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The seeker

19 minutes

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When his faith crumbles, an ‘Amish atheist’ rebuilds his world from scratch

Kenneth Copp’s life has been defined – and twice upended – by his commitment to seeking the truth. Born into the Pentecostal faith in Virginia, at the age of 17 Copp became an Amish convert, favouring its ‘quiet but dedicated Christianity’ to some of the more ‘wild and ecstatic’ tenets of his parent’s denomination. After trading his pickup truck for a team of horses, he was baptised and later married into the community. Decades later, his world again irrevocably changed when, while reading the Bible with a critical eye, he discovered what he viewed as manifold contradictions and ethical problems. His faith unraveled. Excommunication from his community – including a heartbreaking split from his wife and 10 children – followed shortly after.

The acclaimed short documentary The Seeker finds Copp several years out from his loss of faith, living as a self-described ‘Amish atheist’. Donning a traditional beard, running a small farm and wood shop, and often travelling via horse and buggy, he has held on to the aspects of the lifestyle that he loved while shedding the religion at its core. By doing so, he seems to exist in a culture of his very own – one of traditional living and progressive values. A dedicated environmentalist intent on keeping his carbon footprint low, it’s now measured morality rather than religious devotion that binds him to a simple life. But owning an iPhone or watching a movie from time to time? No God, no foul. Where once he believed a plain existence would deliver his soul to heaven, now he hopes his Earthly journey will end with his body buried under an apple tree.

The US filmmaker Lance Edmands’s portrait of Copp shares a workmanlike elegance with its subject. Scenes from Copp’s farm and wood shop in Maine are beautifully captured on 16mm film – a medium with a tangible, mechanical aesthetic of its own. The naturalistic sounds of Copp’s daily routine intertwine with his gentle-yet-expressive voice and a sparse acoustic score. Mirroring Copp’s pace of life, Edmands finds resonance in gentle simplicity.

The film’s restrained, atmospheric character shouldn’t be mistaken for a lightness of subject matter or low stakes. Indeed, through Copp’s unique story, Edmands grapples with profound questions: can devout faith and rational enquiry ever coexist comfortably? What does it mean to be forever in search of truth – and what can that pursuit cost? But the quandary at the film’s core, underpinning the rest, seems to be: how should we live? It’s an unsolvable puzzle, of course, but one that Copp seems content to spend a lifetime pursuing.

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Director: Lance Edmands

Producers: Kyle Martin, Sarah Tihany

Cinematographer: Matt Michell

Editor: Conor McBride

2 June 2021