Friday, September 02, 2011

arguing in amish

At the request of one of my publishers I've been asked to blog on things Amish at If you're interested in The Amish Way you might want to Google it. Here's one of the things I have written recently to give you an idea about the site.

Arguing in Amish

One of the most fascinating things about writing Amish fiction is listening to their ongoing debate with technology. This has been going on particularly since the arrival of the telephone. You might think Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was rejected outright but no, it was actually used by the Amish for a number of years, until the Amish realized it was being used as a means for spreading gossip. Thus the problem was not that it was a new technology to be rejected out-of-hand, the problem was it could be used to destroy Christian community.

The motorcar was rejected because it adversely affected the sacred community as well – some could afford to own one, some couldn’t, it could become a source of pride and prestige and, in so doing, ruin equality among the members of the Amish church and community. You can ride in one for short distances but not drive one or own one. Not because the Amish don’t like cars – they don’t like what ownership of cars can do to their people. The same is true of airplanes. And motorboats. And a lot of other things.

The Amish are not striving to live in the 1800s although to some it looks that way. Why, some Amish communities have telephone booths that can be used in emergencies. No, the Amish are fighting to keep their communities intact despite the onslaught of technology that, in their eyes, divides communities and breaks up families and relationships. While, for the most part, the world outside their farms is eager to snap up whatever new technology floods the market, be it iphones or ipods or six foot long HD TV sets, without debating the human consequences of any of it, the Amish do debate and they debate the consequences of all of it.

What a difference it would make if society as a whole learned from the Amish that some precious things about humanity are threatened by the promiscuous use of technology and that there should be more debate going on about what technology is appropriate and what is not. A few discussions might be going on in churches and religious organizations and among other groups but not much. It seems that only the Amish are arguing and praying about this issue with any kind of seriousness and consistency. Which might be one explanation for their growth over the past decade – not only that some people are fleeing the turmoil of a fast-paced, hi tech society where there is no longer time to sit and think – but that some want to debate what technology is good for us and what isn’t. Few others are engaged in such an argument or discussion and some 21st century citizens apparently wish to be part of those who do argue, do discuss, do pose the important questions and objections. Even if it means learning to argue and debate – and listen! – in Amish.


Bill L. said...

While I certainly did not turn from technology, I did try to alert people to the potential for its undisciplined use to tragically interfere with Holy Spirit's desires for our ways and means of living. For about 30 years I tried with all my might to build a community of followers of Christ that would make exactly this perspective you have written about one of their guiding principles; I failed utterly.

It seems unlikely any group of humans will get the balance exactly correct, but my heart applauds anyone who makes the attempt for sake of quality of live in Christ's family and His good testimony among those who watch. I wish them the success in all the secret places that so eluded my best efforts.
Thanks for bringing this up and outlining it so clearly.

murray said...

Thanks for dropping in, Bill, and for your honest comments. Have you ever read Jacques Ellul? He fought for the same things you have and also did so from a Christian perspective. I would love to see more debate but, alas, mainstream society and mainstream Christian society swallow technology whole, usually without question, and are then, unbeknownst to them, swallowed whole by the technology.

Bill L. said...

Giving the matter further thought my hesitancy on accepting the simplistic answer of just abandoning technologies (or most other things) that could prove problematic is because, motivationally speaking; we are not in "new" territory here. The monastic orders were here first.
Honest followers of Christ, distressed over the expression of sin in their own lives and in the surrounding culture have often tried to circumvent the problem of sin by withdrawal. It has never worked en masse, and very rarely, if ever, for any individual that was not personally beseeching God’s grace and intentionally fighting the matter internally.
Having stated that, I think some total avoidance is wise in certain instances, i.e., people with a weakness toward any particular matter would do well to avoid it completely. My problem is with turning away from in “whole cloth” ways is that sin is not a behavior that we are safe from if we never do. It is the total and complete bent of broken human nature. Do everything, do nothing externally, one is still utterly sinful. The sinner, living a do nothing external life, may be better for the local community from an actively negative perspective, but neither are they a positive element in community life. And worst of all, the people like that that I have meet and spoken with at length seem to think they are better off with God because of what they have not been caught doing. They rarely are as broken over the inner weakness as they are proud of the outward appearance of not doing the “wrong” that is the community focus. That is a dangerous position from which to approach God.
The discussion, the continuing discussion, of how various things can be destructive and how not to get trapped by them… that I think is vital for a genuine and maturing spiritual life.