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Thread: How an Amazonian tribe turned a missionary into an atheist

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    Default How an Amazonian tribe turned a missionary into an atheist

    How an Amazonian tribe turned a missionary into an atheist

    A RIVETING and hugely satisfying report on BBC Radio 4 today tells the story of a missionary who was charged by an American missionary group with taking the Gospel to the little understood Pirahăs tribe in the Amazon – only to realise how ridiculous his faith in Christianity was.

    Daniel Everett, 57, a linguist in the Departmental Chair of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Illinois State University, told presenter John McCarthy on the Excess Baggage programme, that he had travelled to the Amazon in the 70s to bring the tribe “the joy of faith” only to discover that they were a deeply contented people. In fact they seemed far better contented than he was.

    Tribe members asked the missionary whether he had seen or experienced any of the things he was telling them about. He had to admit that he hadn’t; that he was simply passing things onto them that were told to him by people who hadn’t seen or experienced them either.

    The Pirahăs, he said, “believed that the world was as it had always been, and that there was no supreme deity”. Furthermore they had no creation myths in their culture. In short, here was a people who were more than happy to live their lives “without God, religion or any political authority”.

    Despite Everett translating the Book of Luke into Pirahă and reading it to tribe members, the Pirahăs sensibly resisted all his attempts to convert them.

    According to a report in the New Yorker:

    His zeal soon dissipated … Convinced that the Pirahă assigned no spiritual meaning to the Bible, Everett finally admitted that he did not, either. He declared himself an atheist …

    According to Wikipedia, Everett “was having serious doubts by 1982, and had lost all faith by 1985 after having spent a year at MIT. He would not tell anyone about his atheism for another 19 years; when he finally did, his marriage ended in divorce and two of his three children broke off all contact.”

    Everett’s account of his life among the Pirahăs is told in his book Don’t Sleep There are Snakes. BBC Radio 4 has chosen it as its Book of The Week, and it will be broadcast from Monday, November 17, 2008 ( weekdays 9.45am -10.00am, repeated 00.30-00.45am.)

    The book concludes with Everett saying:

    The Pirahăs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comforts of heaven or the fear of hell, and of sailing towards the great abyss with a smile.

    And they have shown me that for years I held many of my beliefs without warrant. I have learned these things from the Pirahăs, and I will be grateful to them for as long as I live.[/B]

    You can hear the relevant extract, in MP3 format, here.

    UPDATE – Nov 10: The Guardian has now picked up the story, which you can see here.

    SOURCE: http://freethinker.co.uk/2008/11/08/...to-an-atheist/

    Posted by Barry DukeChristian fundies, Evangelists, Missionaries, The Freethinker Subscribe to RSS feed
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    60 Responses to “How an Amazonian tribe turned a missionary into an atheist”

    November 9th, 2008 at 12:17 am

    Heres the link, get it soon as its only up for a few days:

    Secular Planet
    November 9th, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Thanks for posting this! As an atheist, decovert and linguist, this book sounds wonderful. I just added it to my wish list so I can buy it as soon as it comes out.

    November 9th, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Wife and 2 children ‘divorced’ him when he declared his atheism. What kind of family was that in the first place? Thank goodness for the third child.

    November 9th, 2008 at 10:10 am

    As an ex-christian I find the mere idea of this story riveting. One of the things that pushed me away from Christianity was the audacity of the whole missionary calling of forcing this religion on others like these tribes.

    Barry Duke
    November 9th, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Kieron, the link embedded in the second paragraph of this post takes you to the BBC iPlayer broadcast of the programme, which may be available for longer.

    Tim Danaher
    November 9th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Newspaniard – exactly. It happens a lot in the US (from my experience on other message boards).

    November 9th, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    This interview is fascinating and worth listening to

    November 9th, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    This is indeed heartening. Is it me, or are there more good Americans about nowadays? It’s just like the war! Without the ‘being bombed by Germans’ bit…

    November 9th, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    I’ll have to see if I can get a copy of that book for the library. It sounds very interesting. It’s nice to hear that not every missionary succeeds in convincing the natives that everything they’ve ever known was wrong.

    That’s always bugged me about missionary work. The help always comes with strings attached.

    Barry Duke
    November 9th, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    In case you did not spot the addition to the final paragraph in the post, I should point out that BBC Radio 4 has chosen “Snakes” as its Book of The Week. It will be broadcast from Monday, November 17, 2008 (weekdays 9.45am -10.00am, repeated 00.30-00.45am).

    November 9th, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    What a wonderful story! How fascinating! If this is well-documented as true, I would enjoy reading it!

    As for his wife and children, no, I am not surprised. All that unnecessary pain over absurd lies.

    Valdemar, I don’t know if there are more good Americans, but I hope more are beginning to see through the lies that the bad ones tell.

    November 10th, 2008 at 12:26 am

    What a heartwarming story! We could learn a lot from the Pirahas, I’m sure. The Book of luke, not so much.

