Sea Gulls and Christian Gullibility

OF all the silly news items dished out to the public during the present war, the story of several men on a raft who were saved from starvation by a God-sent sea-gull in answer to their prayers deserves a religious prize. It is even better publicity stuff than the "no-atheists-in-fox-holes" story dispatched from Bataan.

According to the log, as kept by Capt. Edward Rickenbacker himself, he and seven companions had been drifting on a raft for eight days, without water and with no food other than four "scrawny" oranges saved from the wreck of their plane. They were desperately thirsty, and though they had prayed from the beginning, no rain fell for over a week, "We had no rain until the eighth night," says Rickenbacker, and for five days "it was beastly hot." God evidently had turned on the steam.

One of the crew (a boy who later died) had a service Bible in his jumper. Accordingly, they got in touch with the Almighty at once.

"The second day out," says Rickenbacker, "we organized little prayer meetings in the evening and morning and took turn about reading.passages from the Bible, and frankly and humbly we prayed for our deliverance. After the oranges were gone there showed up a terrific lot of pangs of hunger, and we prayed for food."

Here, at last, was the signal for God to get busy--and he did. A sumptuous dinner was prepared for them.

An hour after they prayed, a sea-gull approached the raft, perched conveniently on Rickenbacker's head, and was instantly seized. Raw as it was, it was ravenously eaten by the eight famished men. God, in a burst of generosity, had seen fit to send this lone sea-gull to save them from utter collapse. Why he did not send more, at least one sea-gull apiece, when sea-gulls are so plentiful, and throw in a jug of drinking water besides, will remain a theological mystery; it is enough that the Almighty, after seeing them starve for days, responded at all. But the amount of food he sent did not reflect magnanimity nor the bounty of Heaven. Sending a sea-gull to feed these eight starving men was like a child in a zoo throwing a single peanut to a herd of hungry elephants. And, sending it uncooked was against the principles of sound medical practice. What doctor in a hospital would think of offering raw sea-gull flesh to desperately sick patients ?

But, even at that, the flying lunch-box arrived too late. One of the occupants of the raft, a mere boy, too weak to rally, and sickened by drafts of seawater and exposure, died of starvation after the bird arrived. God, in his infinite knowledge, knew these men had been starving for days, yet he did not trouble himself to send food until they gave him the "go" signal to proceed. He dispatched the bird only when they told him how desperately hungry they were. You can't expect a shipment of food from Heaven until you ask for it.

With millions of people starving in all parts of the world, with convoys risking everything to get food-stuffs to war-shattered countries, with men risking their lives daily in submarine infested waters in aid to stricken humanity, God tells one lone sea-gull out of the thousands that exist, to fly over to the Rickenbacker raft, roost on Rickenbacker's head, and get itself caught. His summoning the bird to go and get itself eaten will long be cited as a striking.example of God's beneficence.

This act of Divine Providence, this act of Heavenly concern, is so touching that the Chicago Daily News features it on its front page with a drawing of the rubber raft and the accommodating bird alighting on Rickenbacker's head. The picture is entitled, "God Still Answers" for the benefit of religionists, it might better be called: "There Are No Sea-Gulls on Atheists' Heads."

The land-gulls who can swallow this sea-gull story, with all its maudlin mush and religious implications, are, properly conditioned to swallow anything; they are the gullible-minded goofs that gobble the Bible whole, swear by Jonah and the Whale, and believe that Joshua stopped the Sun. They will tell you seriously that manna dropped from Heaven and that a raven fed a prophet. They are the elite of God, self-sanctified and smug, who are forever preaching the "spiritual values" of life while they wallow in the gutter of superstition. They have as much brains in their skull as the sea-gull that alighted on Rickenbacker's head.

For the men on the raft there are at least extenuating circumstances, They had endured a tropical sun for days and were burning with thirst. Theirs was an experience of cruel hardship and intense suffering. Men, under these circumstances, frequently have illusions and sometimes go mad. Rickenbacker himself has stated that there were cases of "mental upset" on the raft and that "minds began to crack" May not charity suggest that because of their ordeal these men suffered from distorted ideas and twisted judgment? No one, in a rational frame of mind, believes that, because a sea-gull alights on a raft, it was sent by a Ghost. Sea-gulls quite frequently alight on ships at sea and on small fishing boats.

