On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British ocean liner Lusitania just off the southern coast of Ireland, mere hours from port. The Lusitania was one of the largest and most luxurious ships of its time. It carried a complement of 1,962 people, passengers and crew, as well as hundreds of tons of munitions (something the British government repeatedly denied until 1982).
Shortly after the torpedo struck, there was a second (internal) explosion, and twenty minutes later the Lusitania’s bow was on the seabed. Of the 1,962 souls onboard, 1,198 were lost. One of the mysteries surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania is why she still had unmanned lifeboats aboard when she went down. Only six of the Lusitania’s 48 lifeboats were launched.
There was certainly little time to launch the boats before the Lusitania went under, and she was listing badly, which made the task extremely difficult and for some boats impossible. But there is another possibility as well. After the torpedo struck, one of the surviving passengers heard a passenger call out, “Captain, what do you wish us to do?” Captain William Thomas Turner replied, “Stay right where you are, Madam, she’s all right.”
The female passenger then asked the captain, “Where do you get your information?” and he answered, “From the engine room, Madam.” There is no evidence, however, the engine room provided the captain with such information. It seems Turner said what he said not because it was true, but because he was trying to prevent a panic.
Moments later, a passenger shouted from the direction of the bridge, “The Captain says the boat will not sink,” and cheers went up across the deck. According to an eyewitness, people who were trying to board the lifeboats changed their minds and turned around.
Misplaced trust killed many of the people who died that day. They got bad information, and accepted it as true. In this, the age of spin doctors and fake news, we may be as vulnerable in our own way as were the passengers of the Lusitania.
This is particularly true in the areas of spirituality and religion, where anyone (I am an example) can voice an opinion. Warnings against misplaced trust have been sounded since at least the prophet Jeremiah’s time. He lambasted the religious professionals of his time who, he said, “…dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
This is a recurring theme in the Bible’s Old Testament, and particularly in Jeremiah. The prophet carried on a lengthy feud with religious professionals who falsely reassured their hearers everything would be alright. St. Paul sounded a similar note in the New Testament when he warned, “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly … and they will not escape.”
The message, “You don’t have to do anything; it’ll be fine,” plays well to an audience. It played well to the people aboard the Lusitania, and they broke into cheers – just minutes before they drowned. It played well in 1929 when the Secretary of the Treasury, just weeks before the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, assured people, “There is no cause to worry. The high tide of prosperity will continue.” And it plays well now.
I sometimes hear the “You don’t have to do anything; it’ll be fine” message in religious circles, usually introduced by the confident assertion that God loves us unconditionally. It’s true God’s love is unconditional, but nowhere in the Bible does the message of his love promote a laissez-faire complacency.
According to St Paul, God’s kindness does not leave people where they are, but leads them elsewhere – to repentance. God is like a good parent. He doesn’t stop loving his children because they disobey him or engage in immoral or self-destructive behaviors, but neither will he ignore or acquiesce to such behaviors.
The Bible is clear: God did not send his Son so we could remain in our selfishness and sin, but so we could escape them. He does not say, “Stay where you are; it’s alright.” That’s not the kind of thing he would say. He loves us too much.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 4/5/2017