You definitely don’t hear this side of the story very often.
Daniel Everett was a missionary sent to meet the Pirahã tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, “translate the Bible for them, and ultimately bring them to Christ.”
There’s a slight twist to the story:
Instead, [the Pirahã] brought him to atheism. “The Pirahãs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comfort of heaven or the fear of hell and in sailing toward the great abyss with a smile.”
Not that they have escaped religion entirely. Spirits live everywhere and may even caution or lecture them at times. But these spirits are visible to the Pirahãs, if not to Everett and his family, who spent 30 years, on and off, living with the tribe.
Everett wrote a book about his experience: Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes. In one review of it, the atheism bit is put this way:
[The Pirahã] pointed out that Everett simply had no proof for the supernatural world he described, and in the end he found himself agreeing with them. He left the church, choosing a world that more honestly integrated his goals as a scholar with the world view of his Pirahã friends — one where evidence matters.
It’s not exactly atheism as we know it if they still believe in spirits, is it? But still, it’s good to know that some tribes are impervious to missionaries.
Maybe we can get the Pirahã tribe to visit Christian churches — I’m sure the churches would love a taste of their own medicine.
(Thanks to Tony and Yuri for the link!)