Thursday, November 20, 2008

Missionary "sees the light" in Amazon jungle

This is an uplifting story I found in the Chicago SunTimes online edition. It should happen more often.

Missionary went to change tribe, but they changed him


The mission assigned to Daniel Everett after he graduated from Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute was to change the lives of members of a tiny tribe in the Amazonian rain forest.

It was, however, Everett who was changed.

Everett, along with his wife and three children, were met in the rain forest by the Piraha people of central Brazil — a primitive culture which has no words for numbers or colors and no concept of war or personal property. They live in the present.

For a missionary like Everett, then 26, that last part proved a stumbling block as he tried to find the language to talk about Jesus and an afterlife to people who never talk about the past nor the future.

In the end, Everett, now a linguistics professor at Illinois State University, abandoned his own religious faith, a tale he tells in his new book, Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes (Pantheon, $26.95).

“I had preached the evidence of Christianity could be seen in the lives of the believers,” Everett said Tuesday. “Then I realized, these people, were, if anything, more secure, happier.”

Oh, if only more self-righteous, intrusive god botherers would “see the light” and leave the innocent alone.

“The Piraha don’t feel poor — they feel satisfied and that’s the basis of their happiness,” said Everett. “If they start to feel a lack in their own culture, a need for western goods, that will be a very destructive force in their lives.”


tina FCD said...

“The Piraha don’t feel poor — they feel satisfied and that’s the basis of their happiness,” said Everett.

Umm..that would be me, that's the way I feel, I don't need a lot except my computer. :)

I'd like to buy this book.

Jason H. Bowden said...

Hasn't this noble savage stuff been done ad nauseum since the 60s? I be talkin' 'bout duh 1760s, when Rousseau be writin' Emile.

Postmodernism is the wrong description of our intellectual age; Premodernism would be a more informative term. We sentimentalize ignorance, upholding primitive savages without basic healthcare, sanitation, or education as our moral ideal. But they have such high self-esteem!

Be skeptical of anthropologists like Benjamin Lee Whorf. To take an example, for decades experts parroted the claim that the Hopi have no idea for time. Man, they just live in the present, like John Lennon! Dig it? Further research showed the exact opposite -- the Hopi have words for days, day counts, segments of days, lunation, yesterday and tomorrow, days of the week, seasons, years, a calendar for ceremonies, time words like "ancient," "finished" -- why we even wanted to believe that humans can exist without any ideas of time is just stupid. It offends common sense.

The irony is that the noble savage is a Western creation. No other civilization worships the poor, the ignorant, and the stupid as much as we do. Only a Christian culture breeds people who *want* to believe this baloney.

Stardust said...

Jason, why drag people who are perfectly content into another type of environment where there are worries about getting jobs, making money, being laid off, paying land taxes,possibly being robbed, keeping up with the Jones', dating, marriage, divorce, car and transportation problems, etc. etc. Why go disrupt their lives when they are doing just fine? This benefits who?

Nobody is worshiping these people. They were not living in poverty and have plenty to eat and took care of themselves without any handouts. They are doing just fine without outsiders and their ancient middle eastern superstitious beliefs.

Anonymous said...

I think a little dose of planning for the future, aka preparing for droughts, floods, and other possibilities would be a good thing, but I also understand how living away from the so-called "modern" life sounds mighty attractive as well.

Course most of us would be bored out of our skulls after about 2 days, but thats beside the point! lol

Stardust said...

Greg, we would be bored because we are used to all the stuff we have to do in our world, we are used to our environment of lots of stimulation to all the senses. But these people in the jungle who haven't experienced anything but their own world never appear to be bored. They are content to just sit and bullshit with one another, finding and cooking food, keeping their shelters maintained, etc. We would be bored because we like our materialistic world and any other life would seem boring to us.

I watched recently that program "Exiled" where these prissy rich kids get sent off to some far off place where there is no running water, no television or cell phones, no beauty salons, etc. The people work hard, make their own clothes, their own houses and huts and they seem much happier and content than the snotty little kids that go there and can't stand it and start crying after five minutes. After a couple days they realize that it's not the end of the world to live like that and they see that these people are happy with what they have. Of course the girls will go back to their cushy lifestyle.

If one finds themselves in that sort of living conditions where they have very little and have to gather and prepare their own food, walk or ride a horse or elephant to places, etc. it would be very difficult to adapt to, but most would do it. If we reversed the scenerio and put the natives into western capitalistic, materialistic society with having to find employment and housing in your family, speeding traffic, impulsive rude behaviors on a daily basis (people telling them t fuck off on a regular basis, prejudice based on their race and low social status, I would think that would be more difficult to adapt to.