'Greater Love Hath No Man Than This...'

Tom Chivers today adds his contribution to the growing press commentary on the Costa Concordia cruise liner disaster off the coast of Italy.

In his article, Tom tries (pretty desperately in my opinion) to argue that a captain of a ship leaving his passengers to their fate and dashing into the nearest lifeboat is in-keeping with evolutionary thought. But equally, Tom argues that bravery and self-sacrifice is also.

I'm not going to be the first to cast a rock at the cruise liner's now publicly humiliated and presumably rather guilt-ridden captain, since my actions were I in his position would depend upon whether I was open to the grace of God on that day, or indeed not. I'd like to think I would man up and 'face the music', so to speak, but with human nature as it is, I simply don't know whether I'd step up to the plate and put the needs of my passengers first.

The difference between the actions of the Titanic's captain and the captain of the Costa Concordia in response to a huge emergency involving life-saving and self-sacrificial behaviour is, I guess, not so much because we live in an age in which Christianity is sinking, but because what Christianity brought with it is disappearing. We do not know the personal faith of the captain of the Titanic. All we do know is that his was an age of duty. Presumably, he would not have thought of abandoning his ship and passengers because it was an age in which duty was a fundamental part of being a member of society. It was duty that led men to fight World Wars and it was duty that led captains to go down with their ships with bravery. To them, to be known as the captain who abandoned his passengers would be a fate worse than death itself.

Tom argues that bravery, courage and self-sacrifice can be evolutionary traits in mankind. There is, however, no getting past the fact that evolutionary thought does place 'survival of the fittest' at the top of man's all-round agenda. Tom spends plenty of time in his article considering whether Darwinian thought and self-sacrifice are as incompatible as one would first think. He spends far less time wondering whether Darwinian thought in this case has the vagaries of human nature down to a tee. The captain of the ship was only doing what modern man, stripped of the chief civilising cultural force of Western societies would do: save himself because the rights of the self are the rights that matter the most and to hell with all the others. Readers could say, 'You can't blame today's society for this man's actions. He alone is culpable!'. Possibly not, we are all individually accountable for our actions, indeed, but today's society hardly helps the cause of selflessness, does it?

I've been reading Caroline Farrow's blogposts on the joys and difficult hardships of pregnancy and it really rams home the crux of the abortion debate, not only because a lot of men and women do not understand just how demanding upon the self pregnancy can be (information which BPAS and Marie Stopes are doubtlessly all too willing to avail to clients), but because it takes real guts, courage and self-sacrifice to place the needs of the child in the womb and outside of the womb first. Similarly, in a bygone age, abortion was culturally unthinkable. Today it still carries stigma despite its legality, but the duty of motherhood, the duty itself, has been eroded and perhaps destroyed and replaced with an ideology of personal rights that trump duty on a societal level every time. That's just one of the reasons why abortion is so destructive.

We can see this also in the arguments of the pro-gay marriage cause. The 'right' to gay marriage must be defended and promoted because this 'right' destroys the duty of all to defend natural marriage between a man and a woman with the desire to bring into their family and human society, new life. Without families society implodes, dies, becomes sterile and is bound for destruction. The Holy Father has recently said as much. We can even say that at the time when the Titanic sank, if a man got a woman pregnant, he would be encouraged by his family to marry her and if he didn't then he had neglected his duty. Nowadays, he would be ticked off because he had neglected his 'duty' to wear a condom (which might just break anyway).

It would be nice to think that the captain of the ship, had he been a faithful Catholic, would remain on board because of his faith ('the first shall be last', 'greater love hath no man than this' etc) but we know from our own lives and the lives of even the Saints that we are perfectly capable of denying Our Lord, once, twice, even thrice and of betraying Him. No, the difference is that we are now in the age of rights and personal freedom and if we have 'evolved' in the last 50 years then we have 'evolved' out of the age of duty. Presumably, the manufacturers of both cruise liners did not believe either iceberg or rock could 'sink the unsinkable'. What the modern makers of the Costa Concordia might not have considered is that the new age of unbridled personal freedom leads us men, capable of moments of great bravery and ghastly cowardice to 'think the unthinkable'.

We can only assume that the reason why the Western societies are throwing Christianity out of the pram is because the law and love of God requires us to place restrictions upon our own personal freedoms, to distrust our own self-generated impulses and, with His grace, to freely choose God and the service of others, above or instead of self. Now that these societies have thrown Christianity out of the pram, what is it left with?  The answer is the Costa Concordia and a captain abandoning his passengers to their watery fate. May the souls of all who have died in the sea disaster rest in peace and the captain find forgiveness and peace from the Lord. As for Tom Chivers's article...Well Tom, I must say I disagree. The captain, in Darwinian terms, was only doing his evolutionary 'duty'.