Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cargo Cults vs. Western Religion

Recently I came across an amusing phenomenon: Cargo Cults. A cargo cult is a religious movement that occurs when a primitive tribal culture comes in contact with a technological culture for the first time. These tribes come to believe that the technological artifacts of the encroaching culture really belong to them and they engage in rituals to coax their gods into giving them these material goods.

It is easy to laugh at these primitive fools but are modern western religions any more logical? Modern western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are grounded in the beliefs of humans who lived roughly 4000 years ago. The people of that time had significantly more technology than some of the tribes that form Cargo Cults but they were still very primitive by modern standards. One similarity is that western religions emerged either out of oppression or other hardship or as a result of an individual or individuals with delusions of grandeur. A primitive tribe must likewise feel disenfranchised when modern people show up on the scene with their wealth and gadgetry. The shamans (individuals with delusions of grandeur) of these cultures probably feel rather inadequate when their juju beans don't measure up to rifles and ocean freighters. But, why laugh at the very human reaction of the Cargo Cults and not at the founders of our "great" Western religions? It is really difficult for me to see the fundamental difference.

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