Thursday, September 9, 2010

Slipping Toward the Pirahas


From a recent book review Leroy Lawson recounts the efforts of a young missionary who attempted to bring the gospel to the small Amazon Pirahas tribe :

He failed. He made no converts. In his second year his friend Kohoi explained the facts of life: “The Pirahas know that you left your family and your own land to come here and live with us. We know that you do this to tell us about Jesus. You want us to live like Americans. But the Pirahas do not want to live like Americans. We like to drink. We like more than one woman. We don’t want Jesus. But we like you. You can stay with us. But we don’t want to hear any more about Jesus. OK?”

. . . the Piraha language was a unique puzzle. It contains no numbers and has no fixed terms for color, no proper vocabulary for personal property, and uses only three vowels and seven consonants for men; three and six, respectively, for women. There is no word for sorry or for thanks. And none for God. Furthermore, the Piraha didn’t want their language in writing. Oral was good enough.

For more than 200 years the Pirahas had resisted the missionaries’ message, even though they liked the missionaries. They have no use for history and do not accept secondhand testimonies about anything a speaker has not personally seen. So a story about some messiah who lived a couple thousand years ago held no appeal for them. “The Pirahas were not in the market for a new worldview. And they could defend their own just fine.”

. . . “Truth to the Pirahas is catching a fish, rowing a canoe, laughing with your children, loving your brother, dying of malaria.”

Kent comments:

First of all, I think the missionary’s friend Kohoi does not understand many Americans very well if he thinks they do not like to drink, have more than one woman, and hear more about Jesus.

Perhaps the missionary failed to explain at least part of American culture to Kohoi, but I’m not sure he failed to bring the gospel to the Pirahas.  It appears, instead, that due in large part to their culture, the Pirahas are not interested in the gospel.

People like to prattle on about how it is not possible to evaluate cultures in any meaningful sense.  But it is not difficult to evaluate this one.  These people are “heathens” in a certain pejorative sense of that word.  They hold a set of arbitrary standards, and they don’t care to evaluate them.  Their standards cut them off from the gospel, and thus from salvation.

In other words, if you have made up your mind to think like Kohoi, you are going to hell in that proverbial hand basket.  And if your culture promotes that, it is a bad one.

The sobering fact is this:  for a long time now many have been hard at work trying to make our culture like that of the Pirahas.  Look down that list of things that these people think, do a tiny bit of translation, and see a version of 21st century America – from the lack of a sense of right to the “oral is good enough” attitude, we have much of this with us even now.

The “rest of the story” is that this missionary ended up being influenced by the Pirahas and he left the faith and his family.  That does not surprise me.  Americans are primed by our culture to be ready to become Pirahas.

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