The Lifeboat Mentality


I was first introduced to the lifeboat mentality in an Army group building and leadership exercise. Your group is given a list of supplies. You as an individual and then your group rank them in order of necessity. It shows how much you give in to a group and how much you lead one. It's a good exercise. In the 1970s, the people who believe the world is overpopulated used the lifeboat scenario to teach school kids how more people and dwindling resources would effect them. This is not a good exercise; it's good propaganda. But the point it indoctrinates isn't a good one.

People in a lifeboat have a desperate view of life. If this world is a closed system to you with a finite number of resources which people only deplete, you'll have a desperate view of life. People with a desperate view of life do desperate things. There's a 1950s movie about people in a lifeboat. Watch it. See how people trapped in a lifeboat, start looking at the weak and ill as nothing but drains. If a person is going to die anyway, why not push them overboard now, so they don't use anymore water? And you sure don't want anymore in the boat, do you? No, there comes a point when those in the lifeboat won't take more on. They'll pry the fingers off of people holding on to the side; they'll hit them with oars to make them let go.

We've all been indoctrinated with a lifeboat mentality towards human life and the resources of earth at least since the 70s. You can see this in our view of the weak and unproductive, of those who "are going to die" anyway, of new life coming into the world. As a society we spend more on dog food than we do on Downs Syndrome children; one state has legalized the killing of those who are going to die anyway; and abortion is a hotly defended right necessary to stop unwanted babies; to stop more people from getting into our overcrowded lifeboat.

But don't think a lifeboat mentality only impacts those outside the lifeboat or the weak, sick and old in the lifeboat; it effects and infects us all. A desperate view of life in general leads to despairing of one's own life. In WWII the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in the Pacific. For 4 days hundreds of men were in the water. Many died; killed by sharks and hypothermia. The most troubling thing is that even after the rescue planes arrived and sea planes were pulling some out of the water, even then men in despair over the desperate ordeal were committing suicide by deliberately undoing their life jackets and drowning themselves. If you don't see a like despair, a like desperation in society today then you don't listen to today's music, read modern books, or see current movies.

Convince people they are in a lifeboat with limited resources and that life only drains resources, and they'll start to act like rats in an overpopulated cage. But the truth is that our resources are not as limited as you have been led to believe.

You think the world is overcrowded. The truth is that no more than 1-3 % of earth's ice-free land is occupied by human beings. No more than 1/9 of this land is used for agriculture. Using present standards of living and present technology, the earth could support at least 8 times its present population still leaving half the earth's land for wildlife and conservation.1

You're shown pictures of grossly overcrowded cities and led to believe that's how it is all over. The truth, as stated in the Austin American Statesman, is that the entire world population could stand in Travis County. The US population would only need 10 square miles, about the size of Central Austin.2 This would only give each person one square foot to stand, but all the people in the world could fit into Texas with a population density less than many existing cities leaving the rest of the world empty. Each man, woman and child would have 1300 square feet of land.3

Ah, but you've been told our food supply can't continue to feed us. A 1996 United Nations report said that in the last 40 years global food supplies had doubled. Between 1962 and 91 average daily food supply increased 15%. In 1990 there was a food surplus of about 50% in developed countries and 17 % in developing countries.4 What about running out of nonrenewable resources? There have been predictions of the imminent running out of these for years, none of have come true. Major studies done by others see no evidence of running out at all.5

Then the cry goes up, "The forests! The forests! What about the rain forests?" You're told things like a tropical forest the size of Belgium is logged worldwide each year. What you're not told is that Belgium could fit into the world's tropical rain forest 500 times. Brazil has a forest the size of the US. It logs a fraction of 1% per year, and in the meantime the rest of the trees, 99.6% of them, go on growing. 1/3 of the US is forested that's the same amount as in 1920, but annual forest growth is more than 3.5 times what it was in 1920.6

Okay, so this lifeboat called earth is well-stocked for the foreseeable future. What about the persistent drain of people? This is the fundamental flaw in the whole lifeboat mentality. People are not a drain; they are a resource. People add to the lifeboat of earth they don't take away from it. People develop new ways to use and conserve resources; they even develop new resources. Planned Parenthood will tell you that a welfare baby costs the state $8,400-$13,900 dollars. But the average tax payer will end up paying the state $50,000 in their lifetime.7 The difference between being a nation in 2040 where every 1.5 persons supports one retired person is simply abortion. Abortion makes us fall below zero population growth.8 Every year Texas alone aborts the Pflugerville school district 5 times over.9

In 1809 the world watched as Napoleon's armies marched death across Europe, but all the while death was on the march life was too. In 1809, William Gladstone, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Mendelssohn, and Abraham Lincoln were born. One author asks, "We may well ask which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809?"10 By contrast, our world almost 200 years later believes that in abortion we only bury unwanted babies, problems, drains, not precious resources, solutions, babies which God wanted to give to us and our world.

