The ‘Red Pastor of Safenwil’ on the Sinking of the Titanic

Karl Barth, The Word in this World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 2007), 40-41.

After speaking about the way in which icebergs float down from Greenland, how the captain of the Titanic threw caution to the wind in moving so quickly through iceberg fields, and how the captain was compelled to do this by the ship’s investors who were vitally interested in the Titanic achieving the shortest Atlantic crossing yet to date, Barth writes the following:
"Yesterday in the “Freier Aargauer” newspaper the sinking of the Titanic was referred to as a crime of capitalism. After everything that I have now read about it I can only agree. Indeed, this catastrophe is a crude but all-the-more clear example to us of the essential characteristics and the effects of capitalism, which consists in a few individuals competing with each other at the expense of everyone else in a mad and foolish race for profits. Exactly the same course of events has already been played out in many other areas of labour. Indeed, it is almost tempting to interpret every feature of this catastrophe symbolically: the ship of human workers races onwards, but it is not consideration for the many which is at the helm, but the self-interest of the few."


Anonymous said…
Barth later commented that this sermon was as great a disaster as the original event.
True, but I'm sure that had more to do with genre considerations than with a surprising, late-life 'conversion' to capitalism. :-)
Perhaps Barth's change had more to do with his becoming convinced that the point of preaching is the Word of God.
Precisely what I meant, Walter! Good to have you here.
Anonymous said…
What did you think of the rest of the book?
The volume consists of two of Barth's sermons and a number of introductions and comments on these sermons and Barth as a preacher in general. These materials will serve you better than anything I can say about it.

It is a nice little volume.

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