Can Goods Suffice?

By Roz Monger

 ‘While we might be baffled by the seeming ignorance of people who believe that raising a flag could possibly bring untold riches from over the sea, we must realise that the cult is supported by a deeply held world-view and destructive spiritual power.’ (Tom Richards)

In a previous post Tom introduced the John Frum cargo cult, centred around Sulphur Bay on the island of Tanna in Vanauatu. Cargo cults are not generally found in consumerist First World countries, but they are more common in societies where aid has been offered or settlement/colonisation has taken place.

A cargo cult can arise anywhere where a primitive or spiritually superstitious people group observe goods such as consumables, transport and housing being delivered. In a situation such as war, these goods may be left behind by the allied or foreign army after the conflict has been resolved.

The local population appropriate these items and they are seen as a gift or blessing from afar. Over time, their advent is seen as a gift from the god or gods, with those who delivered them either becoming a benefactor used by the deity or the deity itself. Legends and rituals develop, often with certain actions and prayers having to be performed to encourage the blessings to happen again. In some cargo cults, adherents construct replicas of previous cargo, in order to attract more. As much of the cargo is connected with the military, rituals often incorporate militaristic movements and even mock weaponry.

In order to maintain control, cargo cult leaders deny their children education and contact with Western culture and spirituality. This ensures that the developing cult is not challenged. In this way they can maintain their sense of leadership over the community, ensuring that they themselves are elevated to the status of great leaders, even perhaps being seen as having god-like qualities that are the centre of their community’s hopes and values.

Tom is right when he states that the primary issue underpinning cargo cults is the concept of worldview. Those involved in cargo cults see the arrival of goods as the ultimate goal for their community, to sustain and prosper them. Christians see the ultimate goal in glorifying God, who, in spite of our sinfulness and unfitness to mix with what is holy, gave is the ultimate gift of His son, in order that we might be forever in relationship with Him. No amount of goods can suffice. The Richards’ and others, who seek to introduce and foster the love of Jesus amongst the people of Tanna, are bringing a greater gift than any cargo cult leader.

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