Amish interpretations: the moon landings and other major events
The scribes letters which make up the national or Amish edition of the Budget are a far cry from the news formats we “English” are used to. The majority start with a description of the weather; “It is 88 degrees at 9am. During the day it goes into the upper 90s. We have little breeze today,” begins one from a Wisconsin scribe last week. This is normally followed by updates on farming issues – news on crop growth or the harvest – and then details of auctions or sales attended by community members during the week. Church news is shared, along with the names of those visiting or those away visiting others, plus reports of weddings and funerals. It is community news in the truest sense, and Amish families appreciate it as a way of keeping up with relatives who may be many thousands of miles away (the Budget is sent to 41 US states, and to international destinations).
But I wondered if there were ever events in the “non-Amish” world that were so big they impacted on these letters, causing them to refer to happenings outside Sunday’s church service or the height of their corn. Looking up important dates over the last 100 years in the paper’s archives I found that every so often, this did happen. Take for example the moon landings in 1969. When Neil Armstrong took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind, the world marvelled at this moment in our history. But the Amish communities had a slightly different view.
For some, it appeared insignificant. This short note appeared at the bottom of a long letter from Dundee, Ohio, following on from news of sick community members:
“Today was a new holiday because the astronauts had reached the moon.”
In communities focused so intensely on family, the news value of such an expedition is not particularly high. Other letters expressed sentiments very different from the congratulatory tone in mainstream news, including the Budget’s own local edition at that time. A scribe from Indiana commented:
“The astronauts intend to walk on the moon tonight. We wonder if the money that is used for space exploration would not be better spent if it were used to help the poor.”
A valid argument. Someone else argues: “one wonders what is gained by [landing on the moon] outside of high prestige at the expense of billions of dollars,” while others simply seek to put it into perspective when compared to the powers of God:
“Quite an achievement. But if we measure this up with the power to create the Sun, moon, stars, earth and everything, it is very puny. Bible states man gets wiser and weaker.”
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. Skip forward four decades and 9/11 also finds itself among the social gatherings and buggy accidents – in fact the front page tells the story of a Pennsylvanian scribe whose home was just six miles from the site where the fourth plane crashed into farm land. Here the sentiments were similar to those expressed across the globe in the aftermath of the tragedy, although they remain deeply rooted in the religious teachings provided by the Amish church:
“Our thoughts have been stirred by what has happened this past week in New York City, etc. It is a challenge to us to spread the Gospel to those we meet, and to be faithful till Jesus comes!”
Fast forward again to November’s US elections and Obama-mania is strangely absent from the pages of the national edition. Staff at the Budget inform me the Amish are unlikely to vote in national elections, although they maybe encouraged to do so on single issues affecting them, and this brings me back to the very heart of the content on the Budget’s national pages; if it does not relate their communities, it doesn’t go in. They are completely faithful to the needs of their readership, because the writers are the readership – it is citizen journalism taken to the extreme. As a result our English new values are either perceived in a very different way, or omitted completely.
I have a few days left with the Budget, so if anyone wants to suggest an event from 1890 onwards they would like me to look up to see the Amish response, let me know and I’ll try and get round to it.