Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Amish: What Catholics Can Learn From Them

Is our way of life destroying our faith and our families? I don't think most of us ask this question often enough. Certainly the way we live has a direct effect upon us and those near and dear to us. I don't know what the current statistics are with regards to handing on the faith in Catholic Families, but the percentage of Catholic children who keep the faith is rather small. Compare this with the Old Order Amish who have a 90% retention rate. I suppose amongst traditional Catholics the rate of faith retention is much higher also. Yet, I want to look at the Amish way of life with Catholic eyes. What can we learn from them? Ought we to imitate their way of life in some ways?

Our modern way of life is one of busyness, disorder, materialism, and individualism. The Amish way of life is one of order, simplicity, family, and community. The values they hold as important, we as Catholics should also hold as important, but too often our way of life obstructs and even destroys these values. Our addiction to technology in all its guises often leads to an individualism that is not interested in anything but the ego. Does this lack of technology aid in the maintenance of the Amish community? I think it certainly does. The Amish have purposely and wisely chosen to forego certain technologies that inherently, but often hiddenly serve the destruction of family and community life. Without telephones (and internet) they are forced to go see one another face to face. This facilitates neighborliness and authentic community. Without the automobile they have an attachment and devotion to their home. They are not free to wander about the backroads in an automobile, or go to town for any paltry thing. They have chosen to forego the tractor (in Old Order Communities) thus preventing the rapid growth of farms and keeping their farming in tune with creation and order. The byproduct of horses is fertility, not noxious fumes and waste oil. Another important and maybe the most important factor to them keeping order in their homes is the lack of electricity. Without electricity they can avoid the thousands of electronic gadgets that now crowd almost every modern home. The children are forced, in  a good way, to find entertainment in simple games and other fun things. They don't need hundreds of dollars worth of gaming systems to have fun, and likely seldom experience any boredom. It is we who are addicted to such technologies that find ourselves in a perpetual state of boredom.

Maybe we as Catholics need to look more closely at the Amish way of life. It is funny that those who were the most radical at the time of the Reformation, have become the group that we have the most in common with today. Their understanding of Gelassenheit as a spiritual maxim is very similar to the teaching of uniformity or conformity to the will of God preached my so many saints. The Amish, because of their simple way of life, understand that actions have consequences. In a sense, because of their way of life, they have reunited faith and works without preaching it. We as Catholics must learn to simplify. It is those things we are most attached to that are doing the most harm to our culture and our families. It is ironic that I say this on a blog! Someday the time of this blog will come to an end. I have always known that, but I never have set a date for it. I suppose through this I practice Gelassenheit. In my own family I must seek out a way of life where we can build true Catholic community. We must seek to place our faith in the center of our lives, and let it permeate all aspects of our lives, especially how we live as individuals and families. We have much to learn from the Amish, if only we have the humility to admit it.

Peace in Christ,


Yeoman said...

Regarding the irony of the blog, what I'd note is that the birth of modern Agrarianism, let alone a Catholic type of agrarianism, may very well be tied to the internet.

Technology does have its dangers, to be sure. I'm very much convinced of that. And the Internet is a gateway towards distraction and idleness, or worse.

However, at the same time, it lets us like minded yeoman gather and discuss in a way we could not otherwise. At one time, those of us with these set of philosophical concerns would gather at our kitchen tables, or perhaps in the Church basement, or even out on the Church lawn after Mass, but today that just isn't so. Now modern distractions keep that from being the case. Indeed, it's the them of a secular book, "Bowling Alone".

But, what folks like Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon started in books with a limited audience, the Internet has expanded. That let me know that there were other farmers with my point of view (it's how I found Berry). And it's let me know that there are other Catholics thinking the same things I am. Up until I stumbled across your blog and one other one, I thought I may be the only Catholic who had these sorts of thoughts. I see that is not so.

So, while technology can be a needless or bad distraction, it can also serve a good purpose. The Amish rejection of many technologies is based on the concept that they should be rejected if they serve to reduce humility and distract from God. If that's how we view the Internet, what I'd suggest is that the Internet need not reduce humility and distract from God, but it may in fact do very much the audience.

Or, taken another way, the Amish are sometimes called a "simple" people. The Internet, ironically, can aid in our simplicity, or at least focus our agrarian and Christian thoughts. It can, of course, also be a huge distraction. But if we value any one implement, old or new, solely for its utility, I can see how this could help us return to a more natural simple life.

Kevin L. said...

Great post! I have often felt we Catholics can learn from the Amish. We do share much in common.

LindaM said...

We are in the final days of moving to our own three acre farm but I only recently began to hear about the Cathoilic Back to the Land ideas.

We found ourselves fortunate enough to buy land in an area with a heavy Amish concentration. In short time, we befriended a family who live close by.
Where the local " English" don't understand entirely what we are trying to do, the Amish have welcomed us, helped us when we needed it, taught us many things. Then there is the sincere friendship.

My observation is that the children enjoy being outside all year long. They feel good about making money for the family and being responsible for things we consider " adult" such as working off the farm on a demolition crew. They love to read and they trully enjoy visiting with guests. The 8th grade education is merely a gateway to independent learning which most relish.

The flipside is that they do need technology but are dependent on others to deliver the end product...i.e. an article from the internet or having to sell quilts to a third party at half the cost so that the third party can sell the quilt online. There are advantages that they are not privy too as a result and a level of exploitation going on.

The retention rate is high yet all it takes is one child to leave the community to devastate a family. Each person is a very important part of the whole. I've seen what those children go through when they decide to leave as well.

A careful balance is always necessary. I agree with less technology. Alot less, but an absence entirely.

fiat said...

We are blessed to live among the Amish in NW Tennessee. What they have that Catholics of the Catholic Land Movement lack is community. I would love to live like the Amish but we are probably the only Catholic family in our county who have this desire. We have to travel 30 minutes for Mass (by car!).

My goal is to instill in my children a love for working on the land, for growing what they eat, for doing things for themselves, for helping others do the same. We cannot approach the community life of the Amish yet, but I do hope my children will move closer to that vision and, perhaps in a few generations, we will see significant Catholic communities living off the land.