Relationship between technology and Christian community

Yes, good job brother!

I found the talk on the lifestyle of the Amish helpful. They are trying to protect the communal lifestyle, /not necessarily/ get rid of technology. I found a TV series on youtube recently and greatly enjoyed it. It seems that there’s an in-between somewhere and it would be fun to think about that a bit more.

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Sounds like a fun thread to begin.

So let’s suppose we all agree that the Amish are on to something, at least in principle, as it relates to deliberately maintaining a particular way of life, rather than letting technology determine the way of life. Let’s say we agree that the Amish have demonstrated a level of prescience when it comes to understanding that there are inherent threats to that way of life that come along with being a technological society.

So what do we do about it? What does it actually look like for us to be the kind of Christians who walk in a manner that is distinctly, well, Christian, in a technological society? How do we embrace electricity, and cars, and computers, and the internet, and smart phones, while maintaining the Christian community that these things seem to naturally threaten? If we agree that the post-industrialized world comes with so many things that seem to flow in a direction contrary to the one that the Bible would prescribe for us, what is the path forward?

Are we reformed folk on a slow, incremental path to adopting a sort of Amish society, but we just don’t know how to get there, being that we’re all city slicker baby boomers and millennials who wouldn’t know the first thing about living without the internet?

Or is there really another course? What should our lives look like, in very practical terms?

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I think the real issue is not what technology we personally use, but building and maintaining community. And let’s be quite specific that community in this sense means close physical proximity to fellow Christians such that life together occurs every day rather than over the Internet or once a week during coffee hour at a commuter church. This sort of village life is how the Amish live today and how most people lived throughout history, but it has become essentially impossible today. Consider how difficult it is throughout most of America for adult children to find work and housing near their parents, let alone for members of the same church to work and live near each other. The economic headwinds blow strongly against anyone trying to gather people together in physical proximity unless one adopts a quasi-monastic lifestyle. The Amish succeed because they have an economic basis that sustains a communal lifestyle. What alternative economic basis could other Christians develop? – that is the big question, I think.

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Personally, the thing I like about the Amish isn’t their rejection of technology, but how they’ve built an interdependent community. The Amish are un-cancelable short of being put to fire and sword. They care for one another and have built interdependent communal lives.

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I agree. But isn’t their rejection of technology an integral part of their pursuit of building that interdependent community? For example, part of the idea behind retaining the horse and buggy, as I understand it, is that it promotes local community, whereas the automobile promotes independence. The same reasoning would apply to the rejection of the cell phone, the personal computer, the GPS, and the internet. All of these tools bring with them the trend toward an increasingly independent lifestyle.

Are the Amish right that in order to pursue interdependent community, we must be willing to reject technology, and allow the outside world to pass us by? Or do we believe interdependent community really can be functionally achieved in a technological era? As we adopt more and more technological amenities, are we actually stacking the deck against ourselves and the very thing we claim we want to build?

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Isn’t this meant to be found in the local church? Fellowship? Sharing a common table? A brotherhood? Baptism?

That sort of biblical community is certainly helped by proximity, but I think the witness of the church during difficult times shows that proximity isn’t absolutely necessary provided Word, sacrament, and discipline are in a particular congregation.

The trouble is - they use all those things. I’m from northern Indiana - home of Amish Acres. We have streets widened in many towns to accommodate horse and buggy traffic. Most stores have hitch posts, including my family’s.

And they all use most of that technology every day. Many of them rent charging stations on peoples porches for cell phones, laptops, etc. They rent vans and cars for travel. My family sold many, many deep freezers to them - they put them in the barn because they could have electricity in the barn for “work related purposes” but not in their homes.

This doesn’t mean they don’t have simpler lives - but don’t idealize them. They are very hypocritical in their use of technology. I remember one farmer about 3 miles from my home that bought a giant articulated 8 wheeled John Deere for his enormous farm. His particular community forbid the use of rubber tires on tractors. Why? No idea. How did he get around it? Custom steel tires. 8 giants custom steelies for a behemoth tractor.

