Religion beat is boring, huh?

Don’t you just love the religion beat? I have never understood the complaint that religion news is boring territory. It seems like every time I turn around this beat serves of some new and fascinating twist, often with either joyful or distressing overtones.

Do you remember the whole Y2K media apocalypse? I was living in Maryland at the time and was surprised to find out that, up in Amish territory, there were communities with Y2K committees. Why would the Amish need Y2K committees? Well, what would happen to the sale of handmade quilts if Gentile stores that cooperated with the Amish had computer crashes that affected their charge-card systems?

Life is complex, even for the Amish.

So this brings us to the following story offered by The Atlantic. Here’s the top of the Rebecca Greenfield post, under the headline, “Would the Amish Use This Hand-Cranked Laptop?

The non-profit One Laptop Per Child has engineered laptops for the world’s computerless masses. Given that billions of people don’t have electricity, OLPC has designed laptops that can operate off-the-grid, perfect for Rwandan cities, aboriginal Canadian settlements — and Amish colonies.

The Amish live in a constellation of agrarian spots in the northern United States and they’re famous for their opposition to some modern technologies, specifically high-voltage electricity. But like many religious close-knit religious communities, they tend to pick and choose which specific products to adopt. If the Amish could have the computer without the electricity, would they use them?

The answer, basically, is yes.

Now is the issue the computer with the crank or whether it is used to put Amish believers “on the grid” of the modern world?

What if the computer was simply used to help the Amish run their own businesses? On their own, in their separate flesh-and-blood networks? Thus, the story notes:

The flyer’s creator knew his audience. Unlike ads for the new Apple product of the moment, this downplays the computer’s tech touting it as “just a workhorse for your business.” It would provide “unequaled safety” because it had “no modem, no phone port or Internet connection, no outside programs, no sound, no pictures, no games or gimmicks.”

As new technologies emerge, the Amish weigh their utility against their danger.

The key word is “safety.” The safety of what? The community of believers, of course. That raises serious issues, some of which will hit close to home for anyone with young children who at times seem to be hardwired into, well, the modern world. Oh wait, there are cell towers and wifi hot spots.

Like I said, the Godbeat keeps serving up twists. Enjoy.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • tipi tim

    thanks for understanding the amish concept of the commnity of believers.

    is there a link to the atlantic story?

  • Bob Smietana

    Wicked cool

  • tmatt


    My bad.


  • Jerry

    I have never understood the complaint that religion news is boring territory.

    It’s perfectly understandable to me by extension. My wife is utterly bored by TV shows like SciFi Science which I find fascinating. After all, who would not be riveted by learning how really close we can come to building a Star Trek Holodeck or building a real light saber?

    And that can create a blind spot that stops someone from seeing the relevance of something which seems boring to a different story (such as the effect of religion on politics).

    Of course, in an ideal world, we would not have these blind spots but that is a different discussion.

    PS: I did not know that about the Amish. I had a much more uniform and traditionalist view of them before this blog post.

  • zman

    The Amish live in a constellation of agrarian spots in the northern United States

    We may wish to alert the Amish in Florida, Texas, Tennessee & North Carolina of the change in geography.

  • tipi tim

    Some approve bicycles, while others find those too technologically advanced, instead permitting only scooters.

    this sentence is inaccurate. it’s not that bikes are too advanced, it’s that they go to far to fast, which could break down the community; if slowly and over time. but the last paragraph gets it:

    It’s complex, but one thing you have to give the Amish is that they have values outside of base consumer instincts. Unlike most of us, they at least attempt to consider the consequences of new technology in their lives.

  • Ann Rodgers

    This story seems kinda naive to me.
    Many Amish already use computers, but are limited in how they use them. Their communities permit word-processing and billing/accounting programs for business purposes, which allows workers more time for family and church. But they forbid Web surfing and games, which would draw them away from their families and communities (and potentially expose them to some very sinful stuff). It’s not the technology, it’s the relationships.
    I think most Amish would laugh at the hand crank. Old Order Amish communities use diesel converters, and many are adopting solar power. Many New Order Amish communities allow electricity. I was once guided to the site of a story I was researching by an Amish businessman who spoke to me on his cell phone while he used the GPS he had bought to guide his truck drivers to delivery sites.

  • Ann Rodgers

    Forgot to add one point: Those extremely conservative Amish communities that might be attracted to the hand crank would absolutely choke on that chartreuse case. Those are the communties that won’t put bright orange safety reflectors on their buggies because they would appear “fancy.”