Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From a Proselyte to an Atheist.

A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, and risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In a plot twist, instead of converting them he loses his faith, morphing from an evangelist trying to translate the Bible into an academic treatise, determined to understand the people he's come to respect and love.

Along the way, the former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn't follow one of the fundamental tenets of religion, morality or linguistics; a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the conditioned belief which mutates into a gothic fantasy embracing Jesuits, Islamists, Buddhists and above all Jews, like an inspired twisting of history and fiction.

More than any of that, though, his claim is difficult to verify because religion and the linguistics of scriptures is populated by a deeply factionalized group of scholars and theologists who can't agree on what they're arguing about and who tend to dismiss their opponents as pagans or infidels, blasphemers ,atheists, heathens or enemies. Such divisions exist, to varying degrees, in all disciplines, but religion seems uncommonly hostile. The word "brutal" comes up again and again, as does "savage," "infidel," and "heretics."

With that in mind, why should anyone care about the answer? Because it might hold the key to understanding what separates us from the rest of the animals.
The second part, he found, was tough because the Pirahã are rooted in the present. They don't discuss the future or the distant past. They don't have a belief in Gods or an afterlife. And they have a strong cultural resistance to the influence of outsiders, dubbing all non-Pirahã "crooked heads." They responded to Everett's evangelism with indifference or ridicule.

As he puts it now, the Pirahã weren't lost, and therefore they had no interest in being saved. They are a happy people. Living in the present has been an excellent strategy, and their lack of faith in the divine has not hindered them. Everett came to convert them, but over many years found that his own belief in God had melted away. In the final analysis as Richard Dawkins argues that humanity would be better off without religion or belief in God. - By Tom Bartlett-

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