Aren't they a bitnaive and backward? Why don't they accept modern things?
A New York family (the Goldsmiths), in an air-conditioned Oldsmobile, sits along a Lancaster County road, staring at an Amish father and son (the Fishers) working in a nearby field with two horses and an old piece of equipment which is no longer manufactured.
"It's so peaceful and beautiful," says Mrs. Goldsmith.
"But why do they make it so hard on themselves?" her husband grunts.
"I wish I could live like that," their daughter volunteers.
"No, you don't, darling. You'd go crazy."
"But they look so content, Mom."
Her father pulls that car back onto the road. "It may be nice to look at, Nancy, but you gotta admit it's a little backward."
Few Americans will walk right up to someone else, look them in the eye and say, "Hey, you're pretty backward, aren't you!" But millions like Mr. Goldsmith think such thoughts privately about the Old Order Amish, the Old Order Mennonites, the Hutterites, the Holdeman Mennonites, and other related groups.
What do modern persons (who really intend to be polite and respectful) actually mean when they say "backward?"
Is "backward" so bad?
If any of us were to list the five most important things in life—for anyone—what would they be? A sense of meaning. A feeling of personal fulfillment. Having people who really care about us. Having basic necessities—food, shelter, health. And contentment and peace.
Do the Goldsmiths really have a better grip on the essentials of life than the Fishers do?
Does the average modern "progressive" American have a more profound sense of fulfillment and meaning than the Fishers? Do the Goldsmiths actually spend more time with the people who love them than the Fishers do? Is community-centered Amish education truly inferior to Nancy's progressive school? Is the food from the Fisher's garden less healthy than that from the urban supermarket? Do their horses pollute the earth and the air more than the Oldsmobile and its unquenchable demand for gasoline, macadam roads, and parking lots? Will Nancy inherit a better world than the Fisher children?
If modern Americans are not willing to seriously look at these questions, they will have little hope of ever understanding why the Old Order groups have endured for so many generations—and why they are even today growing in number.
The Fishers might ask the Goldsmiths (although most Old Order groups are reluctant to discuss such things with casual strangers), "You say you prefer so-called progress to backwardness. Where will you be when you arrive? Where does this progress take people?"
Progress is running out of steam
As authors we do not wish to treat modern progress unfairly. Certainly great strides "forward" have been made which all peoples everywhere benefit from, especially in the battle against diseases.
These people do not resist progress categorically The seasons themselves have taught them to expect change. But their attitude in an age of scarce resources, decaying environments, dying family structures, extreme loneliness, disdain for commitments, and a high premium on so-called freedoms is "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." The Old Order communities offer quiet testimony of a viable alternative to modern life.
It should be noted that the majority of Mennonites in North America and around the world have now accepted much of the "modern" dream with most of its trappings. But few are not troubled by the issue in some form or another. In fact, most of the church divisions have focused on matters of how far Christians should go in accommodating modern progress. Many are returning to wood stoves, gardens, more time at home, and simpler lifestyles. But many others find it difficult to sacrifice personal convenience for community fulfillment.