The Titanic and self-fulfilment as a substitute religion

May 1, 1998

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

A few months ago there was released in the United States of America a film which has proved to be the biggest box-office success of all time: "Titanic". The film itself may be uninteresting, but its success must be a sign of the times. What times? Times that reverse the sign-posts of God to make them point in exactly the opposite direction!

The film's central interest is a fictitious love-story set against the real life drama of the sinking of the famous ship Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912 from Europe to New York. The story is well-known. Racing amidst icebergs in North Atlantic waters on the calm but dark spring night of April 14 to 15, this greatest and most luxurious of transatlantic liners yet to have been built, labelled "unsinkable", at 11.40 pm struck an iceberg, and at 2.20 am sank.

What a lesson of life! One moment the Titanic was the pride of Western technology and the glory of the British Empire's shipyards, the next moment it was plunging in pitch darkness 2 miles to the ocean floor! One moment the first class passengers on board representing the flower of Anglo-Saxon high society and of Jewish finance were the lords of creation, the next moment they were like everybody else, helplessly awaiting their fate in mid-ocean with small chance of avoiding an icy cold death.

For of the 2207 souls on board when the Titanic set out across the sea, only 705 survived the sinking, to be picked up in their life-boats at dawn. Life-jackets saved many hundreds more from death by drowning, but they could not long survive floating in the below freezing ocean.

And why had there not been enough life-boats for all souls on board? Precisely because the floating palace was universally considered to be unsinkable. Its huge double-bottomed steel hull was divided into 16 compartments, each of which could be sealed off from the others by watertight bulkheads, so that even if several were flooded, still the liner could float. "God Himself could not sink this ship", was one deck-hand's typical boast.

God did not need to sink it. It was men who designed the ship and built it; men who sent it through northern waters littered with icebergs because that route is, as for the aeroplanes, the shortest between Europe and New York; men who raced the Titanic amidst the icebergs to show what she could do; men who saw the fatal iceberg only in time to swing the bow to port enough for the glancing iceberg to open beneath the water-line, like a tin-opener, a fatal front five of the 16 compartments. Had the liner crashed straight into the iceberg, it might not have sunk. Had only the front four compartments been punctured, it might still have floated. But as soon as the front five were flooded, the ship tilted far enough down in the bows for the water in the fifth compartment to slosh over the top of the bulkhead into the sixth, and so on, until the ship was bound to sink.

However, since no more than five compartments were originally breached by the iceberg, then the process of sinking took time. Hence an incomparable - real life - drama, which has held the world's imagination captive ever since: 2207 souls trapped on the stricken liner, with only a minority having any serious hope of escape from a cruel death which they could watch approaching for two hours, as the great ship's bows tilted inexorably lower and lower in the water. Finally as the entire stern lifted out of the water, the unprecedented strain tore the ship in two. The front two thirds of the ship immediately sank, the stern third crashed back for a moment level on the water, only to flood rapidly, tilt forward until it was vertical, and slide in its turn beneath the waves. All that remained visible of the supposed pride and glory of Western industry was, besides assorted flotsam, a scatter of shivering lifeboats, and hundreds of bobbing life-jackets, crying out at first, but muted as cold and death closed in!

What a scene! What a sign-post of God! What a reminder that "Man proposes and God disposes"! In 1912, after a century of "peace" and "progress”, in the glow of the Edwardian age, men thought, especially Anglo-Saxons, that with their liberal principles they had the world under control. The Great War breaking out in 1914 would prove how wrong they were. Then surely the sinking of the Titanic was God's advance warning to the whole 20th century that modern man is not the master of his fate as he pretends. But does he want to learn this lesson?

All that the 1997 Hollywood film seems to want from the legendary sinking is a dramatic back-drop to highlight a romance of liberation. The film "Titanic" takes no interest in any of those grand lessons of life which are surely responsible for the disaster's having attained its legendary status. In the film, the ship's fate is merely of technical interest - who was to blame? Answer, the foolish owners and officers of the ship, who are part of a whole society setup and establishment from which individuals, especially youngsters, must free themselves in order to lead their own lives and - be masters of their fate! Thus is the real lesson faded out and replaced by an unreal fantasy.

The film's hero, Jack, is a free soul, a young artist from backwoods Wisconsin with no strings and no affections, gambling his way at the last moment onboard the Titanic's lowest class accommodation, taking life and people as they come. The heroine Rose on the contrary is a high society girl feeling utterly trapped in her engagement to a domineering upper-class young plutocrat who is bringing her back across the ocean to marry her in her home-town of Philadelphia.

