The Myth of the Noble Savage

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“When the end comes, not everyone is ready to go.”—from the website for the movie Apocalypto.

Apocalypto is a brutal, raw, disturbing, and beautifully truthful exposé of the decline of the Mayan civilization.

“Beautifully truthful?” you might exclaim. “But the Mayans cut out people’s hearts, practiced cannibalism, and were sexually debauched!” That is exactly why Apocalypto is beautiful: it truthfully depicts a culture that ignored the true Creator.

Yet sociology profs tell students, “If only modern man could live once again like the noble savage . . . .” They, like French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, imagine there is nothing “more gentle than man in his primitive state.”

Hollywood eagerly has reinforced this “myth of the noble savage” in comedies such as The Gods Must Be Crazy, in dramas such as Academy-Award-winner Dances with Wolves, and in Disney’s Tarzan and Pocahontas. These films reflect the assumptions of evolutionary anthropologists, who scour the earth looking for a perfectly primitive culture uninhibited by Christianity.

For example, those delightfully naïve African Bushmen in The Gods Must Be Crazy were once viewed as the ideal society. However, further research revealed that they struck their wives and murdered their neighbors.

Likewise, the American Indian’s character was just as flawed as modern man’s is. The Huron and Iroquois practiced torture and cannibalism. The Skidi Pawnees offered a human sacrifice to the morning star each spring, and California Indians took entire scalps—including the ears. War was, and still is, hell.

Still, modern man searches for primitive cultures that mirror his own supposed, inherent goodness.

Once any civilization abandons God as the source of truth, mankind can look only to himself to find what is real. Yet the Bible reveals that man started as a peaceful gardener but quickly degenerated into a brutish murderer (Genesis 1–4). As the daily news confirms, people are not only capable of great good, but also of even greater evil.

Unfortunately, when “the myth of the noble savage” comes to an apocalyptic end, evolutionary anthropologists are not ready to let go. They tenaciously cling to myths. Instead of looking to degenerate, primitive societies, social scientists should turn to the truth of the Bible and to the only hope for man, Jesus Christ. He is the Creator who died to set all people free, regardless of their ethnic or geographic roots. As always, God’s perfectly revealed truth rings an apocalyptic death knell for man’s “perfectly primitive” imagination.

Editor’s Note: Apocalypto is a violently graphic movie, not suggested as suitable viewing. It is used only for illustration.

Answers Magazine

April – June 2008

This issue focuses on the Tower of Babel and its impact on mankind, covering the event at Babel, skin shades, today’s languages, ape and human fossils, and much more. Don’t miss it!

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