I'm too often negative on here. But then there's a damn sight more to attack than there is to defend in this world if you ask me.
I'm normally very hard on religion, or at least religious organisations, but on this occasion I'm going to cut a bloody huge length of slack.
I've been enjoying the series run by Channel 4 on a group of Amish teenagers who have been over in the UK on an activity which apparently plays a very important part in their culture. At first I thought this was going be another mawkish freak-show, but the Amish youngsters have been portrayed in a very good light, and I've found the series (the third episode of which was this evening) to be very thought provoking.
I think the point of the show, which is available on 4OD for those of you who may have missed it, is to give us an idea of how someone from an alien culture views our society. The Amish are ideal for this purpose, they speak English but are about as far removed from our culture as you can get without having to rely on people who spend their time ranting and raving on the street about demons whilst burning flags and throwing shoes at people.
But what has struck me has been the Amish themselves, rather than their views on us. They don't go into too much detail about the Amish, the usual, no electricity, no TV, big families, funny beards, horses, but nothing of any great substance.
What is clear is that here is a community which is completely at peace with itself. Crime is almost unheard of (barring one fairly major incident recently), the respect between neighbours is remarkable, and in the case of barn raising, it would seem the Amish really like their barns, the whole community will turn out to help out with the raising and have a bit of a party, as much as being Amish allows a party, to celebrate.
The kids are schooled within the community in their own schools, or at home. It is obvious they love one another and are completely devoted to their families. The result? From what I've seen of the kids on the TV show, educated, compassionate, friendly, honest and thoroughly decent people.
These are the sort of people you would love to have move in next door to you, they seem generous and willing to help, without knocking on the door every ten minutes and they certainly don't seem to pry into others' lives.
The one thing I do have an issue with is the whole religion thing. They set great store by the bible and their submission to God's will. I've no time for organised religion, I've stated before that if I were God, then those who claim to speak for me would be first in the line when my smiting trousers came back from the dry cleaners.
But that being said, whilst it is obvious that their faith is the single most important thing in their lives, there doesn't seem to be any desire to stamp their feet and demand rights or special treatment. You don't see Amish preaching on street corners or knocking on doors trying to convert people to their truth. Not once has one of the Amish youngsters been judgemental about those they have been staying with, and only once or twice expressed alarm or unease over what they have been exposed to, and that in voice over rather than on camera.
Their isolationism appears to give them a refreshing view of the world. They may not know who Marilyn Monroe or John F. Kennedy are, they may be completely divorced from the politics of the country they live in, but it just doesn't matter to them. They have their own community and leave everyone else alone.
I've often heard them described as being secretive. But I don't think that's fair, this sounds like a name to slight them, make them seem as 'other', don't trust them. They don't want to be around us. I've not seen anyone secretive, I've seen people happy to discuss their way of life and beliefs, they're just not about to scream and shout about it. They don't mind if we take an interest or not, it doesn't matter to them. They don't care about our way of life. They're not making a judgement on us, it just isn't important to them. All that is important is surrounding them.
As far as organised religion is concerned, the Amish faith is probably the least organised one I've seen. I don't mean they're some kind of bumbling amateurs, it just seems to me that the practice of the faith is left to the individual church, family even person.
And then the clincher, before the kids are baptised into the church, they are told to bugger off, see the world and decide if their baptism is really what they want. What other religion does that? Which other sect asks those about to be baptised, 'are you really sure this is for you?'
This sounds like the most Libertarian religion I've ever come across, existing in a community which displays many classic examples of Libertarian community living. Their habit of eschewing technology, alcohol and tobacco would drive me up the bloody wall, but from what I've seen the Amish have a very enviable life.
But of course, the Amish would point out very politely and gently, and only if I asked them their opinion, that envy is a sin.