November 22, 1963

JFK in DallasI remember the day vividly. Well, the entire four days, actually. On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was in my junior high classroom that afternoon. It was a little strange at first because the teacher wasn’t in the room; he was huddled with other teachers in the hallway just outside. They were listening to a transistor radio. I recall all the students were wondering what was happening. Then he came in the room and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. No one knew yet how seriously.

Gym class came next. We talked about how everything would be fine; after all, this was America, so there was no way our president would die. I don’t remember the exact moment reality hit, but it was shortly after that. Junior high optimism proved too optimistic.

Probably the entire country was glued to the television throughout the weekend and into Monday when the funeral was broadcast. Along the way, I somehow missed the live TV moment when Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd at the Dallas police station and shot Oswald. Other than that, though, I was a witness to history in the making.

Yet there were many things of which I was unaware. As I watched TV icon Walter Cronkite struggle to maintain his composure while reporting the developing story, I didn’t know that the man we were mourning had a stunningly false resumé handcrafted by a father whose primary purpose in life was to place one of his sons in the White House. Those bestselling books and that Pulitzer Prize Jack Kennedy had won were the result of a team of writers who then put his name on them.

While viewing the many tear-stained faces of grieving Americans, I had no knowledge of the way the Kennedy clan hid the president’s many health problems so the public wouldn’t realize he was dependent on painkilling drugs to get by. The public image, of course, was of robust youthfulness. Neither did I know the quack doctor administering those drugs had a nickname—Dr. Feelgood. I wonder if the nation would have felt good about that.

As I held back my own emotions when the widow and her children stood outside as the casket passed by, I was in the dark about the moral character of the man in that casket. If I had known at the time that he was a serial adulterer, aided and abetted by his own Secret Service, would those emotions I felt have been different?

JFK GraveAnd as he was lowered into the grave that even now has an eternal flame above it, my youthful ignorance kept me from knowing his very election as president was suspect. Massive voter fraud on his behalf in Illinois and Texas, much of that again orchestrated by his father, is what gave Kennedy the victory. Chicago mayor Richard Daley put his machine to work to dig up enough votes from the graveyards of the city to give the state to the Democrats in 1960. Texas, basically run by JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, also manufactured more votes in certain districts than actual voters on the rolls.

Many people today don’t know these facts. As a historian, I have no excuse; I have to be honest about what really happened and about the character of the man we remember on this 50th anniversary of his death. That doesn’t make the event any less tragic; the nation never needs a trauma like this. But it doesn’t help us as a people to remain ignorant of truth. We need to be clear-eyed about our history.

As awful as the assassination of a president always is, let’s keep some perspective. John F. Kennedy was not a heroic figure in his personal life. He made many mistakes as president, the Bay of Pigs fiasco being the most obvious. Even his achievements in the Cuban Missile Crisis are mixed. Yes, he forced the USSR to withdraw the missiles, but at what price? He pledged never again to help the Cuban exiles take their country back from the communist dictator Fidel Castro. That tyrant still lives today, and Cuba continues to suffer from the fallout of his stern rule.

Lost in the many documentary tributes appearing on TV this entire month is the real nature of the man being honored and the paucity of his accomplishments. I still experience many of the feelings others do about this tragedy; I saw it unfold myself as a child of twelve. One cannot forget the poignancy of those days and the grief that overwhelmed. Yet now I can step back and analyze it better, distanced somewhat from childish emotions.

Something else I didn’t know on November 22, 1963, was that another man died on that day, far away from my own frame of reference as a young boy in a small Indiana town. Across the Atlantic, in a Great Britain I had never yet visited, an author I had not yet read also passed away. His name was C. S. Lewis. His life and writings have, over time, proven far more influential than that of the man most people remember on this anniversary.

God has a different standard of judgment than the mass of mankind. He sees the heart. On that fateful day in November 1963, it could be that only one of those men who died awoke to find himself in the presence of the One he adored. I will write more of him tomorrow.

