From a trucker's description of Hutterites:
Hutterites are a communal people, living on scattered bruderhöfe or colonies throughout the prairies in North America. This communal lifestyle finds its roots in the biblical teachings of Christ and the Apostles. Emerging as a distinct culture and religious group in the early 16th century, this non-resistant Anabaptist sect endured great persecution and death at the hands of the state and church in Early Modern Europe period. However, the Hand of God remained on the shoulder of these people, and their descendents survived to battle on to this very day.
[. . .]
Hutterites live on large, mechanized communal farms that are formed as clones of established colonies.
[. . .]
The Hutterite worldview is based on respect for the authority of God. God has established a hierarchy of relationships, with the lower always obeying the higher—the younger person obeys the older, the woman the man, and man obeys God. They feel that the individual will must be broken—people should accept self-denial rather than self-fulfillment. But individuals are never secure before God—only their daily behavior gives them security, not their baptism or verbal affirmations. Since the will of God is expressed through the decisions of the community, the individual must be obedient to group will. Communal living is God's order, and private possessions express man's greed.
I have no clue if there are Hutterite colonies in Calfornia. Perhaps the people I saw were Mennonites. Hutterites don't exactly have a large web presence, after all, so it's not like I can just look that up online.
The only reason I recognized them as probably Hutterites is that I'm reading this book called I Am Hutterite (Amazon), by Mary-Ann Kirkby. This memoir chronicles her family, who left a Hutterite colony--which is a Big Deal--and faced a lot of culture shock to make it in the "real world." It's a fascinating book that I'd be reading more quickly if I weren't riding my bike to and from work on most days.
So far, the book has somewhat reaffirmed my romanticized view of agricultural, communal life that incorporates God into everyday tasks. When the colony works well together, even when the weather screws up the crops, life is pretty good.
But the book also mentions the mismanagement of a colony started by an ambitious dictator-like zealot. That just goes to show you that ambitious assholes are everywhere, even in peace-loving religious communities.
I don't exactly agree with the Hutterites' hierarchy of relationships. Using religion to stratify people is wrong. The Hutterites' principle of self-denial applies to the highest in the social ladder, too. It's easy to forget that in our society so focused on the American Dream of an individual's upward mobility through hard work, driven by the Puritan work ethic.
Anyway, I'm very much enjoying this book. Seeing those Hutterites this morning reminds me that I should read more often.