BOOK REVIEW: “Crash go the Chariots” by Clifford Wilson (1973)

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

I reviewed the sequel to this book, “The Chariots Still Crash” a bit ago, and quite enjoyed it. It was far from the greatest book ever written, but it had a very formative effect on my when I was young, and it was nice to re-read it now and see that it wasn’t total crap.

Alas, the prequel doesn’t hold up so well.

“Crash go the Chariots” was written during the height of the completely ignorant “Ancient Astronaut” mania in the early ‘70s, and was written as a direct rebuttal to Eric von Danikin’s seminal (And startlingly dumb) book, “Chariots of the Gods.” For those not familiar with it, let me set the stage: Spastic Rebellion became the touchstone of the counterculture in the 1960s. Sometimes, this was a good thing – as with the Civil Rights Movement – and sometimes it was a bad thing – as with rejection of conventional morality which led to The Summer of Chlamydia (1967), and the drug culture and what not. Now, I’m all for pointless anger and rebellion – I’ve done more than my share of that kind of thing, too: It’s easy, it feels good, and chicks dig it – but the problem with mass-countercultural movements (Which is, by the way, an oxymoron) is that as they become trendier and trendier, slouching towards ubiquity, as it were, they get dumber and dumber until whatever it is that the movement was rebelling against becomes simple gainsaying. Whatever “Authority” believes is simply rejected, and the opposing viewpoint is embraced without any real thought going into the matter. If “The Man” says “Black,” you say “White;” if the man says “Girl,” you say “Boy;” if the man says “Democracy is bad” you say, “Democracy is good;” and (here’s the tricky part) if the man says “Democracy is good!” then you say “Democracy is bad.”

This tendency has long been noted in the advertising industry, which tends to thrive on manipulating the herd instinct. I’m digressing a bit, but the point is: if it was a traditional value, it got rejected out of hand, and what could be a more traditional value than Religion? Specifically, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition our society is based on? In the 60s, “the kids” tended to reject traditional western religion in favor of more exotic eastern religions, which were for the most part - though in somewhat culty adumbrated or bastardized forms – perfectly valid religions. The thing is that *all* religions are inherently conservative, and preach things like self-denial in order to reach Salvation/Nirvana/Wisdom. That manner of pretension was tolerable in the hippie undergraduate years of the late 60s, but as the world moved into the disco era, self-denial simply wasn’t gonna’ fly. Still, people needed to (A) believe in something and (B) automatically gainsay any kind of authority or tradition.

Enter Eric von Danikin, Swiss homosexual income-tax evading con-man extraordinaire.

Mr. von D. cobbled together the not-terribly-original idea that earth had been visited by aliens in the past (A staple of 1940s pulp Science fiction) and coupled it with the idea that *Every religion on earth* was somehow based on a garbled memory of these visitations. Thus the Egyptians mummified people in an attempt to copy the alien technology of Cryogenic Suspended Animation, and the Nazca lines in Peru were built as an airport for flying saucers, and the Ark of the Covenant was a radio talking to aliens in orbit. You know, that kind of credulous crap. To spice this up, he threw in a lot of deliberately bad science (At one point he says that Lasers travel faster than light!) and leavened the whole thing with ramblings about conspiracies to suppress the truth, not among governments, but among scientists themselves. These are inconsistently portrayed one moment as “Being stupid and refusing to challenge their own beliefs” and “intentionally covering up the truth” the next.

In the supremely anti-intellectual 1970s, this was like manna from heaven (Heaven, in this case, being a planet 10 million light-years away, or possibly Mars. Again, he’s amazingly inconsistent.) and in the Christian community this became a bit of a problem. How do you evangelize long-haired crab-infested, platform-shoe-wearing, Brothers-Gibb-Listening folk who keep saying “God is an Astronaut?”

Clifford Wilson was an archaeologist and professor at the University of South Carolina, and he wrote this book, and its already-reviewed sequel to help out. What makes the books interesting is that while they’re obviously intended as tools for Christians, there’s a surprising lack of overly-churchy stuff in them. Instead, they appeal mostly to logic, real science, and counterpoint. There’s a bit of “What we believe to be true,” but since Wilson intended this book to be read by people who already believed, there’s refreshingly little preaching in it. (For instance, there’s a lengthy conversation with an astrophysicist who openly states that the universe is billions of years old, and that planets form as a gradual coalescence of matter over a very long period of time, not all at once, and Wilson doesn’t even bother to touch on that point, even though he’s elsewhere professed a belief in special creation) Instead, he takes von Danikin’s assertions to task one by one and buries all of them.

With science!

Despite being rather right wing here at Republibot, and occasionally of a religious bent, we *like* science. We like it a lot. The only thing we like more than science is when religious people use it correctly!

This is somewhat dated 1970s science, to be sure, but still: how long has it been since you saw a Christian using Science in a responsible fashion? It’s refreshing.

It’s a fun read, and became something of a best-seller in 1973 in Christian circles. The first printing quickly sold out, and for whatever reason was never reprinted (I suspect legal shenanigans), so a few years later, Wilson wrote “The Chariots Still Crash,” which presented a digested version of the same information from the first book, along with expansions and some completely new information. I’d say about half that book was completely new.

Alas, “Crash go the Chariots” isn’t quite as good as “The Chariots Still Crash.” I think it’s because it was Wilson’s first book, and he’s not as familiar with the material as he is in the later one. He’s also not as confident a writer: while his style is brisk and jaunty in the latter book, in this one he’s more laconic and belabors the point occasionally. Neither book is bad, but some of the material in this book is kind of “So what?” and has been wisely omitted from his second tome. Likewise, he obviously had access to a lot more information in “Still crash” which is absent here, but would have helped his point considerably.

Still and all, this is a slightly-less-fun read, and an interesting glimpse into a somewhat-forgotten and stupid period of mass-culture life, even if its relevance is somewhat questionable now. Von Danikin is well past his prime and running on fumes. Whitley Streiber picked up the anti-intellectual torch and attempted to form a religion around it, but more or less crapped out as well. While the Falun Gong movement in China had a bit more success, for most people today the whole “Ancient Astronauts” thing has gone full circle, returning to its origins as a lazy plot device in Science Fiction shows like Stargate; SG1 and The Fifth Element and [sigh] the crappy ending of Battlestar Galactica.

I recently found out that Wilson wrote a third book in this series, “War of the Chariots” in 1978, and I was interested in tracking down a copy of it before I began reading this book, but I find I’ve lost all motivation to do that now.