Another time I was delivering welding gas to the many Amish up around Kendallville and one of the men ordered a skid of wire. How did we unload it? He ran to the road and looked into the distance for buggies - then ran to the back of his shop and fired up his skid-steer and quickly unloaded it.

Another one: The People’s Exchange is an Amish newspaper that has all the technology you could hope for. A friend of mine was an artist for them for many years - used all the latest Apple drawing apps.

Now, I’m not saying they don’t have it more right than we do. They do. They limit the use of technology in the home and the general community. They use it purposefully, if somewhat hypocritically. And that’s the thing to figure out.

I think that is it. They have been successful at it for hundreds of years, despite the fact that they use all the same technology that we do. How do we force ourselves to feel the need one another again?

One way that Sarah and I just did this week was to pull the plug on Amazon Prime. Just that one thing makes it so we can’t just wait until the last minute but have to plan ahead. It also forces us to use local stores more because if we need something quickly we have to go shop for it. Made me head to the local sports store yesterday for some baseball equipment instead of hitting the order button.

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Not sure you’ve been following the background context for this thread.

Anyway, the rise of technology has enabled people to break free from historic community ties. This in turn has placed a much larger portion of the burden of marriage and child-raising on spouses and parents alone. There aren’t many solid Reformed churches out there these days, so it is often the case that members live far apart and only see one another when they gather for worship on the Lord’s day. Extended family members are similarly scattered far and wide. So six days out of the week, husband and wife and father and mother are left to their own devices. From personal experience, I can tell you that often there is no trusted family down the street with whom the kids can play and no trusted neighbor who will watch the toddler when Mom has a doctor’s appointment. Sure, proximity isn’t absolutely necessary, but it sure helps.

My point is that we are seeing a breakdown of family and fertility in both broader society and the church not merely because technology passively enables people to be independent but because technology and economic policy are actively working to destabilize community. A man is forced to move to where he can find work for his hyperspecialized skillls and forced to live where he can find something affordable, which may be far from both job and church. And even if his job remains stable amidst a hyperglobalized economy, his children will likely be forced to move somewhere else to find jobs and affordable housing.

So I think the problem is much deeper than mere use of technology. The Amish have managed not just because they rejected technology, but moreso because they found an economic basis on which to found their community.

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I just went remote and am moving back near family, so technology has solved this problem for us :slight_smile:

Not everyone is in the same boat, but I imagine /a lot/ of people are and can go remote.

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One of the men in my church mentioned that he read how the Puritans drove for miles to get to a Puritan church, often past numerous other churches. (I should ask him where he read this.) His takeaway is that it has not been uncommon (at least for hundreds of years) for devout Christians to be seen as weird for going further than “normal” Christians do to get to a good church.

In this context it makes me wonder how much “harder” we actually have it. I’ve wondered the same thing when reading Little House on the Prairie. People who were living on farms, at least in the US frontier, were apparently far enough from everybody else that having somebody over was a real event, even if it was your nearest neighbor. Perhaps that is out of the ordinary down through history, though? I simply don’t know. Still, it seems to me that the average person today has much more social interaction than most throughout history have had. We simply have way more free time. And I suspect this is in large part a result of technology—both the increase in free time and the increased ability to see and spend time with others, for example via cars, leaving aside Skype.

Regarding the Amish, it’s also worth noting that it is not uncommon for people in Indiana communities to sell their land and move to Wisconsin communities where land is cheaper. I don’t know the details, but I know that this breaks up extended families, because they will hire people to drive them back for special family events, at times.

