One of the favorite vacation spots for my bride and me for the past 25 years or so has been a place called Holmes County, Ohio. It happens to be the largest Amish community in the country, although Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has gotten much of the publicity. Our visits have generated a lot of enjoyment and curiosity into the Amish way of life. My bride has read, I believe, just about every novel written about the Amish and their customs, and over the years has become very knowledgeable and empathetic with their way of living.
Almost every year, we try to spend a few days there to enjoy the simplicity and, for my wife, the shopping. One adjustment that we noticed on one of our recent trips there was that the clip-clop of horse hooves on the pavement was less prominent than in previous years. It did not seem that there were as many horse-and-buggy travelers in the area as before. Then we noticed that there were more electric-powered bicycles than we had ever seen before. We saw Amish boys and girls on their electric bikes seemingly going up and down the hills in the county with relative ease. Moms would ride their bikes pulling the baby carriages (often used for storage of groceries, etc.) behind them.
But wait, were those vehicles not prohibited by Amish traditions and customs? Upon investigation, we discovered that these electric bikes were indeed permitted, at least in this community, because they were self-powered. The batteries did not need to be plugged into an electric outlet. But as the rider pedals the bike, the battery is charged. The more and the harder the pedaling, the more and the higher the charge. And electric bikes are a whole lot less expensive than housing and feeding and caring for a horse.
For the past 100 years the Amish have resisted new technological advancements like the television and the automobile. But during the same time they’ve welcomed modern medicine to treat serious diseases, which do not impede their sense of community. Why?
Jameson Wetmore is an engineer and social researcher at the Arizona State University School for the Future of Innovation in Society. He has studied the Amish intensively and their perspective on technology. He commented recently in an interview: “The reason the Amish rejected television is because it is a one-way conduit to bring another society into their living rooms. And they want to maintain the society as they have created it. And the automobile as well. As soon as you have a car, your ability to leave your local community becomes significantly easier. You no longer have to rely on your neighbor for eggs when you run out. You can literally take half an hour and run to the store. In a horse and buggy, when you don’t have your own chickens, that’s a half-day process. I asked one Amish person why they didn’t use automobiles. He simply smiled and turned to me and said, ‘Look what they did to your society.’ And I asked what do you mean? ‘Well, do you know your neighbor? Do you know the names of your neighbors?’ And at the time I had to admit to the fact that I didn’t.” (Michael J. Coren, Quartz, 5-18-18).
In general, we think of innovation as being a good thing, inspiring creativity and discovery of new, more effective ways of doing things. But it is possible for those “new-fangled inventions” to hinder personal development. Creative solutions such as the invention of the television remote control, according to some “experts,” have contributed to lifestyles of laziness and obesity. Also, if those new ways get in the way of relationships, are they really that good?
For just today, let us all, each one of us, be innovative and creative in developing new and wonderful relationships with our neighbors. The Bible challenges us to do just that: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” — Galatians 6:2.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]