Watching National Geographic’s’ reality show, American Colony: Meet the Hutterites I am drawn toward observing two things, community and religion.
As a community, the cast of Hutterites set forward an outstanding example of communal fellowship, something that I have found to be growing exceedingly less in the world I live in. In this aspect I find their resistance to change refreshing and in some way enviable as it is reminiscent of the years of my own childhood in a large clannish family living in close proximity to one another and daily involved in each other’s lives…but here, I am turning nostalgic and digress.
However, the reason I started watching the show was to become familiar with their brand of religion. Most of the show is about the members of the colony struggling to maintain old religious practices from by-gone eras against the intrusion of an emerging modern world. Many of the storylines for the show are focused on the younger members who in particular must balance the temptations of the modern day with the traditions of the colony. Many times through the character of Claudia viewers are introduced to the traditions of bias towards women, and through the focus on other younger characters we witness issues where education clashes with colony needs.
A theme that runs throughout the show is the fear of the “Elders” that education and modern technologies and lifestyles will recruit members away from the colony. Because of this fear of losing members, colony youth are expected to abandon education after the eighth grade and to refrain from engaging with colony outsiders in ways which exceeds casual necessary interaction.
On one episode, “We are not a Cult”, a member, Wesley, addressed the camera and mentioned the colony’s church sermons. He said that the sermons were written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To be sure he said what I thought that I had heard I scrolled back and replayed it again. Yes, unless he misspoke, or I am misunderstanding his meaning, sermons from centuries ago are unchanged and still taught in church services. Easy work for the preacher, I thought. I wonder if some have heard the sermons so many times that they can recite them in unison. Sadly, what I infered most is how stagnated a religion this is. I suspect that the devout will be quick to state that God is unchanging, to which I would agree, but how successfully do sermons written centuries ago for the inhabitants of an entirely different era of life apply to the environment of today? I feel a certain misfortune for those who are obedient to a man-made doctrine, especially one that is not only authoritarian but ancient. And sadder still is the realization that many Christians can easily see this stagnation when looking at other denominations but are incapable of seeing it within their own traditions.
The season of this reality show ended with some controversy. A Hutterite Bishop has accused the show’s producer of exploiting and portraying Hutterite life and spiritual beliefs in an inaccurate and negative way. Colony members, such as Wesley Hofer, disagree. I happened upon a Hutterite blogger who blogs his insights as to the reality of the show and the Hutterite lifestyle in general. You can read his blog at http://askahutterite.wordpress.com/.
As the season and perhaps the series ends I resolve my interest in the religious doctrine as highlighted by the filming of this Hutterite colony. As disagreeable to their religious traditions, and enviable of their sense of community as I am, the most attractive attribute that I perceive in their religion is at least they aren’t walking the streets with their bibles, or smiling in front of a television camera while reading their aged sermons. Most importantly, when they need money they earn it. Perhaps a few of the pocket-picking-to-save-our-souls televangelist could take note.