Monday morning, Nora Flaherty reports on a new PBS film that explores the lives of modern Amish communities, including the growing network of families here in the North Country.
I’m fascinated by the Amish because they seem in many ways to be living out the dream that many Americans cherish, that of maintaining their lives in the model of a 19th or early 20th century small town.
This is the sort of Christian agrarian society that serves as the touchstone for many of our traditions and values.
The Amish don’t just yack about that way of life on the campaign trail, or make corny movies about it. They actually walk the walk, standing deliberately apart from the rest of us in our onrushing, pell-mell, multicultural urban society.
Which is why it’s so fascinating to catch glimpses of where the Amish world matches — and where it defies — our ideals of America’s golden age.
This morning, the New York Times is reporting on an Amish businessman in Ohio who allegedly created a Ponzi scheme to defraud his neighbors that was every bit as pernicious as the one created by New York City sophisticate Bernie Madoff.
This postcard from a gentler and simpler America is about as unlikely a place imaginable for the news that broke in September: one of Sugarcreek’s own, a prominent member of what some people here call the Plain Community, was under arrest, accused by federal prosecutors of running a Ponzi scheme that betrayed his neighbors’ trust and wiped out more than $16 million of their savings.
The news media made the obvious comparisons. The elderly defendant, Monroe L. Beachy, had been a respected financial figure in his community for decades — just like Bernard L. Madoff, the master swindler.
Mr. Beachy is innocent until and unless he is proven guilty. And obviously the dollar amounts are much smaller. This is, after all, rural Ohio, not Manhattan.
But I think stories like this one remind us to tread carefully when we think about our rural cultural roots. When we idolize, we forget the complexities.
When we romanticize, we forget that human temptation and frailty is a universal phenomenon, not an urban one.