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.

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