Finding An Amazonian New Eden

Convivium, 9 August 2019

The agenda of an upcoming meeting of Catholic bishops looks heavy on romantic primitivism, but more than a little light on understanding of original sin, detects Convivium Editor-in-Chief Father Raymond de Souza. 

Do the Indigenous peoples of the Americas require salvation? Or are they somehow exempt from original sin?

Of course, they do require salvation and, of course, they are not exempt from the “aboriginal calamity” to use the suitable phrasing of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Yet an official document from the Vatican takes steps toward the opposite answers. And it is increasingly common to hear in Canada accounts of our Indigenous people which suggest that, prior to the arrival of European explorers, they too were exempt from original sin. 

The idea has deep roots in the Western imagination, the “noble savage” – “savage” here being a generic term for those native peoples untouched by Western civilization. Indeed, the “noble savage” of imagination was largely exempt from savagery altogether and lived in harmony with the land and his fellowmen.

This romantic ideal dates back before the 20th century, but experienced a resurgence after the real savagery of the two World Wars. If this was what the advanced cultures of “Christian Europe” wrought, then perhaps it was better to have been untouched by it. If “advanced” cultures means bloodshed, then “primitivism” has a certain attraction. 

In Canada, a similar line has developed in recent years. If the age of “discovery” meant maltreatment of Indigenous peoples, then would it have been better if the “discovery” didn’t happen, including the proclamation of the Gospel by Christian missionaries? 

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