped to keep us safe and alive. These successes along with his charisma and early death have elevated him towards secular sainthood, despite the drip-drip revelations of affairs and back room skullduggery.

There is an excellent Red Dwarf episode which is funny, poking fun at some of the more cuckoo conspiracies whilst also making a serious point about JFK’s legacy. The team go back in time to save the president, only to discover that his career now ends mired in controversy and resignation. Desperate to put things back how they were, they recruit JFK himself to go back to the grassy knoll to carry out his own assassination and save his reputation for history.

Like Diana he remains young in our minds, his reputation marred but strangely undefeated as a symbol of life and freedom.

A bridge between worlds

There’s so much I could write about CS Lewis, but the thing that comes through time and again for me was his ability to have a foot squarely in more than one camp and be loved by them both – a bridge between worlds and philosophies. Here was an incredibly intelligent man working in the height of the modernist rational era is able to speak into the lives of an emotional, narrative driven society. He was sexist as most were, patronising and by some accounts not always very likeable, but was able to sublimley express eternal truths in ways that stick in the mind and live in the heart. He was the antithesis of the laid back JFK and probably would have not agreed with Huxley a whole lot, but used the gifts given to him in an amazingly powerful way.

Claimed by virtually all Christian traditions his reputation is pre-eminent in an increasingly post-denominational world.

St. Cecilia

JFK, Aldous Huxley & CS Lewis all gave me hope and insight at a critical time in my late teens and continue to influence me greatly. I always remember and discuss their contribution to 20th Century on 22 November.

As for St. Cecilia, she was martyred some time before 1963 (in the 3rd century) for refusing to back down on her faith after an angelic visitation. (I honour her every year by singing my own rendition of this song written in 1970!)

St. Cecilia may not get much coverage in 2013, but then I wonder which of these 3 men who died on November 22nd 1963 will still be talked about in 1400 years time?

I am publishing this to coincide with this radio 4 programme broadcast on Tue 12 November 9am.

1 thought on “The day they died: JFK, Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis on life, liberty & sainthood”

  1. Huxley is turning in his grave nearly 100 years after his visionary prophecies began to form into his own mode of fiction. He is one of my favorite authors and raised serious issues and made world-wide breakthroughs in the research of psychedelics as well as our cognitive liberties. I drew a portrait as homage to the man and his works. See the him roll with the mushrooms, the pills and the doors of perception at


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