There is a case that shows a reversal of the normal Christian missionary attempting to change the ways of the native populations. Recently, the book Don’t Sleep: There Are Snakes, by Daniel Everett was published.
Everett was a Christian missionary with an aptitude for language skills. A tribe in Brazil, the Piraha, had never had their language translated into any other. Everett was called on to chronicle the language and bring the word of Jesus to the savages.
In 1980, he made his first trip to a Piraha village and spent almost a year there. He became very friendly with the people and observed that they were great survivalists.
When he began to talk about faith with the locals, Everett seemed to come up against a brick wall. He explained: I never lost sight of the fact that I was being paid by my missionary company to translate the bible into the Piraha language. In my free time, I would also talk to the people about my faith.
The Piraha have no word for "god," so I translated it as my "high up father" and that he had made me happy. One asked, "What else does your god do?" I told him that he made the stars and the Earth. What do the Piraha say? They said they were not made. They have no creation myth. They don’t talk about the distant future or the distant past. They don’t talk about un-experienced or fictional topics.
At first, Everett was confused about the questions he was asked, but he thought he could eventually convince the natives for their need for Jesus. But, the Piraha became more pointed in their questioning. One day, a native asked, "What does Jesus look like? Is he dark like us or light like you?" Everett responded, "I’ve never seen him. He lived a long time ago, but I do have his words." The questions became more difficult to answer. They said it was impossible to have his words if he hadn’t seen or heard him. Everett added, "They made it clear that if I had never seen this guy, they weren’t interested in any stories about him." He continued: The Piraha told me they knew I left my own land. They said, "We know that you do this to tell us about Jesus. You want us to live like Americans, but the Pirahas don’t want to live like Americans. You can stay with us, but we don’t want to hear any more about Jesus. I had gone to the Pirahas to tell them about Jesus and give them a chance to choose joy and faith over despair and fear, and to choose heaven over hell.
Everett returned to the U.S. to gather his thoughts. He said: I was trying to convince a happy satisfied people that they were lost and needed Jesus as a savior. They didn’t feel lost, so they didn’t feel the need to be saved either. They are firmly committed to the pragmatic concept of utility.
Instead of trying harder to convince the Pirahas that they needed help, Everett looked at himself to see if he was in the wrong, not the natives. He explained: The Piraha rejection of the gospel caused me to question my own faith. There is so much about the Pirahas that I admired such as their quality of inner life; their happiness; their contentment. The Pirahas had built their culture around what is useful to their survival. My faith seemed a glaring irrelevancy in this culture. It was superstition to the Pirahas and it began to seem more and more like superstition to me.
I began seriously to question the nature of faith: of believing in something unseen. Sometime in the late 1980s, I came to admit that I no longer believed in any article of faith or in anything supernatural. I was a closet atheist.
It took Everett almost two decades to remove himself from the closet. When he did, he experienced exactly what he thought would occur: many of his friends left him and his wife of 35 years divorced him. Two of his three children disowned him. But, he did what he thought was right and did not feel comfortable living a lie.
Today, Daniel Everett is a leading linguist. His disagreements with some of Noam Chomsky’s ideas of linguistics have become controversial reading in the field.
A few months ago, his two distant children made peace with Everett and his new life is very full and interesting. He gives credit to the Piraha for his changes in his views and his current fulfillment of his desires in life.
Recently, the BBC4 radio network reviewed his book on its book-review program. It is about 10 minutes long and can be seen and heard at the following link:
Interesting, sometimes encounters with the Other can shake one to reflect upon his/her faith and beliefs. This is one of the strengths of pluralism.
During his recent GJ visit to Portugal MHI addressed the issue of atheists or non-believers in our society and that we should embrace them within the framework of cosmopolitan ethic. Below is the excerpt from the interview.
"In Lisbon , a couple of weeks ago, Rabi René Sirat suggested a sort of G8 of religious leaders. Could this be a good idea, for the progress of inter-religious dialogue?
Inter-religious dialogue, yes, but I would prefer that it be based upon a cosmopolitan ethic. It would have to include non-believers. Because I am talking about human society and I cannot judge an individual's belief at any given time, in his life or mine. My experience is that belief is not necessarily constant; it varies according to age, to one's circumstances and the family in which one was educated."
