Watching on TV the memorial service in Halifax today, and the various odes to God in both Christian and Muslim versions, I could appreciate the attempt at inclusiveness in an interfaith service. There were references to other Halifax-area disasters such as the huge explosion 95 years ago, and the Swissair Flight 111 of recent times.
Yet, discordant thoughts fluttered through my mind. Here we were, memorializing a disaster at sea one hundred years ago. What is it about this disaster, albeit a terrible and avoidable one that took 1,512 lives, that captures our imagination and reverence to this extent, a hundred years thereafter? Was it the large numbers who died? Did these people more deserve our sympathy than the many others that have perished in other disasters? The sinking of the Empress of Ireland i the St.Lawrence River on may 29,1914 took the lives of more than 1000 passengers.The sinking of the Lusitania during WWll took 1,198 lives, and untold other civilian lives were lost in that conflict; as well as the many lost in the First World War. Were they lesser souls? What is this morbid fascination with death and disaster?
The other thing that caught my attention during the ceremony was the many references to God. Everyone’s God. All three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions were included. They sang, “How Great Thou Art” and other songs of praise, and thanksgiving for saved souls.
The most common phrase heard among Christians in particular, when disaster strikes, either personal or plural, is the phrase “it is, or it was, God’s will. This, and its corollary, “saved by the grace of God, or just “God saved me.”
I guess we are all children in need of comfort in difficult times, even though it means cleaving to fairytales. Yet, some of us must ask hard questions: why should God save me and not you? Why should he let you die but not me? Why does he let horrible crimes happen; terrible sufferings go on, people dying horrible deaths? Are they less worthy?
The glib answer most religious will give is that these terrible things are the Devils works, our father’s sins, our sins, our failure to worship our God properly, or some such nonsense. Prayers will be answered, though not the way we expect, but in God’s own time and place, if rather in a roundabout way. You never blame God for all the shit that happens to you or the many innocent children and adults in the world. Why, it would be no fun for God if he made everything simple and easy. Of course, if we draw the lucky straw, if something great happens to us, we must thank God. After all, we should be in hell, and he just gave us a break.
Religion is not to be blamed for the Crusades; of the killing and murdering in God’s name by both Christians and Muslims; for the Inquisition; for burning and killing by Catholics of Protestant and vice versa. Why, that is just the human evil way, and God –though almighty, can do nothing about it; or he just does not want interfere. He just sits back and let us heave to it. You could say it is God’s hockey games, or reality TV.
So, back to the initial question. Was the Titanic disaster God’s will? Was he trying to teach us a lesson? To punish us for our arrogance and hubris? Was it our tower of Babel?
It was whatever you want it to be. Whatever makes you feel comforted. For heaven sake, it is the greatest fairytale on earth.