Let's start with a short 'pop' quiz ...
Q. How do we know that God is real?
Q. How do we know that God will return to us one day?
Q. How do we know that the prophecy will be fulfilled?
A. Because other prophecies have already come to pass – and we know by these signs that we will soon meet God!
Q. Why should we trust in this God?
A. Because we know him to be real, and we have received his gifts! We can truly say we have seen the face of God and receive his messages!
Of course, this is how Christians feel about their God, but, in fact, I'm talking about another God who fulfils all of these criteria. Not only that – he fulfils them a whole lot better than Yahweh! I'm talking about the God of the 400 strong Yaohnanen tribe from the island of Tanna in Vanuatu in the South Pacific.
Now, I know I'm getting a bit of a reputation on myspace for being an atheist. But I simply cannot deny that the Yaohnanen's god exists. I'm sorry, God Is Imaginary, you're just going to have to change your name to Some Gods Are Imaginary because I know for a fact that this God is real! Not only does he fulfill all of the criteria for divinity outlined above, but, even more compelling I have met him, chatted with him and I have the photo to prove it!
It begins (as religions tend to do) back in the mists of time with the islanders' belief that nature Gods resided in the island's volcano. One day, probably during the 1930s, a mysterious foreign looking stranger in a long, flowing cloak appeared to the people of Tanna. Speaking their own language, the stranger urged the islanders to break free from colonial rule and missionary imposed Christianity and reclaim their own culture. (Think Moses freeing the slaves and you'll get the general idea.) He also declared that one day the island's active volcano would burst its sides and gifts would rain down from heaven and float in from the sea. It seemed clear, to the Tanna islanders, at least, that the stranger was the god of the volcano appearing in human form. Of course his prophecy seemed wildly impossible but the Tanna waited and hoped – just as Christians wait and hope for the prophecies of Revelation to be fulfilled.
And then, amazingly, during World War II, a miracle happened! A US military base was established on Tanna and before they knew it, refrigerators and boxes of food suspended by parachutes began floating down on the island and its people – and even more conspicuous wealth began arriving by sea. How can you argue with a prophecy so abundantly fulfilled?
It became blindingly obvious to the islanders that their volcano god aka the mysterious stranger of legend must be American! As most Americans seemed to be called 'John' that is what they named him – John Frum (as in, John frum America). Yes, truly, I'm NOT making this up!
And thus, a new religion was born – a 'cargo cult' which worshipped John Frum, American, as God. The religion spread far and wide across the Pacific islands.
But, as is apt to happen with all religions, there was a schism. The Yaohnanens, a tribe which lives in a remote part of the Tannan jungle, believed in the divinity of John Frum, but, more importantly, they believed that he had a spiritual brother who had also resided in the volcano. According to an ancient legend, this divine entity had left the volcano, taking the form of a white man, and traveled far away in search of a powerful wife. One day, it was promised, he would return as a messiah bringing wealth and happiness to the Yaohnanens.
Again, in the nature of all religions, this messianic prophecy was fulfilled. As long as you have a good idea of the messiah you're looking for, one day someone's sure to come along who fits the bill! And so it was with the Yaohnanens and their mysteriously absent volcano god.
During the post-war days of colonial rule, the villagers noted the reverence in which the Royal Family was held by the British government representatives who occasionally visited the island. Suddenly, it all made sense! Prince Philip had emerged from the volcano, gone to England and married the Queen! Of course they couldn't know this for sure – they had no real proof, but they had faith!. After all, it made common sense: he was white, important, married to a powerful woman, he came from far away, and he was revered by his countrymen almost as a God. The prophecy was fulfilled – Prince Philip was the long awaited messiah of the Yaohnanens. Liz's hubby was obviously the volcano God and their long awaited messiah! (God in three persons – God, messiah and nature spirit. Sound familiar?)
The belief was confirmed when Prince Philip and the Queen visited the region in 1974. Says the chief of the Yaohnanen:
'I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform and I knew then that he was the true Messiah. It is a memory I will always have of him - to see him in the flesh like that, even though I know that deep inside he is more than flesh and bones.'
Now, one has to say that the Yaohnanen people have a damn site more evidence for their God than the Christians have for old Yahweh. They write to Prince Philip and receive letters and photos back (try doing THAT with the Christian God!). They sent the Prince a war club as an offering, and received not only a thank you note with a photo of him holding the club attached but a gift of some tobacco pipes. (There was some disappointment that the Prince wasn't naked but for a penis sheath in the photo, but then Gods don't always answer your prayers you the way you expect, do they?)
The tribe believes that when Prince Philip finally returns as their God, "his powers will make our wrinkles disappear and we will have many wives to attend to our every need." Not so very different from the Muslim belief that when you enter Paradise you'll be greeted with 72 virgins. But then we all know the Muslims just made that bit up - or it's been mistranslated and some very disappointed jihadists are going to find themselves in Paradise being presented with 72 white raisins. Bit of a disappointment when you've just blown yourself to smithereens with an expectation of receiving something rather more juicy than dried fruit. But, I digress!
And so, it seems, Prince Philip meets all the necessary criteria for a real-life God:
He is demonstrably real. Not only has the chief of the tribe seen him, they have signed photos of him. (Note to Yahweh: A few signed photos wouldn't go astray if you really want people to believe in you.)
Prophecies associated with him have been fulfilled even though they seemed to be extremely far-fetched. (Old Yahweh never answered a prayer for a new car by sending one down by parachute but John Frum and his brother Phil did! Still, I'm sure Yahweh could rise to the challenge if he really wanted to convince an ardent atheist. Kristy launches into a spirited chorus of "Oh Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz …" )
Just as Yahweh appeared to his people as Jesus (simultaneously managing to be both himself, his son, and his son's father) Prince Philip (the volcano god) appeared to his people in human form (although, being God, Messiah and Nature Spirit he was obviously more than just flesh and bones). And, just like Jesus, his chosen people recognized him as their long-awaited messiah because he fulfilled the criteria outlined in the prophecy.
Like Yahweh, Prince Philip graciously bestows gifts upon his people – but not airy-fairy things like love and miracle cures - real, useful gifts like tobacco pipes. And there is no confusion about where they come from either! Yahweh's gifts always leave some niggling doubt: "Did God cure me, or did I just have a great surgeon?" But there are no such doubts with the Prince. Phil thoughtfully makes sure his photos are personally signed and his gifts are clearly postmarked "Buckingham Palace". He could sure teach Yahweh a thing or two about providing evidence!
And finally, just like Jesus, Philip sailed off into the blue after that first and only brief visit, but his followers are convinced that one day he will return and live amongst them. And, just like the Christians they have waited, and waited, and waited … although admittedly not for 2000 years.
So, there you have it – Prince Philip – Prince of Greece, Duke of Edinburgh, famous curmudgeon (an important trait in any God), husband of QEII, volcano god, nature spirit and messiah! You can't ask for more than that!
Oh, and that photo I promised? Here I am!
That's me in the huge glasses having a good old chinwag with Prince Philip in 1982. Wouldn't the Yaohnanen's be jealous? But at least I can confirm that their God really does exist. ;-)
Yaohnanen photo from: Telegraph.co.uk – "South Sea tribe prepares birthday feast for their favourite god, Prince Philip" by Nick Squires, 20 February 2007
"Two Worlds in the South Seas" by Nicholas D. Kristof, in "The New York Times" 21 July 2008
"One Day Our Prince Will Come" by David Ellis in "The Epoch Times", 24 January 2007
Prince Philip and Kristy Photo - Kristy's private collection