The east coast part of our trip has been a whirlwind of activities and experiences. It’s been hard to keep the days straight but I’m trying! On Tuesday, we made our way to Lancaster County to visit the Amish. I’ve always been familiar with the Amish lifestyle but I’ve never interacted with actually witnessed it before. We took a tour through the Amish country and the simplicity of their lifestyle really began to set in. As many people know, they don’t use electricity and make their living either through farming, livestock, carpentry, or by other means. There were barns at pretty much every house we went to and lots of horse drawn carriages. For some reason, I had it in my mind that if someone wanted, they could convert to being Amish. But I found out that’s not the case, it’s a culture you must be born into. At the age of 18, you are given the chance whether or not to embrace the Amish way for the rest of your life. If you decide to enter mainstream society, though, then you are cut off from your family. The Amish pride themselves on the fact that they a group of people unlike anyone else in America, a group of people who have consciously decided to reject the way that modern day society has developed no matter the consequences.
Over time, the way they live has become a point of interest for many American people and it was actually kind of unsettling to see how their life has become a tourist attraction. While I definitely thought their pretzels were delicious and I even bought some of their homemade potato chips, I couldn’t help but feel I was in a museum of sorts. I understand that part of the experience was to see a completely different part of American culture and to understand the diversity of religious practices in the United States but part of it just didn’t seem right to me. We had dinner with an Amish family and I think that’s when I started to feel uncomfortable with the whole experience. I had anticipated that the family would eat with us and we would be able to ask them questions about their life and they would be able to do the same. Instead, the family served us and it felt much more like a restaurant. On top of that, the family had business cards that they gave to us and also had a room in the basement to accommodate large groups. I guess what I’m trying to say that nowadays in American, it’s difficult to stand against the norm and to engage in a lifestyle that is completely different from what is considered modern. While it’s great that the Amish are benefiting from increased interest in their lifestyle, I can’t help but feel that there’s something inherently wrong with making their lifestyle a spectacle. But I guess that if you can’t beat it, you might as well make money off of it.
Besides my uncomfortable feeling about the whole thing, I really did learn a lot and I think that the Indonesian students did as well. It was good for them to see that there is a whole range of religious practices in the United States. A couple days after we went to see the Amish, we were all reflecting how amazing it is that there really is so much diversity within in the United States- something that’s easy to take for granted. However, after spending time in Indonesia, you come to appreciate just how much freedom our society affords us, and not just religious freedom.
When we were in New York City, we went to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance. It was a really powerful museum that gave us all a lot of things to think about. One of the topics that came up there was the issue whether or not hate speech ought to be protected under freedom of speech. As we saw in the museum, words have power, a power that can be both negative and positive. In Indonesia, there are certain restrictions on freedom of speech in order to ensure a harmonious society. This means that the media can never defame the six national religions and even expressing certain political views or opinions is prohibited. This type of limitation is something we don’t really see in society but in some cases, is it what we need? If there were certain limitations on the media, would we be living in a less dangerous and hateful society? Or is it important that everyone have the right to express their own thoughts and opinions no matter how offensive and backward they may appear? Take Pastor Terry Jones for instance. While his actions reach beyond the freedom of press realm, they still concern freedom of expression. Should his actions be defended by our constitution even though they instigate violence across the world and just go to further fuel people’s negative attitudes toward Muslim communities? Is there such a thing as too much freedom? We discussed this issue briefly as a group and I can’t say I’ve come up with a good answer. America as a country has always prided itself on its freedom and if we were to limit one person’s freedom of expression, we may end up limiting our own in the future.
Just some things to think about as we consider what freedom really means in our society. It’s hard to believe that we only have two more days with the program, I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye to my Indonesian friends, I’m going to miss them so much!