LAST week a new tribe was discovered. More properly, contact was made with one which was previously unknown, living deep in the Amazonian jungle. It is not a unique event, but it's also riot common; globally uncontacted peoples are only encountered every three or four years.
One interesting thing about this group is that they are apparently 'hiding' not in the short term, but as a culture. Their homes and vegetable gardens were under a tree canopy, instead of in clearings, as is usual, creating speculation that since the Braian rubber boom, when local peoples suffered appallingly, they have chosen to be uncontacted.
Given the consistently devastating record of the history of contacts, this seems sensible of them. Even when western illnesses have not wiped out such people, their cultures have been destroyed, while they themselves have gained little as individuals.
The current wisdom is that they should be `protected' both from the exploitation of their environment and from all avoidable further contact.
Profoundly depressing though it is to acknowledge my own culture as lethal, and to deprive myself of knowledge and technologies that might be valuable or enjoyable, I agree.
But this leaves me, as a Christian, in an awkward spot. 1,.W are called arid in this Decade of Evangelism especially urged to go out and convert the whole world: everyone, everywhere. This necessitates contact. In the good old days the question of why we would want to convert everyone was simple if they were nor baptised they would go to hell. The destruction of cultures and the death of individuals was a cheap price to pay to avoid eternal damna non: we were doing them a favour. (A more liberal slant on this was that they would not go to Hell, only Limbo, if they had never had a chance to hear the Gospel). But this does not help us because we are still obliged to make sure that they had that chance.
The snag is that we have a hard time believing this. Hands up if you are honestly certain enough to exterminate a whole people that they will go to everlasting damnation if they aren't baptised.
If we try to make an exception by claiming that there is something essentially prelapsarian about 'primitive' peoples then we are romanticising and patronising them, Or we are denying the necessity of the incarnation.) There is a better reason why we might want to convert people: Christianity is true. Truth is always good. Even if I do not believe that there is no salvation outside of the Church, I absolutely do believe that the assurance of salvation can only be found inside the Church.
I would be furious (indeed in dealing with governments, and doctors I am regularly made furious) to discover that true information had been denied me 'for my own good' which is basically what the consensus view of 'minimal contact' is suggesting.
But this leaves us with the question 'how true is true?' Are all truths useful at all times? Was Newman on to something with his 'economy' of truth ' theory? Anyone who is lives with very young children knows the answer to this is `yes'.) Is it ever right to withhold truth from another adult if honestly believe they will be better off (alive for example) without it. If so, can we ever argue that truth is 'necessarily' good?
Now in one sense this is all purely hypothetical. I am not about to light out to the headwaters of the Amazon, Bible and monstrance in hand. Even the most fervid evangelists acknowledge that conversion attempts must be both sensitive and culturally appropriate. know full well that I myself ought not to attempt any such mission.
But if we fully accept the humanity of this, or other, uncontacted tribes and we decide that they do not need Christianity, for either their eternal or other temporal well-being, we are obliged to ask ourselves a serious question: why are we trying to evangelise anyone at all?