How Did He Survive His Sinking Ship? June 12, 2010

How Did He Survive His Sinking Ship?

Donald Blum survived the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis. He was in the water for four days and says that “of the original crew of 1199, only 316 survived.”

Why was he one of the survivors?

I firmly believe it was because I didn’t think I had anywhere to go — others believed heaven was waiting for them. To survive, I kept thinking I should keep on treading water and waiting.

(Thanks to Matthew for the link!)


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  • RPJ

    And so this evil despairing atheist forced himself to remain in the misery of this world, eking out an existence terrified of the final death that approaches closer day by day. If only he’d believed, he would be in the strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus now.

  • BZ

    I can’t tell whether that last comment is a Poe or not.

  • Tim

    For those who think like RPJ, one has to wonder why you “still remain in the misery of this world.” To stop treading water because it is more difficult than giving up, especially in the hopes you’ll live on in an alternate universe, could easily be considered tantamount to committing suicide…there is nothing to say it isn’t. Many religious people believe that suicide is a sin worthy of eternal damnation, not eternal bliss “in the strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus”. Out of all the belief systems in the world, who’s to say that you have the correct view. Oh right, the same bible that others can and do interpret differently. In my opinion, a religious person should be more committed to remaining alive, not less. All RPJ’s comment does is provide further evidence that Christianity is nothing more than a death cult.

  • Tim, I’m pretty sure that RPJ is joking. The clear tip-off is “strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus” which gives it away.

  • Fett101

    I think the inclusion of the word “manly” marks it as a joke.

  • It would be nice, but I’d be more likely to believe that he survived in the usual way – he survived by not being among the ones who died. Focusing your mind on something in times of extreme crisis may be a key factor, especially in a situation like that where salt-water dementia was occurring left and right. It’s pretty cool to hear that an atheist worldview can be that focus.

  • Suicide might be seen as a big offense, but you can consider that during such conditions, the sinking of the ship and the waiting for help, for many it would be like “Well, this is God’s will” especially if one believes in an intervening God.

  • Claudia

    What drives our survival is the instinct that is ingrained in every single living thing in existence; that priority number 1 is to continue in existence. Humans are able to supress this instinct in very exceptional cases , but our default is to fight for our lives with everything we have. Our rationalizations (this is the only life I have, God is watching over me) have very little to do with the impulse itself, which is driven by a much more primitive part of our brain.

    I mean, “this is the only life I have” is a much more truthful rationalization, but its still a rationalization. My guess is that most atheists have the exact same impulse to live as most theists. The most deeply religious might have an easier time accepting death when it becomes inevitable (since they truly don’t believe they’re going to die) or in the worst cases, actively seeking it as suicide bombers do. They also truly don’t believe they’re really going to die, which they combine with the idea that god will give them more P****y if they kill a bunch of infidels.

  • AxeGrrl

    RPJ wrote:

    ….forced himself to remain in the misery of this world, eking out an existence terrified of the final death that approaches closer day by day.

    You do realize that that’s your outlook and you’re just projecting it onto Blum, yes?

    (and if your post was facetious, a smiley or something would have been helpful 🙂

  • Enrys

    Every good Christian loves Jesus’ buff arms, tight abs and chiseled chin.

  • Claudia

    @AxeGrrl, I don’t really think you need a smiley when you’re talking about the “strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus.” 😉

  • SickoftheUS

    That sailor’s line of thinking is like the science fiction tycoon-scientist who must devote every second of his life to creating life-extension technologies. Otherwise he’s going to die, and he knows it!

    I’m also one who disagrees that not believing in eternal life automatically motivates one to try harder in a difficult or life-threatening situation. I think much bigger factors are temperament, outlook (pessimism/optimism), physical stress, and personal history.

    I’m dead-on atheist and generally pessimistic. If I were suffering in shark-infested waters in the Pacific, I could very well see telling myself that this struggle isn’t worth it. That would be a personal decision, and I believe a rational one.

