The April 16th issue of The New Yorker had an article by John Colapinto, The puzzling language of an Amazon tribe. It’s in print, so I can’t post it, but the short of it is that the tribe might lack recursion, a hammer blow to Chomskyan universal grammar. Overall the tribe seems to have a rather attenuated tendency toward engaging in abstract thought, and has been incredibly immune to any attempts by Christian missionaries to convert them. At some point in the piece the author notes that occasionally someone will ask a Christian if they’ve ever met this Jesus Christ that they keep talking of, and when they’re told that he died 2,000 years ago all interest disappears. Below, I argued that humans have psychological propensities which bias them toward being religious. If the research about these Amazonians pans out I think you have here a group which is totally insulated by their culture from the attractions of religion because they lack some of the necessary psychological propensities (I suspect, and the article pretty much claims, that those propensities can be developed by tribal members who are raised outside of the group, but that culture constrains cognition in this case). Now, I’ve said that though I’m not religious myself and kind of find the whole behavioral tendency kind of alien and strange, I think that we’ll have to turn humans into autistics for them to truly be “rid of” religion. The Amazonians are not autistic, but, in some ways they are pretty strange, and I don’t know if we want most people to live like them if that’s the price for being grounded in the empirical present instead of delusions of the supernatural.
Update: Here’s a list of unique traits for this people.