The hero and heroine meet onboard when Rose in desperation is about to throw herself into the ocean. Jack cleverly and courageously saves her from doing so, for which he gets little recognition or recompense from her upper-class companions. However, by continually defying the undemocratic class distinctions imposed by them and by the ship's structure, he leads her to free herself progressively from the restrictions of her society, her family, her God, as she sheds, in order, her engagement, her mother and, mere hours before the ship hits the iceberg, her clothing, in scenes filmed with only enough restraint to avoid that "R" rating which might have been bad for the box-office. Finally, as the ship is going down, she rescues him from a villainous imprisonment by her companions, while, once in the water, Jack rescues Rose upon a floating door with room only for one.

Jack has breath enough to preach to her one last time the gospel of self-fulfilment (old Tennyson's "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”), before he freezes dead and slips into the icy depths. But Rose will not forget this saviour who has sacrificed himself for her. The film shows her having led the rest of her life in accordance with Jack's message of liberation. It has been a fulfilled life, and as she looks back in old age, she is given to declare solemnly that Jack saved her, "in every way that a person can be saved"!

Blasphemy! Conscious or unconscious on the part of the film's makers? God knows. Certainly Our Lord is nowhere in the film, except perhaps in the person of a Catholic priest shown ineffectively praying on deck in the ship's last moments while Jack is effectively striving to save Rose. Thus secular self-fulfilment is elevated to the status of a substitute religion. All the human heart's need for love, for sacrificial love, satisfied; its need for a knight to gallop to the rescue of a damsel in distress, and the knight raised to the rank of a religious saviour, while all ten Commandments may be safely ignored - is this the key to the film's success?

Poor youth, flocking to see the film! In it is no inkling, not the least inkling, that the same human heart was made by the love of God for nothing less than to love God, mainly through the observance of those Commandments, defiance of which will fulfill not self but only sin and damnation. Who will give our youth the Catholic Faith, sole foundation of the true love of the true God, which is the sole fulfillment of every human heart?

Not liberalism, which is massively diluting and contaminating the Faith today by its systematic affirmation of man's independence from any truth or law to which he himself has not consented. Archbishop Lefebvre always used to say that one great antidote to liberalism is the circular letters written to the Catholic bishops of the world by the Popes from about 1800 to 1958. The Angelus Press has just published a Study Set of ten of these Papal Encyclicals, chosen by the Archbishop himself to teach anti-liberalism to his seminarians. The green flyer enclosed advertises both the set of Encyclicals and the Archbishop's teaching based upon them.

On the other side of the flyer the Angelus Press advertises the publication, no doubt for the first time in English, of a favorite book of Archbishop Lefebvre on the same subject, Fr. A. Roussel's "Liberalism and Catholicism". Leaning much on the same papal Encyclicals, Fr. Roussel teaches firstly the definition, origins and development of liberalism, and secondly the variety, subtlety and perversity of combinations of liberalism with Catholicism. The two absolutely do not mix, yet men mix them, Archbishop Lefebvre used to say, "in 36 different ways"! Nobody can pretend that this Encyclicals Study Set or Fr. Roussel's book make for easy reading. However, for anyone who has the Faith and ability to master such material, it is an incomparable fortification of their Catholic immune system against what Archbishop Lefebvre used to call the AIDS of neo-modernism, which is making the bows of the Church dip deeper and deeper under water. The Popes saw the liberal icebergs coming, they warned, they were not listened to...

For an easier introduction to these same Encyclicals, allow me to remind you of the existence of audio- and videotapes of the Winona Doctrinal Sessions of the summers of 1996 and 1997. These have been now freshly and professionally packaged, and have not been designed to make money, in fact the Seminary tapes program is seriously in the red. But this doctrine must get out to Catholics, if all of us are not to go to the bottom of an ocean of eternal fire! Write P.O. Box 9625, Shawnee Mission, ICS 66201-1865 for details.

The second flyer is an appeal for help to purchase an expensive but valuable piece of property next to the Society’s Church and Priory in Manila, capital of the Philippines. Undoubtedly the purchase will only be possible if God moves a few major benefactors to help the Church in this way. However, maybe the quantity and quality of widows' mites is what God has appointed to persuade Him to move those benefactors.

Dear Friends and Benefactors, remember the 5-day Ignatian Retreats at Winona, women's June 29 to July 4, men's July 6 to 11. The ocean is icy all around us, and there may be only minutes to jump, but remember the baker on board the Titanic who paddled happily through the night, and was picked out of the water alive in the morning because in his last moments on board he consoled himself plentifully with a bottle of whisky! Drink down deep your Catholic Faith, and then you too will start heating up the ocean with your charity!

Most sincerely yours in Christ,