Daniel Everett was a missionary with a task: taking the Gospel to the Amazon tribe the Pirahãs, but his time there changed him from god lover to atheist.
On arriving, the tribe asked the missionary whether he had seen or experienced any of the things he was telling them about. He had to admit that he hadn’t. From Freethinker.co.uk
The Pirahãs, he said, “believed that the world was as it had always been, and that there was no supreme deity”. Furthermore they had no creation myths in their culture. In short, here was a people who were more than happy to live their lives “without God, religion or any political authority”.
Despite Everett translating the Book of Luke into Pirahã and reading it to tribe members, the Pirahãs sensibly resisted all his attempts to convert them.
According to a report in the New Yorker:
His zeal soon dissipated … Convinced that the Pirahã assigned no spiritual meaning to the Bible, Everett finally admitted that he did not, either. He declared himself an atheist …
It took Everett 19 years to confess he was no longer a believer, and it cost him his marriage and contact with two of his three children.
The Pirahãs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comforts of heaven or the fear of hell, and of sailing towards the great abyss with a smile.
And they have shown me that for years I held many of my beliefs without warrant. I have learned these things from the Pirahãs, and I will be grateful to them for as long as I live.
Read the full report here. You can buy the book Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle here