Thursday, May 14, 2009

Heart of the Matter

I have just about finished reading "Don't Sleep, There are Snakes" by Daniel Everett. One aspect of this book that has really surprised me is the lack of discussion concerning his deconversion from Christianity. In reading reviews, I got the idea that this topic was to be a central theme. The topic only is dealt with directly in one chapter near the end of the book.

But, in many ways, the 259 pages of lead-up are pointing to this one chapter. Everett does a masterful job of allowing the reader to feel a small part of what it means to be Pirahã. Once the reader takes this in, the chapter on deconversion becomes an obvious and organic conclusion.
Is it possible to live a life without the crutches of religion and truth? The Pirahãs do so live. They share some of our concerns, of course, since many of our concerns derive from our biology, independent of our culture...But they live most of their lives outside these concerns because they have independently discovered the usefullness of living one day at a time. The Pirahãs simply make the immediate their focus of concentration, and thereby, in a single stroke, they eliminate huge sources of worry, fear, and despair that plague so many of us in Western societies.

They have no craving for truth as a transcendental reality. Indeed, the concept has no place in their values. Truth to the Pirahãs is catching a fish, rowing a canoe, laughing with your children, loving your brother, dying of malaria. Does this make them more primitive? Many anthropologists have suggested so, which is why they are so concerned about finding out the Pirahãs notions about God, the world, and creation.

But there is an interesting alternative way to think about things. Perhaps it is the presence of these concerns that makes a culture more primitive, and their absence that renders a culture more sophisticated. It that is true, the Pirahãs are a very sophisticated people. Does this sound far-fetched? Let's ask ourselves if it is more sophisticated to look at the universe with worry, concern, and a belief that we can understand it all, or to enjoy life as it comes, recognizing the likely futility of looking for truth or God?
I don't know if the Taoist sages of old could put it any better!

1 comment:

  1. There is a video on Youtube about this, if you haven't seen it, search for it :)

    These people amazed me.


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