Discussion by: This Is Not A MemeEvery February 15th, the villagers of Tanna gather to summon John Frum by forming marching lines and hoisting an American flag.
John Frum Day is a cargo-cult ritual, an anthropological anomaly born of culture clash between people of Edenic innocence and those who’s existence rivals that of Greek gods. Richard Dawkins refers to John Frum rituals in The Origins of Faith.
For me John Frum Day is an ironic and humorous holiday, but it also involves the sincere reverence afforded to the faithful on their holidays. I am reminded that people who live as my ancestors, see the marvels science as nothing less than magic. This fills me with appreciation for the technological world I live in, the bountiful synthetic products, the ease with which I travel, and everything from life extending medicines to the simple act of conjuring a flame by rolling my thumb across a machine fashioned flint to ignite finely regulated, pressurized gas. It is also a glib reminder of the disparity of material and intellectual resources amongst our species. The people of Tanna pray for cargo, the medicines and conveniences of the modern world, commodities which I have in ridiculous, unusable abundance. Mindful of this, and fitting with the humorous themes, I distribute band-aids, pencils, lighters, vitamins, and other practical goods.
At first this was just for fun and the chance to popularize the story of John Frum (soft proselytizing for atheism). As my circle of celebrants has grown, so have our resources. Living in an American city where poverty is starkly apparent on each paved block, the obvious thing has occurred to us, give this cargo to those who need it. Socks, rain coats, food, and items for the elderly comprise our John Frum efforts. This is simply something mammals do, care for one another.
It can be said, the John Frum movement began as opposition to the harmful mythology of Christianity. Perhaps the practitioners share in the irony, as did the Bokononists in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The John Frum movement seeks a return to “kustom”, rejecting the influence of Christian missionaries that descended upon them during colonial rule. Christianity has led to recent violence on the island, as followers of Prophet Fred seek to eliminate the heresy of John Frum. Prophet Fred is a charlatan who won over a village by ‘predicting’ the collapse of a delicate natural structure. He preaches Christ’s return, which is two millennium overdo, while mocking the hopes of John Frum’s return. How I would love to prove him wrong with a grand exhibition of modern generosity, ala cargo!
As Christians made a holiday of the Pagan New Year (April Fools Day), February 15th can become an atheist holiday, recognizing the absurdity of religion while practicing generosity without the hope of heavenly rewards.
Will you be marking your calendar?