Cargo Cult Religion and Letting God Invade Your Life

In 1974 Richard Feynman gave a commencement address at Caltech (see Cargo Cult Science for the full text of his written adaptation of his talk) in which he appealed to the students for integrity in how they did science. I especially love these two paragraphs:

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

I love that! And it makes me think about "Cargo Cult Religion" that is really about getting it "right" on our side with the goal of all the riches and fulfillment we want out of life and out of our relationship with God -- because we don't really "get" it. We're just like those Islanders who think that they can bring planes full of cargo by duplicating the things they saw that brought those planes full of cargo before -- only we're trying to duplicate all the things that brought God's presence and blessings before, with just as much of a lack of understanding of what it really was that brought God's presence and blessings! We don't get that TRUTH -- the LOGOS -- is enough, and is truly The Way to all those riches and that fulfillment that we want out of life and out of our relationship with God. HE is it!

But even though that's something I knew in my head back as a teenager, and have been really learning to KNOW all the years since then, I still fall back into trying to get the runways just right and all the other trappings just right that will bring in that cargo . . .

And it is something I see all the time in all the other people who call themselves Christians. We are scared to death of the reality that we're missing, and hold onto all the trappings of reality that we call Christianity. But real Christianity -- the Christianity of real Christians for 20 centuries -- is not afraid of real life, and is not afraid of God, and is not afraid of an integrity that examines how well our beliefs are working to describe what we really see and experience. Real Christianity is willing to let God come to us the way He does come to us -- by His choice, with no manipulation on our side.

Real Christianity is willing to be invaded by a God who came down as a man, died, was raised again, and Who now lives at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us all as we live lives invaded by His Holy Spirit. We don't need to hold tight to the trappings of faith and belief and reject that real Triune God.

There's no call to action here! It is Christmas, and our task lists and calendars are full, aren't they? This is His "action item", and there is nothing you can do but wait! Just as Jesus came to us as a baby at the right time in history, watch to see how His Spirit comes to you -- right here, right now. Don't be scared! This is the real thing!


At Monday, December 18, 2006 at 2:14:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John 20:29 - Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.


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