I was in rural eastern Indiana for Thanksgiving. This area being, of course, quite conservative politically and socially. One of my family members said that 16% of the county voted for the Libertarian presidential candidate; this may have just been a Farmlander teasing his Upper Coaster relatives (political geography here). Still, the last thing I wanted to do on a day of gratitude was discuss politics. So, I took the dog and my iPod and went outdoors.
Twice in fifteen minutes, an Amish horse and buggy passed by. This was a bit of a shock, even though the high school I attended (elsewhere in Indiana) had several Mennonite girls; I also remember a horse and buggy hitched at a grocery store. Anyway, there I was listening on my iPod to some Alan Hovhaness music played by the Shanghai String Quartet, and thinking I live a rather different life than the Amish. For starters, I presume they don't have iPods, and even though this music is quite conservative, they don't listen to Alan Hovhaness.
My next thought was how important religious freedom is. But do those who benefit care about other, different religions? The extreme example that came to mind is that church in San Francisco where they worship Saint John Coltrane, which presumably has little in common with Amish practices. In any case, the Amish are very community oriented but on a local basis. We had a family member in the hospital last week, and one of the Amish women had called to ask if things were better (they were). Interestingly, she telephoned at night from their barn, where they do have electricity for milking machines (although probably not for recharging iPods).
On the flight home, Esquire magazine had a column by Noah Feldman where he talks about how the relationship between American church and state evolved as religion has diversified. The American founders decided to not have an official state religion, which was a novel idea at the time. During the early 1800s as new denominations proliferated, the nation became nonsectarian, with a morality sufficiently compatible to all. As Catholics immigrated, we became a Christian nation and with Jewish immigration, a Judeo-Christian one, albeit one with a firmer separation of church and state. Feldman speculates we are headed toward a religious crisis as America expands to include large numbers of Muslims, Hindus, and others, and maybe the US ending up as a monotheistic nation.
The other thought that occurred to me is that if there is a catastrophe and we lose the "grid," the Amish will be better prepared. Me, I'll be staring at my iPod trying to decide what last work I'll listen to for inspiration--maybe Coltrane's A Love Supreme or Adams' Shaker Loops.
From an Amazon.com review of the Shanghai Quartet CD:
`The Ancient Tree' (Under the Ancient Maple Tree) is the title of his 4th quartet. It is a touching requiem to a beautiful tree on Hovhaness's uncle's farm in New Hampshire which was destroyed by lightning. As a boy, he remembers the glorious views he commanded from this point. It begins with a beautiful adagio, again modal in feel, which reflects the bitter-sweet memories of things past and gone forever. The inevitable fugue follows but the main theme has the character of a rustic dance. The final movement begins adagio with some music of heart-breaking beauty. A brighter mood gradually appears and the piece ends with a fast, celebratory passage.