It has occurred to me from time to time that there may be significant similarities between the views of secularist advocates of “lifeboat ethics” and the outlook of those fundamentalists who view themselves as inhabitants of “the late great planet Earth.” This suspicion has been reinforced by two items I have recently come across. The first is an excellent essay by James Sellers, “Famine and Interdependence: Toward a New Identity for America and the West” (in Lifeboat Ethics: The Moral Dilemmas of World Hunger).
Sellers suggests that lifeboat ethics, as advocated by Garrett Hardin and others, is “a form of ecological chiliasm” (“chiliasm” is synonymous with “millennialism”)--although those of us who are familiar with the complexities of evangelical eschatologies might want to be more specific, viewing it as a secularized version of pre-tribulation rapturism. In any event, Seller’s suggestion seems to me to be a helpful one. Secularist lifeboaters and fundamentalists both have a rather easy time dividing the world up into “saved” and “lost.” And they both seem to be preoccupied with the survival of an elite group who will have the good fortune of escaping the general wrath that is yet to come.
The second item is a piece of concrete evidence that fundamentalists were using the lifeboat metaphor long before it was adopted by the recent secularist lifeboaters. In Modern Revivalism: From Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham, William McLoughlin reports this quote by Dwight L. Moody: “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”