Shall we Spend Most of Our Lives Living in an Amish Paradise? On Pursuing a Quiet Life

This paper argues that the process interrogation of the harms and changes caused by adoption of new technology by Amish communities is instructive for evangelical Protestants in the global West. This paper surveys the scriptural commands to live a quiet life, summarizes the method used by Amish communities to evaluate technology for adoptions, and argues that a similar method for ethically evaluating innovations without local churches would encourage sanctification and point contemporary believers toward the quiet life.

In several of his letters, Paul urges his audience to live quietly (1 Thess 4:11), to do their work quietly ( 1 Thess 3:!2), and to pray for political leaders so that Christians can lead a peaceful and quiet life (1 Tim 2:2). As our phones, tablets, and smart devices continually distract us, it can leave us wondering what it really means to live a quiet life. Of the various Christians communities in the West, there are few that have resisted the effects of modernity more consistently than the Amish. Though their customs have changed over time, the Amish (and adjacent) communities have grown drastically, prospered, and in many ways retained an identity distinct from those of us most affected by modernity.

Amish theology is more often interrogated by evangelicals for its political content. Questions about the relationship between Christians and the government seem to be the limit of interest for many evangelicals. However, as sociologists like Donald Kraybill and Marc Olshan show, there are signs that the Amish are asking some of the right questions about technology, progress, and the quiet life as they prioritize their faith in opposition to the currents of modernity. The strange patchwork of technological adoption among Amish communities itself affords opportunities for outsiders to inquire why the differences and what is the basis of their decision. Strange as it may seem to some, the Amish have maintained a distinct culture despite being deeply committed to free market economics and entrepreneurship. They are also one of the few demographic groups to have consistently doubled in size roughly every twenty years. There is something vital in their resistance. As Eric Brende demonstrates in his book, Better Off, after living in an Amish community for a year, there is something to be learned from the Amish way of living even it is not, in the end, fully adopted.

This paper builds on an existing body of literature in Amish studies, bringing their process of evaluating new technologies into an ongoing evangelical conversation about technology and humanity. It also draws on the instruction by Paul to the church, one that Western Christians seem to be struggling with.

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