    Tyler O
    November 17th, 2008 at 3:01 am

    I’ll stand out here like a sore thumb, but it’s cool. Just bear with me.
    As a devout Catholic, I am inspired by St. Francis who challenged Christians to preach the Gospel… and use words when necessary. In other words, my goal is to share faith by example and action instead of shoving a copy of the Bible down throats.
    Fundamentalists (the right word to describe most Protestants I know) don’t seem to get this… and don’t seem (to me anyway) to get the golden rule itself.
    It’s been said that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and all too often “Christians” use the word of God as vinegar.
    While I’m saddened to lose another believer, I can’t be surprised that his tactics didn’t work, and actually blew up in the face of his old self.

    November 17th, 2008 at 6:36 am

    It’s sad when people just believe dogma and receive no fulfillment from their religion. God is an experience. It has nothing to do with belief.

    If you have peace, joy, and charity in your heart that is all that matters.

    Being prideful about Atheist or Christian “truths” is divisive.

    May the pain of your childhood religious experiences be healed fully and your acceptance grow abundantly.


    November 17th, 2008 at 6:45 am

    I read on an archaeological website somewhere, that may lowland tribes in South America have a philosophy of existence such that if you can’t account for having witnessed or experienced something personally, you’re essentially lying, like a kid bragging, & inviting embarrassment for taking credit for someone else’s experience. it’s a definite foe-pa.

    November 17th, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Wow…I am familiar with Mr. Everett’s linguistics work, and also aware of his association with the SIL missionary group. Never knew he had abandoned them though!
    Quite relieving, I must say.

    November 17th, 2008 at 7:22 am

    Anybody got the mp3 of the BBC Radio4 show that Kieron posted as first comment ?

    November 17th, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Interesting read.

    As a missionary myself, I can imagine the struggles Everett must have faced if he was a closet atheist attempting to translate the Bible for an un-churched ethnic group. And therein lies the difference between mere proselytism and truly sharing ones faith – of repeating a memorized routine vs a heartfelt desire to speak of what one thinks and believes (just as we all do on this blog).

    Forcing a religion or idea or culture on any ethnic group is not God’s intent. Never was.

    True faith, as represented by scripture, is simply that people have the opportunity to hear and decide.

    Katrineholm Shops
    November 17th, 2008 at 9:15 am

    But here’s the thing. What if what those people in the books he now has given up-The Bible-where telling the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. After all, although the ex-missionary had never seen the people before he went there, he did go based upon his belief in the experiences of others. The fact that the tribesmen seemed contented doesn’t mean that all is well.

    November 17th, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Wow. I’m glad I didn’t have to travel to the Amazon to discover the absence of god. I’m especially glad that my wife didn’t divorce me, and that my daughters are too young to care about my lack of religious beliefs. What and outstanding story by this man.

    November 17th, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Has it ever occurred to you that, on the Internet, yor readership is global and it makes absolutely no sense to say “the program will air 10 a.m.” ?

    You *must* use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). It’s the international standard (and no, “Eastern Time”, “Pacific Time” and “Atlanta Time” are not).

    November 17th, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    This is an interesting story. More interesting is his attempt to undermine Chomskian linguistics. Getting linguists to reject this might be even more difficult than getting Christians to reject Christianity.

    “One of the things that pushed me away from Christianity was the audacity of the whole missionary calling of forcing this religion on others like these tribes.”

    I’m not sure what I think about missionaries but this did not seem to be a case of forcing. No coercion seemed to be involved. It might be better overall if all outsiders left tribes like this alone, even linguists who study their languages.

    “Valdemar, I don’t know if there are more good Americans, but I hope more are beginning to see through the lies that the bad ones tell.”

    I assume you are British? Are the British good? Is there some nation full of good people and some nation full of bad people these days? I wasn’t aware of this.

    November 17th, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    yeah, this is an interesting story, but nothing new. I’ve met many atheists that thought they were christians once because they went on mission trips or read the bible once through. its more than an ‘experience’ or title you give yourself.

    November 18th, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Very interesting article, it’s interesting and accurate to hear of ‘Athiests in Christian clothing’. Makes me wonder how many others there are. Though, as a Christian, the name of this site, ‘freethinker’ doesn’t sit right with me. From this article I know that you don’t fully understand all there is to understand about belief in God, nor are you really thinking freely. This is so ‘unbelievably’ biased.

    November 18th, 2008 at 3:23 am

    I consider religion the only virus spread by sight and sound. In it’s more vicious form, it is most dangerous to all mankind. In it’s milder forms, it’s not much better.

    November 19th, 2008 at 7:14 am

    How can this be an attack on true Christian beliefs when this guy never was a Christian to start with? He never really believed anything so how can this to be made out as a ‘Christian’ turning into an athiest. He always was an athiest, he just didn’t quite know it.
    You are trying to attack true Christian beliefs and make them out as ridiculous and stupid, but you aren’t actually getting to the heart of what Christian beliefs are. You’re just dancing around the issues. Get real!
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by Katweezel; October 26th, 2011 at 01:46 AM.
    Dogma schmogma

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