C. S. Lewis: The Purpose of Government

That Hideous StrengthOne doesn’t normally think of C. S. Lewis as a political scientist; neither would he have relished the title. Yet while he rarely enters into any deep discussion of politics and government, he had definite views on both. All one has to do is read the last entry of his science fiction trilogy, That Hideous Strength, to see his utter distaste for any government that thinks its purpose is to control the lives of all citizens. That novel offers a dark portrait of where absolute control will take us as a society. It also shows God’s disdain for the arrogance of man.

Even in his classic Mere Christianity, Lewis touches on this:

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

Notice he didn’t say the State makes you happy, nor that it tells the husband and wife what type of fire they’re allowed to build for their chat, nor how many dartboards are permitted in the pub, nor which books the man should read, nor whether he can even have a garden of his own. It is understood those are all personal choices; the role of government is to make sure we are free to enjoy them. The Nanny State didn’t mesh with Lewis’s vision of good government, and neither should it be our goal.

And if you’ve never read That Hideous Strength, I would urge you to check it out.

C. S. Lewis on “Being Good”

Mere ChristianityC. S. Lewis shows in Mere Christianity how the typical understanding of “being good” is in direct contradiction to the real Biblical explanation:

The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men.

But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.

Once we repent and receive His forgiveness, our thinking gets straightened out. It’s a lifelong process. The apostle Paul confirms this in the 12th chapter of the book of Romans when he instructs:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The genuine Christian seeks to change his thinking as fast and as often as he discovers God’s perspective. We are in a continual renewal process. Out with the old, in with the new.

Lewis: Discerning Good & Evil

The apostle Paul notes that “the god of this world [i.e., Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel.” Scripture also talks often about how those without the truth are walking in darkness. C. S. Lewis picks up on this theme in Mere Christianity when he explains how sin warps our understanding of our very sinfulness:

Good & EvilThe right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.

This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. . . . You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.

I think our goal is spelled out in the book of Hebrews:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

We need discernment. Only by growing in righteousness will we ever see clearly the distinction between good and evil.

Lewis on the Nature of Good & Evil

Writing to his friend Arthur Greeves in 1933, C. S. Lewis offered these thoughts on the nature of good and evil:

C. S. Lewis 1I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country . . . into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight wh. He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which wd. be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there.

Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us . . . wh. would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. . . .

Only because He has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways. The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good.

You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

I believe Lewis is accurate in what he says here. Sin is always the selfish ruination of something good God offers. Food, used in the way God intended, is great. Food abused is gluttony. Sex as a means of love, commitment, and the creation of a family is a blessing; sex abused is a lustful trap that ruins lives. There is a proper kind of pride—satisfaction for a job well done—that is twisted into arrogance when selfishness takes over. There is nothing good that can’t be perverted into evil. That’s what sin is all about.

What God is all about is delivering us from that sinfulness, thereby putting every good thing back in its proper place where it can be enjoyed in the way He intended.

Lewis: On Knowing God’s Will

Life lived outside of the will of God is not really life at all. That’s something I’ve learned from experience. C. S. Lewis, in a pithy comment in his science fiction book Perelandra, puts it this way: “To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere.” That goes beyond truth; would it be permissible to call it “true truth”?

God's WillChristians should always be examining themselves to ensure they are not wandering around in “nowhere” territory. One of the most commonly asked questions is “How do I know if I’m in God’s will?” All too often, we want to rely on what we “feel” inside. In a letter to a correspondent who apparently was asking that common question, Lewis offers a caution:

I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit guides your decisions from within when you make them with the intention of pleasing God. The error wd. be to think that He speaks only within, whereas in reality He speaks also through Scripture, the Church, Christian friends, books, etc.

Wise advice, I believe. If we are in a place where we’re not sure what the Lord wants us to do, we should avail ourselves of all the ways He makes his purposes known to us. I do believe that the inner witness of the Spirit is usually the final piece of the puzzle that must fall into place, but we must be wary of making it the first and only piece.

Lewis: The Dusty vs. the Clean Mirror

Mere ChristianityGod does take the initiative to reach out to us, yet His impact on our lives depends on our willingness to reach back. C. S. Lewis touches on this in his Mere Christianity:

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as a clean one.

Our goal is to be as clean a mirror as possible. Let the Sonlight shine.