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This is true, especially in the aftermath of nonconformity effectively being made illegal. Pastors were not allowed to live within five miles of their former congregations. John Owen lived 11 miles from his congregation - in London that’s a huge distance, especially so in the 1600s - though I think he also rented some sort of modest dwelling nearer to the congregation part of the time. And for believers who were servants, their employment dictated where they lived not the other way around. The idyllic picture of village life with a physical proximity to a congregation blessed with generational ties is something that most Americans have never known. And given the trouble Jonathan Edwards had in just such a situation, I wonder how truly idyllic it was.

Not to say, @Joel, that your perspective is untrue (don’t worry…I am still tracking with you!). I rather suspect you’re correct. But I think that makes my point rather than refutes my point. Do we really think that all the Christians in the first century Rome or Corinth had that much interaction with each other on a daily basis? What percentage of those congregations were slaves? How much time do we think they really had ‘to themselves’ to be able to devote to fellowship with other believers throughout the week?

European Christians (to say nothing of Christians in other parts to the world) have long had to deal with this problem. It has served, when it’s been taken to heart, to reinforce the importance of the weekly sabbath meeting. It is truly a sabbath, a fellowship, a high point of the week.

I don’t disagree, but I do wonder how often throughout modern history Christians might have said this. One church history professor I know claims the invention of the automobile was the most catastrophic technical advance, at least as pertains to effective church membership. Excommunication lost its teeth overnight if a disgruntled member could easily drive to another church without reconciling to a former congregation.

Full disclosure: the majority of the congregation where I serve live within a 15 minute walking radius of the church. It definitely makes ministry easier. I’m not discounting the value or even importance of proximity. On the contrary.

But I think the scripture (both New and Old Testaments) points us to such proximity as being a luxury rather than a necessity. Like @joehelt I’ve had a fair bit of interaction with Amish and Amish-ish groups over the years…needless to say I think we can be a bit idyllic in looking at their lifestyles from the outside. Aside from the fact that scripture doesn’t call us to any such thing. Learn from their dedication to their views, perhaps. Such principled living is possible. But adapt any significant measure from their philosophy? I think probably not.

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I don’t really have any disagreement with you, @jtbayly and @aaron.prelock. God has ordained the times we live in, which are worse in some ways and better in some ways, than other times. And our call is to live faithfully in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

I guess I just see that much of what is promoted as an invevitable outcome of technology is really a policy choice that could, in principle, though perhaps not in politics, be different. And if Christians are going to make decisions about use of technology, they ought to be aware of the pressures in the larger environment and not just the immediate impact of an item like a smartphone.

@jtbayly’s words about the attempted application of older courtship methods to our present time come to mind – not a bad idea per se, but it always struck me as ill-fitting. Rather than cutting something out of another culture and time, we have to organically develop new approaches that biblically deal with the challenges of our own culture and time.

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What I keep thinking is that if I had to gauge the impact of technology making it harder to live a healthy Christian life, an awful lot of its impact is due to it spreading unhealthy, anti-Christian entertainment among us.

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Homeschooling for middle income families is really only possible because of technology. Labor saving devices and increased leisure time make possible for those of modest means what was only available for the wealthy (private tutors, servants etc) in former times.

Technology is a blessing. The fact that you can buy an orange in December is incredible, and it’s something we just take for granted. We are blessed. The bad consequences are mainly due to entertainment, as Joseph said.

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I think this is essential. One of my recurring thoughts in reading this article about the crackdown on the Uyghurs is that in China, there is only the state. Everything comes after the state. And so the Chinese have no freedom to make decisions that set a higher priority on their religion or their family or their local community than the state at large.

In this country, a similar kind of thing is happening. All ties to anything other than the state or a sports team or to one’s own “self-fulfillment” are being attacked and eroded. If you try to base your life around something other than sports or a good job - like, say, deciding to move because you want to be near a good church, or not having a TV because you don’t want your children to suck that stuff in constantly - then you will be considered weird and cultish.

I think this is true. And I make no apologies for bringing this up again: we don’t take pornography seriously. We really don’t. How is it possible that I am worried about the temptation to look at naked flesh - and worried about it for my children - in my own home? That’s just insane. That should not be. And how can you separate information technology from pornography?