What is the answer to the lifeboat mentality which causes people to look at life as a disease, a threat, a drain? Not the Law, not even laws once more outlawing abortion. Even such laws, which government does have a duty to enact in order to fulfill their responsibility to protect life, would not stop abortion. Only the Gospel can free us from the lifeboat; only the Gospel can give us God's view of life. Even if the world was grossly overpopulated, even if our resources were rapidly diminishing as the life-haters would have us believe, even then our Lord would still be pro-life, and we could be too.

God always comes out on the side of life. There was no necessity in God that made Him create life. He was not lonely in eternity. He didn't need our love nor to love us. God is love; God is life; God is complete and whole as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But God created life; He made by hand man and woman, and you and me. Psalm 139 tells us He knit us together in our mother's womb.

What you make by hand is always special, so even when mankind bit the Hand of God that not only made them but fed and cared for them, God did not throw humanity out of His lifeboat. Rather He put His only beloved Son, Jesus, into the same boat we were in. He put Him into our skin, under the same laws of God that we are required to keep. But where we don't, can't, and won't do any of them, Jesus did, could, and would do every single one of them. All that God required of human life, Jesus did in our place. All those laws, all the requirements, all those commands and demands of the law that make you despair and give up on life itself, Jesus kept in your place. They don't hang over you or your life anymore.

But the boat we were in didn't just have the laws of God hanging over us saying, "Do this and don't do that or you're sunk!" The boat we were in required life to suffer, to die, to be damned to pay for all the laws that we broke. Yes, our sins against life, the fact that we call on God to damn the life of someone we love; the fact that we look at sick and old life as a burden; the fact that we've yawned at the killing of the unborn, or even participated in the murdering ourselves had to be paid for.

But a sacrifice for sin has to be blameless, innocent, holy, pure, and we sinners have never been that, so Jesus made our sins His own so He could pay for them. And pay He did. On the cross, you should see Jesus paying every last cent needed to atone for your sins against life. Whether it's your sin of viewing the old and aged as a drain or actually killing the unborn, you should see that sin as paid for in full. That means God is not now, nor has He ever been doing things in your life to make you pay for these or any other types of sins. You should see your life as forgiven, cleansed, and blessed by God for Jesus' sake. This view of your life will raise your view of the life of others.

The Gospel that I have been choosing for Life Sunday is where Jesus removes the worries of our life off our shoulders. Now even if it were true that we were on a lifeboat with dwindling resources and too many people coming aboard, Jesus' words would remain true. We don't have to be worried about our life, what we will eat or drink. Friend, that is just too big of a worry for you and I. It will kill us, it does kill us if we take it on.

Furthermore, worrying about our life gives us a jaded view of all other life as well. If our life and livelihood is a burden to us, then any additional life only adds to that burden. But when our life is a gift which our Lord promises to take care of, than we don't have to see ourselves in a cramped lifeboat where it's every man for himself. No, now we can see ourselves on a cruise ship with plenty of room for more and surrounded by a whole ocean of blessings. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Life Sunday (1-18-04); Matthew 6:25-34

1 Jacqueline Kasun, The War Against Population (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999), 281.

2 Jane Greig, "You asked I answered...", Saturday, June 14, 2003, E7.

3 Kasun, 45.

4 Kasun, 38-39.

5 Kasun, 47.

6 Kasun, 57.

7 Dr and Mrs. J.C. Willke, Abortion Questions and Answers (Cincinnati: Hayes Publishing Company, 1990), 82.

8 Willke, 166.

9 Table 33, Induced Terminations of Pregnancy Reported to the Texas Department of Health, 1997.

10 F. W. Boreham, My Christmas Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997).