“When I was a kid in elementary school my teacher, Mrs. Wunch, asked our class a question that I’ve come back to about a million times, trying to figure out an answer. The question she asked went along with a lesson about Values Clarification, which is a fancy name for learning how to be a snob. This is how the question went:
‘If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?’
…the class did not hesitate in deciding who had value and who didn’t. The idea that all people are equal never came up. As I was saying before, we knew this sort of thing intrinsically. Or at least we thought we did…” (Searching, 105).
Miller uses this analogy to explain how humanity is caught up in this invisible social ladder through which we measure ourselves against others. All of our actions and associations are directed toward advancing in this ladder–associating with those higher up, and more tragically, dissociating with those lower down. Even our Christian faith, if we are not careful, can become partner to this destructive way of life.
“…an understanding of Christianity as an identity in the lifeboat by which we compare ourselves to others is entirely inappropriate. This faith is larger than the lifeboat, outside of it, you might say. Jesus would indicate the greatest thing you and I can do to display we know Him is to love our brothers and sisters unconditionally, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love our enemies…” (113).
Essentially, this chapter on “lifeboat theory” is a continuation of his thoughts on how we value ourselves based on what we are told about ourselves by others. Adam and Eve were loved and affirmed by God, the perfectly loving One, but when they fell, humanity began constructing this perpetual lifeboat scenario. He concludes the chapter with this:
“All this is to say that when the Bible indicates life comes from God, and death comes from separation from God, it makes complete sense, and this truth serves as an explanation for all of our feelings, for the way in which we interact, for the ways in which we entertain ourselves, and for the general precepts of the human plot. Without Him, we feel that we are being thrown out of a boat” (118).