  • I’m sure he has loads of chances to get himself into the strong, manly, loving arms of some guy called Jesus now. I mean, if this dude’s as fit as you say he is, he’d be handy if you were lost at sea. Probably has great stamina, you know.

  • fritzy

    I like the idea behind this post, however, there’s plenty of stories of religious faithful that hold just as strong a belief (after the fact) that god got them through an equally harrowing experience. I’m not going to be so arrogant as to suggest for Mr. Blum what was going through his mind when this awful event occured or how it motivated him to “hang on,” but I tend to agree with Claudia that it’s our reptillian hind-brain (specifically the lymbic system), that is most active in situations such as this. Sometimes people, regardless of their religious faith or lack thereof, believe what they want to believe after the fact. But the frontal lobe (the lobe most responsible for abstract thought) is not terribly active in these kinds of situations.

    Although I’ve never personally had a stressful life-or-death experience that lasted 4 days, the times I have been very scared for my life, all I thought was “oh shit” and vaguely, if words can be put to it “I don’t want to die.” This is equally true of when I was a believer as well as when I was an atheist.

    Incidentally, I read RPJs comment as a total joke and laughed my ass off. I mean, c’mon, “the strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus?” Further proof that sarcasm doesn’t always translate well over the internet

  • Joyfulbaby

    So, is this like the water equivalent of “No atheists in foxholes”?

  • Abigail

    Haha, no atheists in open water.

  • Hitch

    If an Atheists can swim, they perhaps also have their minds free to reason through potential survival strategies.

    A believer can try the walking on water thing. If it works, it surely sounds more efficient.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    Its hard to believe that a survivor of that disaster would give a back handed insult to his fellow servicemen.

    And, in fact, I don’t believe it.

  • This just sounds like an atheist version of religious people attributing their survival to God. While there are some religious people who look forward to death, I think most religious people would be just as determined to survive, to see their families again, etc.

    I read this article the other day by Susan Jacoby (who’s quickly becoming one of my favoirte authors) about how even people who believe in God still don’t seem to want this life to end any more so than atheists.

    Here’s the URL: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/spirited_atheist/2010/05/do_people_really_believe_in_life_after_death.html

    Unless there’s actually some kind of evidence that the religious people on the ship didn’t make any effort to survive due to their religious beliefs, I think attributing survival to one’s atheism is not appropriate in this case.

    Also, the strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus combined with this story made me think of Jesus in a sailor uniform. (For what it’s worth, I personally thought comment #1 must be someone being sarcastic.)

  • Linda Vanier

    How about, he survived out of pure luck.

  • KPL

    ^ I agree. He just happened to be in the “correct” compartment that day, one that was not lost due to flooding.

  • AxeGrrl

    Claudia wrote:

    AxeGrrl, I don’t really think you need a smiley when you’re talking about the “strong, manly, loving arms of Jesus.”

    Unfortunately (given things I’ve seen ‘actual Christians’ post), it kind of is necessary!

    Poes get harder and harder to identify as time goes on……

  • Tim

    @AxeGrrl: my thoughts exactly. I am the son of a Pentecostal pastor and just de-converted a couple of years ago after 30+ years of trying to convince myself that my indoctrination was truth. Throughout that time, I heard many comments very similar to the one in the first post. These days, unless I see something to indicate otherwise (such as a smiley), I will generally take the comment literally.

    Perhaps “manly” was a bit overboard (pun intended) but not by much. 8)

  • Susan Robinson

    The point of this story, I think, was that there ARE atheists in foxholes.
    And if you are thinking that your own determination to survive will determine if you survive, that has got to help your chances of surviving.
    Some people don’t have determination because they have given it to their god!

  • Vas

    interesting. Speaking of surviving a sinking ship and the roll of God and Jesus in such events… Look into the idiotic Abby Sunderland (a 16 year old home schooled girl) solo circumnavigation attempt. A little research will reveal the role good old JC played in the inept planning and the justification for this misguided effort. As a sailor this whole thing makes me want to puke. But hey thank God she is safe, (and don’t bother thanking the rescuers) disgusting.