Jean-Jacques lives!

The notion of the ‘noble savage’ has surely long been consigned to the realm of mythology – like Adam and Eve and the Fall.

It is therefore the more astonishing that it has recently re-emerged as a major theme of the Instrumentum Laboris for the Amazon Synod. The idea of the Amazon being inhabited by unsullied sons of nature, mystically at one with the primeval forests in which they live, is mere fantasy whose primary purpose if to critique the modern West. The idea that these people, with their traditions of infanticide, abandoning the aged and infirm, and hegemonic social structures, have much to teach the Catholic Church approaches the absurd.

There is nobility among savages; but it is extravagant to claim these societies, as a whole, are models of moral rectitude, any more than any others. Human diversity does not carry with it, as the IL implies, either moral superiority, or even moral equivalence.

The resurgence of the Rouseauist myth is hard to explain. It seems to be rooted (like attempts to justify homosexuality by appeal to same- sex activity among other species) in a need to denigrate the mores of more advanced societies by claiming that early (‘pre-lapserian’) practices are more ’natural’ and better.  

But – and here’s the rub – one needs to be carefully selective. On that principle there would be no end of rapacious and licentious activities which could be justified and promoted.  

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