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10:34 pm: Don't Sleep -- There Are Snakes
Noble Savages have returned. We can find them in a recent book that's been getting a lot of attention lately: Don't Sleep – There Are Snakes by noted linguist Daniel Everett. He summarizes experiences of 30 years working with the Pirahan people who live deep in the Amazon jungle. He went there to bring them Christianity. Over time, they converted him, which is a big part of this story. Now he has released this book which should delight humanists, agnostics, and atheists everywhere.

What he depicts is a small group of Amazonian natives who speak a language unrelated to anything else in the world. They struggle with daily survival in a brutal environment, and yet are among the happiest people on Earth, despite the fact that their life expectancy is about half that of people in more civilized areas. Consistently for the past 500 years they have refused to learn any other language or adopt many types of technological systems. Hardly any have ever left their little jungle domain.

Many people around the world agree that this culture and its dedicated members should be preserved. That's a big step up from the opinions of previous authorities, who believed that any group like this needed to either get civilized or wiped out. In Brazil today there are many who still hold this opinion, although it is not officially sanctioned as in the past. That's largely due to the work of people like the author of this book. Still this group remains vulnerable, literally on the edge of extinction due to several obvious factors. A related tribe, the Maru, is already extinct.

It was the fact that these people were absolutely unwilling to accept Christianity that drove the author into his decision to become atheist. Christians need to look carefully at this. If there really is a group of people that legitimately can't accept a relationship with Jesus Christ, what does that mean? We hate to imagine that an entire group, even one this small, would have to endure eternal punishment because of cultural factors that couldn't be brought under anyone's control.

Many aspects of Pirahan culture went into their collective decision that Christianity cannot be accepted. It appears that their language literally cannot hold some of the concepts involved. Some of these elements are common to other native cultures, and some seem to be unique to the situation. Sorting out which of these are most important is a huge intellectual task in itself.

One could say that this culture embodies some principles that constitute an exact opposite of Christianity:

Living only in the present, with no memory of events beyond the current generation.
Tolerance of abuse against women and children.
Reluctance or refusal to help neighbors in trouble.
Hardening of the heart as a cultural ideal.

Conversion by the natives is very much an acceptable story to modern, anti-theistic intellectuals. On the other side of this story is Everett's ex-wife, who reportedly is still working on finding a way to persuade Pirahans to accept our Savior. Obviously this situation deserves prayer. It also deserves a lot of reflection. If we assume that the Bible is our fundamental authority, and simultaneously assume that each culture on this planet has a purpose, how can we reconcile the apparent differences in these positions? Perhaps we will have to expand our language to hold the necessary concepts.

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