Press-Republican

On Religion

April 16, 2012

Titanic sermons, 100 years later

The White Star Line publicists pulled out all the stops when promoting the Titanic and its sister ship the Olympic, even claiming in one brochure that these giants "were designed to be unsinkable."

By the time Titanic put to sea, this language had evolved into a boast -- reportedly shared with passengers -- that "God Himself couldn't sink this ship."

Thus, when the liner sank on April 15, 1912, preachers on both sides of the Atlantic were among the first commentators to raise their voices in judgment, as well as consolation. Newspapers promptly printed many of these sermons.

One fact gripped preachers more than any other: In an age of great power and wealth, the Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats for its 2,200 passengers.

This was a deadly form of pride, said the Rev. William D. Moss at the Washington Heights Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. But it would be wrong to condemn only the businessmen who built the Titanic and plotted its course.

"Yonder where the ruthless deep yawned to receive its unwilling and innocent victims, the law of life exercised its ancient prerogative that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. ... In the tragedy of this hour we have witnessed the wrong-doing not of one man or a body of men, but of the age," proclaimed Moss.

"The fact is driven home to us today that as an age, as a nation, and as individuals we lack moral vision," he said. "We worship success. We worship money. We worship luxury. We worship display. We worship the material. We worship the ephemeral. We worship self-interest. We worship competition. In other words, we worship speed. ... And so this tragedy of the ocean has its daily counterpart on the land."

The moral messages captured in these sermons were completely different than the vision offered in 1997 by Hollywood director James Cameron. His "Titanic" blockbuster portrayed the doomed ship as a symbol of the corrupt values of an old-fashioned culture that would soon be conquered by science, social change and the sexual revolution.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
On Religion
  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Easter with doubters and the 'nones'

    Should more pastors ask this blunt question: "Do you really believe Jesus was raised from the dead?" wonders religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg A monastery in the Hebrides, after 1,000 years

    Before Father Seraphim Aldea can build a monastery on Scotland's Mull Island, he needs to have a working septic system, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg World Vision wars 2014, and the future

    It's getting harder to work with broad coalitions when culture wars keep rocking churches, writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Death of an orthodox missionary -- in America

    Metropolitan Philip, leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Christians in North America, was a fierce advocate of Orthodox unity in the U.S., writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Praying for better journalism at the New York Times

    Bringing fair, informed religious viewpoints into the New York Times newsroom environment can be a challenge, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    March 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Yet another online rant about Lent

    Small sacrifices add up, and they can help believers focus on bigger questions says a former nun, writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg The evolving state of Mormon heaven

    Mormon leaders attempt to reframe the faith's longheld doctrine of "exaltation," the belief that truly devout Mormons can rise to godhood and even create new worlds, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly..

    March 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg The pope and the Pentecostal smartphone

    In a call for Christian unity, Pope Francis addressed a crowd of Pentecostal Protestants with a surprising request ... and received a surprising response, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg God and millenials: it's complicated

    Nomad faith is now the American way, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Obama on religious freedom -- overseas

    The president's defense of religious freedom doesn't square with his administration's policies on mandating health-insurance coverage of sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 14, 2014 1 Photo