Until a few years ago, if a man had spoken of indigenous tribalism as a solution to the crisis of the modern world, he would have been laughed at and considered a lunatic. And if someone mentioned a tribalization of the Church as the natural goal of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps not even the most daring ecumenical hacks could have saved him from the general pillory. However, now indigenous tribalism is proposed at the heart of Christianity by a Synod of bishops called by the Roman Pontiff himself. They are talking about creating a “Church with an Amazonian face,” which learns “good living” from the forest peoples. According to the Synod’s Instrumentum laboris, “This aligns with a journey that began with the Second Vatican Council for the whole Church.”
Actually, indigenous tribalism has always been present in revolutionary utopias, ranging from Rousseau’s noble savage to Friedrich Engels’ proposal of the tribe as a form of “superior socialism,” and all the way to modern structuralist currents. More recently, certain ecological currents present the indigenous tribal solution as a panacea for the evils of industrial society. Also worthy of mention are studies that show how the “global village” created by the world wide web has many similarities with tribal ways of being.
However, until now, there was very little or no talk about the tribal perspective. Speaking about it before was like dealing with something from another galaxy. Some denied its feasibility; others called it an exaggeration of some fanatics. Today, this attitude of denial is no longer credible in the face of a Synod that proposes tribalism as a pastoral plan for the near future.
Many people, and even attentive observers of the Church’s life, have been taken by surprise by this development. However, the disciples of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (1908-1995) are certainly not among them.
An attentive analyst of the historical revolutionary process, the well-known Brazilian thinker, had already warned since the forties that the modern world was moving towards tribalism. In 1943, he criticized certain nationalist tendencies that sought to re-evaluate Brazil’s indigenous elements to the detriment of its Catholic tradition. He wrote: “Let them not strip Catholic baptism from Brazil, for the Brazil we must love is not that wild and pagan one born of flesh and blood, but the Brazil generated by Christian civilization thanks to the true Faith, born of water and the Holy Spirit.”
In an article from 1944, he commented on the Mardi Gras carnival celebrations, warning that, “Today’s people … show intolerance for civilization. … The last ceremonies are destroyed, the last vestiges of modesty are dissolved, the last displays of dignity are eliminated. … In thirty years [this intolerance] will likely consist in wearing just a thong … dancing barefoot in the forest. Living in huts, even if luxurious. … Someone will say: what an exaggeration! Thirty years ago, clairvoyant persons predicted today’s excesses, and some idiots talked about ‘exaggeration.’ I say: it was not the prophets who exaggerated, but the facts, which have outdone every prophecy.”
In a 1960 article titled “Civilization and Barbarism,” Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira warned that some trends of the time such as the “play boy” human type and rock-and-roll music would lead to barbarism: “A society in which only rock and roll is played … would go towards barbarism. ‘Playboyism’ is nothing but barbarism, albeit in an asphalt jungle.”
He also clearly expressed his thoughts on the matter in the 1976 addendum to his masterpiece, Revolution and Counter-Revolution. Scrutinizing the post-communist era, he stated, “It is possible to predict what the [next step of the revolutionary process] will be like. …. We cannot but wonder if the tribal society dreamed of by today’s structuralist currents provides the answer to this question. Structuralism sees in tribal life an illusory synthesis between the height of individual liberty and of consentaneous collectivism, in which the latter ends up devouring liberty. In this collectivism, the various ‘I’s’ or the individual persons, with their intelligence, will, and sensibility, and consequently with their characteristic and conflictual ways of being, merge and dissolve in the collective personality of the tribe, which generates one thought, one will, and one style of being intensely common to all.”
In 1977, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira wrote a book entirely dedicated to denouncing indigenous currents within the Church: Indian Tribalism: The Communist-Missionary Ideal for Brazil in the Twenty-First Century. In chapter after chapter, the Brazilian leader shows how these currents abandoned the missionary ideal. They no longer seek to evangelize the Indians but to learn from them, since they supposedly maintain a sort of primordial innocence in communion with nature, which Western society has now lost. They present the tribe both as a religious and social ideal. In this light, notes Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, the Amazonian peoples would be the true evangelizers of the world.
Leafing through this 1977 book, one almost has the impression of reading passages from the Instrumentum laboris (or working document) of the Pan-Amazon Synod scheduled for this October. Everything was predicted … Thus the words of the Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto, Vice-President of REPAM (Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network) make sense: “With this Synod, a long journey of 30-40 years by the Latin American Church reaches maturity.”
So also have Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s rather prophetic predictions.