an anonymous tipster wrote to me and turned me onto this cheeky bit of naughtiness in Dawkins’ bestseller, The God Delusion. In Chapter 5 the professor muses upon the ‘cargo cult’ phenomenon, which was so crucial in the life and work of Erich Von Daniken:
"In The Life of Brian, one of the many things the Monty Python team got right was the extreme rapidity with which a new religious cult can get started. It can spring up almost overnight and then become incorporated into a culture, where it plays a disquietingly dominant role. The ‘cargo cults’ of Pacific Melanesia and New Guinea provide the most famous real life example."
After recounting how these cults arose out of tribal peoples’ contact with advanced technology they had no exposure to, Dawkins starts to get quite cheeky indeed:
"The entire history of some of these cults, from initiation to expiry, is wrapped up within living memory. Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high speed."
Now, it all undoubtedly slid past his readers, but Dawkins is saying here that Christianity “began the same way” as the cargo cults. Which, as he exhaustively explains in this chapter, arose from native peoples’ exposure to superior alien technology (the aliens being Europeans in this context). As he says here:
"It seems that in every case the islanders were bowled over by the wondrous possessions of the white immigrants to their islands, including administrators, soldiers and missionaries. They were perhaps the victims of (Arthur C.) Clarke’s Third Law, which I quoted in Chapter 2: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’"
Now isn’t that a fascinating little juxtaposition? Quoting the author of the the world’s most acclaimed Ancient-Astronaut narrative (2001: A Space Odyssey, for those new to all of this) shortly after claiming that the cult of the god-man Jesus “began the same way” as the cargo cults! As Eric Idle once said, “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more, say no more.” And just in case you missed Richard’s inference the first time, he repeats it:
"Fourth, the cargo cults are similar, not just to each other but to older religions. Christianity and other ancient religions that have spread worldwide presumably began as local cults like that of John Frum."
The cargo cults which- and I’ll state this until the cows come home- began when a primitive people encountered a technologically superior civilization. After making quite a bit of the cargo cults, Dawkins then writes:
"I don’t want to make too much of the cargo cults of the South Pacific. But they do provide a fascinating contemporary model for the way religions spring up from almost nothing."
Which, as Richard goes to great pains to explain, were the result of contact with a technologically-superior alien civilization.