John Frum and Colonialism. We’ve been hearing a lot about colonialism lately. The idea that it was wrong for one society, especially powerful Western societies, to go into another country and take if over. This is not only true politically, but also religiously.
The idea of evangelizing to another culture is now looked at as a bad thing. The “You shouldn’t force your beliefs on people” mantra has ramped up in recent years. As we have said elsewhere, Christians are not “Forcing” our beliefs on anyone. We propose, we don’t impose. It’s difficult to understand what is even meant by this. Should we not talk about religion at all? Are we only supposed to talk with others who share our trust in Jesus? This seems like a convenient phrase to shut Christians up.
But the interesting thing about colonization in general, and religious colonization in particular, is that it’s not always as cut and dry as people would like it to be. There are nuances in every situation. And the John Frum cult is a prime example.
If you haven’t read my previous post on John Frum and Cargo Cults, I would suggest reading that article before you read on. In it, I give some of the background to cargo cults, and how they came to be.
One of the fascinating things about studying religion is to see how the beliefs originated. Christianity is more unique that most people think, in that it is based on historical events that can be tested. This is not the case in the majority of religions worldwide.
I think most people have the idea that religions are formed to explain away an otherwise hard to understand natural phenomena. As I said, in many cases, that’s true. It seems to be true when talking about the John Frum and Cargo Cults. These people saw food and goods falling from the sky, and attempted to get the goods themselves by emulating the people who occupied their island. But that’s not the whole story.
They Weren’t Evangelized To
One of the fascinating things about the origin of the John Frum cult is that the seeds of the religion was formed from withing their existing belief system. The Japanese and American’s did not try and make them “John Frumians”. They developed the idea on their own.
On the island of Tanna, the natives had a “Big Man” type of political system. The “Big Men” would give gifts to the less fortunate people on the island. The people receiving the gifts would then be indebted and subservient to the richer men on the island.
Once the powerful forces of the American and Japanese forces arrived with their Cargo Drops, all of the “Big Men” on the island were reduced to lower status. Everyone on the island was suddenly a “Small Man”. Wanting to return to their former status, people had to figure out how to make the goods they saw fall from the sky for the Americans instead fall for them.
Does This Sound Familiar?
Christianity is based on the belief that we are all broken, and need a redeemer. On one can be a “Big Man” on their own. We are in need of a Savior, and Jesus is that Savior. And while we might think some of the practices of the Cargo Cults are strange, they are perhaps more familiar than we would like to acknowledge. In my next post, I’ll discuss the similarities between John Frum and the prosperity gospel.
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