May/June, 1998 Volume XII Number 12

Of Titanic proportions

by Paul deParrie

Everyone's crazy about the Titanic. It's not just the movie; its the memorabilia, the underwater photos, the new revelations driven by the newfound interest in the story.
The one thing I have seen little of, however, is "The Lesson of the Titanic."
Back when I was a new Christian, many believers made a big deal of the possibility of locating and showing Noah's Ark. The witness to the world, it was said, would be undeniable. I didn't buy it. I figured the world would just say "Ho hum" and move along.
More to the point was the underwater finding of the HMS Titanic some years ago and the subsequent slow growing fascination with the old wreck until now it has become a mania.
In God's economy, Titanic fever may be more significant than any resurfacing of Noah's old craft. It's lessons are more timely -- more suited to the 20th century (just as it ends).
Human arrogance and pride is the one thing which is little spoken of in the retelling of the tale.
Proudly, Titanic was proclaimed "unsinkable." Heedlessly, the ship plowed at top speed into a known iceberg area. Carelessly, the sailors reacted when the iceberg was hit. Casually, only half the lifeboat space was filled, so confident were the passengers that the boats would all be returning to the ship. Unknowingly, inferior metals were used in the rivets and plates where the iceberg scraped and bulkheads popped apart at the seams. Arrogantly, the captain sent no SOS at first because he "knew" the ship could not go down. Calmly, the nearby ship which first saw Titanic's distress steamed on also "knowing" that the ship would not sink.
Yes, there was some heroism -- it was, after all, a different age. But whether the singing of "Nearer My God To Thee" was a cynical, last minute discovery of religion, or the heartfelt song of Christians about to meet their maker is unknown.
The other day as I considered the state of our nation, I couldn't help being reminded of The Lesson of the Titanic. But it is heartthrob Leonard DiCaprio who is on the minds of the Titanic minions -- just as it is heartthrob Bill Clinton who is on the minds of American voters -- so long as the economy is good.
Proudly, the American economy is "booming" and the stock market sets new records on a regular basis. Heedlessly, Americans ignore warnings of the moral minefield through which their nation has been hurting. Carelessly, government and business leaders react slowly to signs of danger -- Y2K, for instance. Unknowingly, early computer programmers did not account for the possibility of their work being used in the year 2000 and beyond. Arrogantly, government leaders assured everyone that "something" would be done. Casually, American investors keep spinning the stock market wheel.
The parallels of pride are there. I don't know for sure that Y2K will be a global or national disaster of Titanic proportions. It could be something else, but it seems to be shaping up that this tiny error, like the tiny rip in the Titanic's skin, could sink the whole mess. Certainly the proud confidence in the American economy and the American way of life mirrors the attitudes of those aboard the Titanic when she steamed full speed into the history and iconography of Western Civilization.
Back when I used to see the old black-and-white movie of the Titanic, the central discussion was around the foolishness of pride and the danger of arrogance. Now it centers around how cute is the leading man and how lovely the impossible love story -- a story which submerges any moral reflection which the movie might otherwise encourage.
The main Titanic question until March 23 was, "Will the movie set a new record for the number of Academy Awards for a single film?" (No, it tied with Ben Hur.)
Ironically, the one modern metaphor against pride and arrogance is made into a major motion picture at a time when pride and arrogance are so pervasive that the only "moral" question addressed in it is the disparity between the "haves" and the have-nots." In other words, instead of showing the folly of pride, the "moral" message encourages class-hatred and envy. And this from an audience who believe that they can ignore presidential philandering so long as their pockets are filling quickly in the "good economy."
I'd say, it's time to duck! Pray and duck!

Of Titanic proportions
The land of "I've Got Mine"