There are interesting articles about the activities of atheists at:
We can all exist along a continuum of doubt. Some of us will approach religious certainty at one extreme and others will approach atheistic certainty at the other extreme. Many of us will slide back and forth over time.
What is important is the common ground of the question, not an answer. Surely, we can respect anyone who approaches the question honestly and with an open mind. Ecumenical and interfaith religious dialogue has increased substantially in our age. We can and should expand that dialogue to include atheists and agnostics, to recognize our common humanity and to stop seeing one another as enemy combatants in a spiritual or intellectual war. Rather than seeking the security of an answer, perhaps we should collectively celebrate the uncertainty of the question.
This is not to say that we should cease attempts to convince others of our views. Far from it. We should try to unsettle others as we remain open to being unsettled ourselves. In a spirit of tolerance and intellectual humility, we should see ourselves as partners in a continuing conversation, addressing an enduring question.
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has eschewed his atheist beliefs and now asserts that “religion is very important.”
Zuckerberg, whose Facebook profile once identified him as an atheist, revealed his change of heart on his social media network after he wished everyone on Dec. 25 a “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah” from “Priscilla, Max, Beast and me,” referring to his wife, daughter and dog. When a commenter asked him, “Aren’t you an atheist?” he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
He didn’t provide details about his faith. The title of his holiday greeting on Facebook was “celebrating Christmas.”
He and wife Priscilla Chan met with Pope Francis at the Vatican last summer and discussed how to bring communication technology to the world’s poor. Zuckerberg said at the time that he was impressed with the pope’s compassion.
“We told him how much we admire his message of mercy and tenderness, and how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world,” Zuckerberg posted. “It was a meeting we’ll never forget. You can feel his warmth and kindness, and how deeply he cares about helping people.”
Zuckerberg has also cultivated an interest in Buddhism, which his wife practices.
During a 2015 trip to China, Zuckerberg visited the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an and “offered a prayer for peace and health for the world and for my family,” Zuckerberg posted at the time, including a photo of himself kneeling in front of the Buddhist landmark.
He added: “Priscilla is Buddhist and asked me to offer a prayer from her as well. Buddhism is an amazing religion and philosophy, and I have been learning more about it over time. I hope to continue understanding the faith more deeply.”
From Astrology to Cult Politics—the Many Ways We Try (and Fail) to Replace Religion
If you count yourself among the secularists cheering for the demise of religion, it isn’t hard to find comforting statistics. Nearly every survey of the state of religion in my own country, the United States, presents a similar picture of faith in decline. Compared to their parents and grandparents, Americans are less likely to self-identify as religious, attend religious services, or engage in religious practices such as daily prayer. Full-blown atheism is still a minority position. But the ranks of the “non-religious”—a broad category made up of those who reject traditional conceptions of God and religious doctrines, or who express uncertainty about their beliefs—are growing.
Even those who self-identify as Christians are less inclined to talk publicly about God and their faith than their predecessors. Indeed, many Americans are Christian in name only—using the term more as an indicator of their cultural background than as a declaration of a spiritual life committed to the teachings of Christ. And the rest of the Western world is even farther ahead on this same path.
But secularism advocates should pause before celebrating such trends. A deeper investigation into the religious nature of our species casts doubt on the view that science-centered secular culture can succeed without a space for the sacred.
Scholars have proposed a wide range of theories to explain the persistence of religious faith in all human societies. Many of these theories involve a heavy dose of what may be described as “blank slate” thinking—by which human interests and beliefs are shaped entirely by social influence. Yet such top-down, culturally-driven explanations ignore the possibility that religious faith originates in bottom-up brain-driven cognitive and motivational processes.
Implicit in the blank-slate take on religion is the idea that religious faith may be diminished simply by changing the type of cultural inputs people receive. This would seem to be supported by the gradual replacement of religious doctrines with rationalist, evidence-based methods for explaining the world: The history of science is full of examples of science replacing old superstitions. But explaining the natural world is only one of religion’s functions. Ultimately, religion is about the human need for meaning. This need is inherent, not learned. It is a fundamental component of the human condition.
Indeed, the degree to which humans perceive their lives as meaningful correlates reliably with observable measures of psychological and physical health. A sense of meaning also helps people mobilize toward the pursuit of their goals (persistence), and serves to protect them from the negative effects of stress and trauma (resilience). In short, people who view their lives as full of meaning are more likely to thrive than those who don’t.
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