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Thanks for writing this, @joehelt . Those of us who have less experience with the Amish tend to idealize them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they exist. But I was talking with a couple pastors here earlier today, and it was pointed out that the real difference between them and us is that the Amish are content to retreat from the culture. We aren’t.

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I mean, you really can’t. I’m thoroughly persuaded there is no way.

Which is kinda why even though I am appreciating all this dialogue, it isn’t really moving the needle for me as I think through the Amish and pinpoint the exact points of how I would critique them. I don’t know how we guard ourselves from certain threats without rejecting certain technology.

Bear with me. I am more or less just trying on the devil’s advocate hat to try to wrap my head around the Amish rationale.

We talk about purity at the individual level quite often in the church. We exhort men, personally, to make no provision for their flesh, with an expectation that such efforts manifest differently for different men, given their individual struggles. But at some point does a church, as one man, just say, enough is enough? If we are constantly exhorting our men to put down their smart phones, does there come a point where we just say to hell with the smart phone altogether? Does a church ever covenant together, as one man, to put away some specific thing – even though the thing itself be arbitrary in the overall scheme of things, and not an explicit command of Scripture? In other words, could the elders impose a ban on the use of smart phones in the congregation – as Chrysostom banned the attendance of the theatre? Or does such a prohibition constitute an unlawful binding of the conscience that oversteps the authority of the church over the individual?

I mean, come on. Based on the last several months of posting, it seems like @jtbayly is ready to be done with film/entertainment and @ldweeks is only a stone’s throw away from rejecting the internet. We’re not far from jettisoning certain technology. You’re on the doorstep of some sort of new Amish paradigm, guys. Just pull the trigger. :slight_smile:

First of all, I find this hilarious.

But as to the critique of hypocrisy, I have a thought. If the prohibitions on certain technology among an Amish community are already admittedly arbitrary, then is it possible that hypocrisy concerning those rules isn’t necessarily a big deal?

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say I make a rule in my house that we don’t wear shoes upstairs. The reasoning behind this rule is that we wish to strive to maintain clean carpet in the bedrooms, free from the mud and debris that gets tracked in from the outdoors. This rule is effectively arbitrary; it doesn’t come from any specific moral imperative. It comes only from the desire to keep clean carpet.

Well, let’s say I get the family packed up and ready to go somewhere, and everyone is out the door, when suddenly I realize I forgot my keys in my nightstand. My boots are already laced, and we’re running late.

What do I do? Do I unlace my boots and take them off in accordance with the rule? No. I do a quick visual inspection of my boots to make sure there’s no obvious mud on them, and if there isn’t, I run upstairs with my boots on and get the keys.

Does this make me a hypocrite? Not sure. But seems to me that since the rule itself is arbitrary, and I am the rule-maker, then I have the prerogative to set it aside as I deem appropriate in extenuating circumstances, provided I am still maintaining a dedication to the end for which the rule existed to begin with – all while still upholding the general equity and goodness of the rule.

What do you think?

I adopted the previously suggested approach of no devices in bedrooms and all usage done in the open, and it occurred to me last week that for similar considerations I couldn’t leave a teenager at home alone unless I locked up the devices and changed the passwords on the desktop computer. Not that I thought the teenager would be looking at porn, but there’s other problems with unrestricted access besides porn, and I also wanted to set the right precedent for succeeding children. Crazy.

Again, this is an issue of policy rather than technology. It only seems anonymous because people in authority aren’t bothering (or appear not to be bothering) to track who’s viewing what. If the societal will were there (and it is not), porn could be pushed much farther out to the fringes.

The difficulty is that it would involve much more than just smart phones.

Let’s just go with a blanket ban on any electronics invented after 1980. That puts us one year before the first IBM PC running DOS. :slight_smile: