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TITANIC, TITAN AND THE HIERARCHY OF LIVES
By David Poultney in All Sorts
pondering on whose lives matter mostTITANIC, TITAN AND THE HIERARCHY OF LIVES
Can you sleep on long distance flights? I can’t, not for more than a few minutes anyway. Thinking back to flying NZ 1, the service from Auckland to London via Los Angeles I would watch movies and read for the first leg but on the second leg, somewhere over North America I find I no longer have the focus for these. So I try to rest as best I can and put on my entertainment system to the flight map, so when I open my eyes from time to time I have some idea of where we are and how much longer I have until terra firma. Such is the scale of the journey from New Zealand to Britain that when the plane crosses the Canadian coast and heads out over the Atlantic the journey feels like it is drawing to a close. Of course between Newfoundland and Ireland the plane flies over open ocean so the map is pretty featureless for a while. But here and there a ship is named. Quite the most famous shipwreck identified is the Titanic.
It is 111 years since the Titanic sank and in that time its story has been a source of endless fascination. There was the hubris of its owners saying Titanic was unsinkable. There was the shortage of lifeboats, it should have had 64 but it was decided to reduce the number to 20 simply because it was thought that a full compliment of lifeboats would clutter the deck and obscure the views for First Class passengers. And of course the Titanic is a story of class. Only 37% of the Titanic’s passengers survived but 63% of First Class passengers survived compared to 42% of Second and 24% of Third. Perhaps the Titanic was a floating metaphor for a class ridden Britain, some lives just mattered more.
But 111 years later isn’t this still the case?
Last week our news media was dominated by the story of the Titan, a submarine used to take tourists, at great cost, to see the wreck of the Titanic. They only saw it through images from a probe fed to the onboard computer. We all know what happened, the submarine was crushed under the immense pressure of the Ocean and all lives were lost in what must have been a truly awful way. Five lives were lost and the media coverage was immense, the British Prime Minister described those on board as “explorers,” it seemed rather a grandiose term for people on an immensely costly excursion.
Tragic as it was, do we think it was more tragic than the sinking of a boat a week earlier carrying, well we don’t know, somewhere between 400 and 750 migrants from Libya to Greece. There were 80
confirmed deaths but hundreds of people are missing. Many of whom, it is believed were locked in the hold. Are their deaths less significant, or the manner of their dying more bearable? Yet this story was a footnote, five minutes on the News.
In our Gospel today we are called to hospitality, to a seeing of the other, whoever they are as a bearer of the image of God, a person with an inalienable dignity.
A few years ago in response to Black Lives Matter we occasionally heard (from angry white people) that all lives matter. Well of course, they do but some have been treated as mattering less, or barely at all. Black lives matter, refugee lives matter, poor lives matter; indeed every life matters. Can we live the truth of this?