In his famous work, "Natural Causes and Supernatural Seemings", Dr. Henry Maudsley remarks:

"Another condition of things favorable to the generation of hallucinations is severe exhaustion of brain, whether owing to mental or to bodily causes. The shipwrecked sailor, when delirious from long privation of food and drink, has various hallucinations, among others sometimes tantalizing dreams and visions of food and water, which are, the illusive creations of his urgent needs." Starving men see that which is not there.

Capt. Rickenbacker, on his arrival home, announced over the radio that his life had been saved by an act of Providence. If it was, he has Providence to thank also for those hellish days on the raft. And what of the stricken boy with the Bible who died of starvation and whom they buried at sea? Did Providence look on while they cast his body to the waves? If there was a shark in the vicinity, it might well thank God for sending it a meal--a bigger and better meal than the one that alighted on Rickenbacker's head.

Christianity would be funny if it did not encourage so many nasty conceits. Where are more revolting prigs to be found than among those Christians who, having escaped some public calamity, like a fire or an explosion, attribute their safe-being to the favoritism of God ? Let the average Christian fail to catch a train that is wrecked or a ship that sinks at sea and he will hail his deliverance as a special act of Providence.

Who is more obnoxious than the piety-slobbering individual who thinks that the universe revolves around him?

It was my pleasure recently to entertain in my home five British boys of the RAF. These young officers had witnessed death in its grimmest aspects. All had seen companions shot down in the air by anti-aircraft fire, or killed beside them. One of them had participated in 87 bombing raids over enemy territory. When in the course of his narrative, he modestly spoke of his own experiences, the death of crew mates was referred to. I do not know what his religion was, or whether he had any, but there was no elation, no jubilation, no self-centered talk of having been saved by Providence. There were, on the contrary, expressions of noble dignity toward those who had been killed in action and who had fared a fate he had not shared with them. We did not claim that he had been singled out for special consideration while his companions perished. It was in pleasing contrast to the "God-saved-me" attitude of numerous Christians.

Compare this fine-minded attitude with the vulgar notions of classical Christianity. John Bunyan, of "Pilgrim's Progress" fame, was a mental case and an ignorant dolt, but his championship of Christianity made him a moral idol in the eyes of the Church. Like many a Christian, he saw in everything that affected his life the directing hand of God, He may be cited as a typical example of the fool who believes that the universe is centered in him. Bunyan not only believed that he lived under the tender care of Providence but that, as a soldier, he had been saved by miraculous intercession. "All we know of his military career," writes Macaulay, "is that, at the siege of some town, one of his comrades, who had marched with the besieging army instead of him, was killed by a shot. Bunyan ever after considered himself as having been saved from death by the special interference of Providence."

What did it matter to Bunyan if a comrade got shot, for taking his place in battle, if his own hide was saved? Wasn't he more important, in the eyes of God, than the one who was killed?

Such is the "spiritual" life and moral preachment one gets from reading Bunyan or such stories as the Sea-gull on the Raft. What does Providence care for man so long as the favored of Heaven live and others perish?

Christians have never been able to visualize a decent-minded deity.' The God they appropriated from the Jews was a peevish old reprobate, easily annoyed over trifles, vicious and vindictive in his conduct and as cruel as a Hun when he went on a rampage. He was, as John Burroughs remarks, a "heaven-filling despot". We are told in the Bible that he once killed a man for merely touching a sacred image, ordered another killed for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, and sent two she-bears to claw little children for calling an old man "bald head." He stopped at nothing in his nefarious career, from "drowning" the world to ordering the rape of virgins. And he is even less impressive in his modern, guise as the friend and protector of man. A God who sees men starve for twenty-one days on a raft and sends, during all their suffering, one Sea-gull to appease their hunger, is hardly a philanthropist. He is, even as the symbol of an idea, a menace to the mentality of every Christian.

Ten centuries hence men will look back at the records of our age as we do now at those of earlier times. They may glance at the culture of America and find, in some buried ruins, the recorded story of the Sea-gull on the Raft. Will they smile, or will they have delusions like our own? Who can tell but those who thrive at that distant day.

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