Amish country


 

I will admit I have had my fair share of fights with the GPS throughout the years (as I have written a funny story about in the post Road rage much?) This time it wasn’t so much of a fight, but more of a missed turn as we were leaving Intercourse. We figured she (the GPS) would get us back on track before soon, but all of a sudden we were in bat country.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, that we wound up on the back roads instead of the highways were very much welcomed. It took us twice as long to get to Dulles to deliver the car, but this route was very scenic, and we got to see a lot of Amish homesteads and schools.

The great state of Pennsylvania is beautiful. Well, the parts I have seen anyways. Picturesque. Serene. Did you know that the official name is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? It’s a nomenclature used by four of the first fifteen states to join the Union (Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Virginia), and it has absolutely no legal meaning. Do not confuse this with Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands – which are not states and where the term Commonwealth indeed has a distinct legal meaning.

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Pennsylvania is one of the thirteen original founding states of the US, founded in 1681 when William Penn was given the land of what today is Pennsylvania and Delaware by King Charles II as payment of the debt the King owed William Penn’s father. Must have been a considerable debt – or extremely low value of the land. William Penn was a deeply religious Quaker, and the Swedes, Dutch and English settlers in Delaware didn’t like the “Quaker government” he had set up, and so they broke free in 1704.

 

If someone handed you a huge chunk of land, wouldn’t you name it after yourself? I sure would! I think Old MamaSTAN has a nice ring to it! And that is what William Penn did. If you found it – you name it! All jokes aside, William Penn is an important figure in the history of the United States of America. Not a very well-known fact is that William Penn is also considered the very first to suggest the creation of a European Parliament.

 

05-20160222_100219_025The Amish are traditionalist Christian church fellowships, with Swiss Anabaptist origin. They are not the same as Mennonites, but are closely related as they have the same origin. Anabaptists are Christians who believe that, opposed to being baptized as an infant, baptism should be delayed until the person confesses his or hers faith in Christ. In the 1690s, one of the Anabaptist leaders, Jakob Ammann, spoke about a particularly strict and humble Christian lifestyle, which attracted a group of followers – and they were called Amish (after Jakob Ammann). The Amish met massive opposition in Europe, where many had their land taken from them, were tortured and even burned at the stake.

Many Amish and Mennonites immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century, and the most traditional descendants of the Amish speak “Pennsylvania Dutch”

 

The Amish live a simple life, dress plainly and do not use modern technology. It’s like they are stuck in the 1700’s… No car, no phone, no TV. While most Americans have a birthrate too low to maintain the population, most of the Amish have 6-7 children. Infant and maternal mortality has decreased greatly in the 20th century, and has together with high birthrates, helped to increase the Amish population greatly in latter years.

02-20160222_095714_008The children are raised as Amish, but are not considered members of the Amish church until they are baptized, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. Once baptized, they are only allowed to marry within the faith (once married, the men grow their beards). Of course this endogamy leads to inbreeding, and thus the Amish have higher incidents of dwarfism, Angelman Syndrome and various metabolic disorders.

Rumspringa (meaning “running around”) normally begins around the age of 14-16 and ends when the youth chooses baptism within the Amish church. During this time it is generally OK to own and use technology, cars and even use alcohol.

Musical instruments are forbidden by the Old Order Amish community; because playing an instrument would be worldly. (I keep thinking they really miss out on some great melodies. They believe that it would be contrary to the spirit of Glassenheit (humility).

You might have heard of Barn Raisings? They are a cherished tradition in the Amish culture and symbolize acts of selflessness and assisting one’s family, neighbors and community. It is also very much so a social event. In addition to being farmers, there are many very talented artisans and crafters. They make some beautiful furniture and quilts.

The Amish intentionally segregate themselves from other communities as a part of their faith. The practice of humility is the main motivation for almost everything the Amish do. They believe outside culture has a morally polluting effect, as it promotes pride, greed, immorality and materialism. They believe God will judge them on how well they obeyed the church rules during their lifetime, and contact with the non-Amish world makes it harder for them to obey their rules. This is the Bible verse they point to as reason for their self-imposed isolation: “Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord.» (2 Corinthians 6:17)

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As every other Christian community – they pick and choose what parts of the Bible to live by. As the Bible is full of contradictions, it is not hard to find a verse that will suit whatever rule you wish to enforce, and this one in particular is in fact highly judgmental. Judgement and humility does not go together. In a different part of the same book, you can read that: “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Choosing to isolate yourself from your neighbor, is that love? The Amish say that fraternizing with their neighbor will morally pollute them, is that humility? Not in my eyes. In my eyes this is self-righteousness.

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Every member of the church must observe the ”Ordnung” – the rules of the church – that cover most aspects of day-to-day living. Most Amish do not buy commercial insurance or participate in Social Security, and as pacifists they will not partake in any form of military service (Mustaches are forbidden among the Amish people, as they associate it with the military). Members who do not follow the church rules (the ordnung), and will not repent, are excommunicated or even shunned, meaning that all contact with the shunned person is cut. Even parents must shun their own grown children.  I see the practice of shunning as manipulative and cruel not just to the person being shunned, but also to the family and friends as they risk also being shunned if they remain in contact with the shunned, and its only purpose is to control the members through fear.  The effect on the individual is not a positive one for sure. They have been brought up in a community where contact with non-Amish has been very limited, and when shunned they are left all alone in the world. They know no one, have no education, and do not have any social skills in the “English” world. This is psychological violence.

I have no beef with the Amish for living without modern technology, for dressing the way they do, for growing their beards and for being self-sufficient. Good on ‘em! I have no beef in them believing in a higher being. Good on ‘em! Their self-righteousness, their judgement, the psychological violence though the practice of shunning, I cannot respect.

 

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9 comments on “Amish country

  1. Tilbaketråkk: Happy Canada Day! – Get Lost!

  2. Before GPS, I got lost for about an hour or two just driving in circles with one of my buddies. He kept suggesting we get help, and I was like «No, I recognize this road». But, it was always one of those long roads where I had never seen that part of it; so, we just kept circling away from our destination. When I finally stopped and got a map, it still took me a couple of wrong turns trying to follow the map. So, I just remember those times when I get mad at the GPS.

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