|David and Miriam as seen on the BBC's Amish: A Secret Life|
Documentaries have been pushed further into the graveyard slots for the duration of the Olympic Games, which is a shame -- I rather enjoy a good programme on history or the natural world. Having said that, with careful planning and the aid of a TV guide, or just through an act of serendipity, it is possible to find some good documentaries and dramas, even if British broadcasting currently appears obsessed with sporting jocks and jockettes!
One such excellent programme was shown on BBC 2 on Thursday evening. Called Amish: A Secret Life, this documentary followed the day-to-day experiences of a young Old Order Amish (Mennonite) family living in Pennsylvania. (It can be watched again on BBC iPlayer -- here.)
As Old Order Amish communities do not normally allow themselves to be filmed, this programme was particularly interesting as it provided a glimpse into a barely seen world. It was engaging in another sense, too, because as the film progressed, it became apparent that Miriam and David, the young married couple and parents who were its main focus, were taking quite a few risks in allowing the BBC into their home. They had become convinced that the Old Order sect they belonged to had certain deficiencies, and wished to align themselves to a type of evangelical Protestantism -- an attitude that could lead to 'excommunication' from their community were it ever made public.
As fascinating as this programme was, I did begin to wonder at points whether watching someone cycling manically round a velodrome or throwing a shot put might have been more edifying. The film was, in a way, fundamentally depressing, as it dealt with a family's obsession with a form of Christianity that is full of errors and theological misconceptions. Yes, the simple way of life, the reliance on an agrarian economy, and the joy of an uncluttered family life, all seemed appealing on the human level. But, it was sad to see people dedicating their lives to a false form of Christianity -- to a sect rooted in a very, very dated Germanic puritanism and culture, as opposed to Catholic Christianity, which flows from its founder, Jesus Christ, and seeks not to become overly obsessed with a particular time or place.
Earlier today, I noticed Stuart at eChurch had mentioned Amish: A Secret Life in a blog post about the fact that the Amish are the fastest growing religious group in North America. I left a comment on his post, highlighting two things that really caught my attention when watching the documentary. One of them reveals how little the BBC seems to know about religion, and specifically Christianity, the other reminded me of the reality that many people who call themselves Christian should, in fact, be described as pseudo-Christians.
The first thing that caught my eye (or ear) whilst watching the programme was the realisation that during it the BBC used a beautifully sung version of the Salve Regina [Update: it was set to Pachelbel's famous 'Canon'; see comments]. This Marian anthem was played to accompany a long footage showing people arriving at Miriam and David's home for a Sunday service -- the scene was filmed covertly. I wonder whether the BBC knew that Old Order Amish (or 'new order' ones, come to that!) would probably not have appreciated this most Catholic of hymns to the Virgin Mary? Did the filmmaker choose the Salve Regina on purpose, in an attempt to make life more difficult for the secretly evangelical but openly Amish family? (Allowing themselves to be filmed and talking openly about perceived problems with the Amish is one thing, but to appear in a programme with a Catholic soundtrack is something else altogether!)
It is possible, of course, that someone at the BBC thought this Catholic prayer was just a nice 'spiritual song' with no meaning attached -- something that could be used even when portraying Orthodox Jews, Buddhists, or even members of Ian Paisley's sect? After thinking about it, though, I wondered whether the inclusion of this music could have been providential. It is obvious that Miriam and David are devoted to Christ, in their own type of way, and it could be that Our Lady might be instrumental, one day, in bringing them back to the true fold? Who knows... But, I assume the Amish family will watch this film at some point, and when they do, they will probably want to know more about that beautiful piece of music -- composed for a prayer to the most clement, loving, and sweet Virgin Mary; a prayer written, I believe, by a German monk, Blessed Hermann of Reichenau.
The second thing that grabbed my attention whilst watching Amish: A Secret Life occurred when the two parents revealed they had been secretly 're-baptised' by people from outside the Old Order, as they thought their original Amish baptism was somehow invalid. (I don't know why they thought this, as I believe Mennonites, including the Amish, practice adult baptism, using water and the Trinitarian formula.) As it seemed that Miriam and David had become secret Evangelicals or even some type of Amish-based Pentecostals, it could be that they now felt compelled to reject their original (adult) baptism?
Whatever their reasons where for choosing to be baptised a second time, it became apparent to me that their most recent baptism (and possibly even their first baptism -- if it followed the same form) was probably invalid. Whilst describing his re-baptism, which was conducted late at night for fear of the 'Old Order', David said that both he and Miriam stood in a river (under a small waterfall) and were: “Baptised in the name of Jesus”. Now, he may have used this term as Luke did in the Acts of the Apostles, to distinguish the new baptism from any previous one, which he may have thought insufficient (i.e. the first was a baptism like John the Baptist's, and the other was a Christian one). But, if David and Miariam were baptised, like so many Pentecostals and others choose to be, without using the Trinitarian formula -- "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" -- then I fear the whole thing was a bit of a sham, as it would have been invalid. It was all quite sad, really.
The saddest part of the whole programme was the fact that these Amish, like so many Protestants, seem extremely prone to schism and fractious internal squabbles and dissent. They also appeared to base their faith on a truncated understanding of Christianity, and on a set of values and rituals that are fossilised and man-made.
One of the miracles of Catholicism is the fact that it has remained unified for 2,000 years -- despite the human imperfections, errors, and disagreements of the Church's members. It is also a Faith which is fundamentally organic, alive and active -- not hermetically sealed in a time-capsule. For this reason, and because they seem genuinely caught up in a type of dangerous sect, I really felt sorry for David and Miriam -- I pray they will, one day, enter into full communion with the truth, with the Church.
It was depressing to see these two genuine people dedicating their lives to peculiar human traditions, as opposed to those traditions that have been handed down to us by the Apostles. Hopefully, then, the clement, loving and sweet Mother of God will now, thanks to this BBC film, intercede for them and bring them home.