August 24, 2005

Titanic Display


The Titanic exhibit here in Columbus was packed with people. There is something about it that has captured imaginations in way other tragedies haven't. My mother asked why should that be.

I think it was mostly the tremendous loss of life though part of it is also the way it seemed almost fated. So many little things went wrong that it makes us play the "what if" games. What if the Titanic had hit the iceberg straight on (it would not have sank). What if the lookouts hadn't misplaced the binoculars? (They probably would've seen the iceberg earlier and avoided it). There are dozens more examples. There was even another ship in the area that might've come and saved over a thousand souls but for another 'what if'.

It also seemed a potent symbol. Western society was proud of her technological innovations and for many it seemed that science, not God, was the ticket to prosperity. Science was an unalloyed good (this was before the invention of the atomic bomb), and if you squinted your eyes hard enough it seemed mankind was progressing. (Two world wars and the Hitler & Stalin regimes woke most up to the fact that human nature wasn't progressing as quickly as science.) The Titanic was billed as the "unsinkable ship", which made it almost a poster child for that time's hubris.

The Titanic was also a luxury liner. One Christian who survived wrote something that shows the difference in attitude between today's Christians, who are very comfortable with pleasure and comfort to the point of some evangelists advertising a "health & wealth gospel", and those of yesteryear. Back then, closer to America's Puritan roots, they were far more suspicious:
"The pleasure and comfort which all of us enjoyed upon this floating palace, with its extraordinary provisions for such purposes, seemed an ominous feature to many of us, including myself, who felt it almost too good to last without some terrible retribution inflicted by the hand of an angry omnipotence."
The exhibit included picture & text concerning a Catholic priest who was traveling in order to officiate at his brother's wedding. And it was one of these last minute change of ship deals - a "what if" of tragic proportions. I thought only of how sad that wedding must've been (though it was surely delayed). But then I read how the priest comforted many souls as the ship went down and led an impromptu interdenominational prayer service. And it occurred to me that it was great that there was a priest on board, that maybe the "bad luck" the priest had had in transferring at the last minute to the Titanic was instead providential.

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