The God of Tarzan

When one thinks of the great Christian apologists, it is likely that Edgar Rice Burroughs is not at the top of the list. In fact, Burroughs was not very religious in his private life. However, I came across an interesting story as I was reading Jungle Tales of Tarzan.

One of the chapters in this novel is called “The God of Tarzan.” Tarzan at this point had not connected with any other humans other than a tribal village in the jungle and he didn’t know their language. Tarzan, however, had discovered the hut of his deceased parents, including the books that belonged to them. Tarzan taught himself how to read (but not speak) English and he understood most concepts. But the idea of God was challenging.

The story covers his journey of discovering who and what God is. He goes in a few wrong directions, including the moon and a tribal witch doctor. Then he has a number of experiences that begin to fill in the idea of God.

The first experience was after confronting the witch doctor. The chief of the village attacked Tarzan and Tarzan prepared to kill him. Tarzan had killed many from this village and never had a problem with it. But for the first time, Tarzan felt pity.

Tarzan sought for an explanation of the strange power which had stayed his hand and prevented him from slaying Mbonga. It was as though someone greater than he had prevented him from slaying Mbonga.

While reflecting on this, Tarzan began to notice things about the world in which he was so familiar.

What made the flower open? What made it grow from a tiny bud to a full-blown bloom? Why was it at all? Why was he? Where did Numa, the lion, come from? Who planted the first tree? How did Goro (the moon) get way up into the darkness of the night sky to cast his welcome light upon the fearsome nocturnal jungle? And the sun! Did the sun merely happen there?

While admiring creation, one of Tarzan’s ape friends (Teeka) has her balu (child) taken by a giant snake. In order to save her offspring, Teeka voluntarily allowed the snake to take her, despite having a terrible fear of snakes.

He scarce could believe the testimony of his own eyes then, when they told him that she had voluntarily rushed into that deadly embrace.

Reflecting upon all these things, Tarzan came to an understanding of who God was. The story concludes with:

Yes, Tarzan had found God, and he spent the whole day in attributing to Him all the good and beautiful things of nature.

Is this an airtight argument for the existence of God? Of course not. Skeptics could respond in any number of ways. But I see in this echoes of how people encounter God. I think Edgar Rice Burroughs did a fantastic job of describing Tarzan’s faith journey.

Is this enough? Burroughs was actually a deist (see this article). No this is not enough, but it is a good beginning.

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