“These liberation theologians are promoting the idea that the Indians who still live in a primitive way are very happy, living in paradise,” said Macuxi tribal chief Jonas Marcolino Macuxí, referring to bishops at the pan-Amazon synod. “But that’s not true.”
He’s right. The myth of the noble savage is alive and well at the synod, as the assembly of bishops discuss how best to evangelize the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest, as well as “let ourselves be evangelized by them,” in the words of Pope Francis. The Pope wants the Catholic Church to listen to and learn from those peoples who live in “harmony with oneself, with nature, with human beings and with the supreme being,” as quoted in the synod’s working document.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau would be proud. That leading light of the French Enlightenment imagined people living in a state of nature untouched by Western civilization to be ensconced in an idyllic world of peace and kindness. “Nothing could be more gentle than man in his primitive state,” he proclaimed.
Compare Rousseau’s view to that of his intellectual arch-rival Thomas Hobbes, who held that life in a state of nature involved endless war and “continual fear of danger and violent death,” famously writing of primeval man’s existence being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”