When I first met the Amish, I spent a warm fuzzy period admiring and even idealizing Amish society. This was in the summer of 2004, and I was selling a set of books called the Family Bible Library to Amish families. I had spent a fruitful few weeks in the Arthur, Illinois community before traveling to Indiana.
I remember one day in the Daviess County, Indiana Amish settlement thinking to myself, wow, wouldn’t it be neat to be a part of this culture. I even remember who I’d been speaking to at the time.
It was a particularly sunny young farmer (late-20s, with some small kids) on the western side of the settlement. For some reason the topic of joining the Amish had come up. We’d been discussing another member of his community–let’s call him Mike.
Mike was unlike most Amishmen–he had actually joined the church from the outside, marrying an Amish girl and starting a family and a small home business. “He’s doing okay so far!” the born-and-bred Amishman told me, striking a note of hope and optimism about the convert’s chances of making it.
I had actually previously met Mike, and though I didn’t think to ask him much about his experience at the time, he provided a concrete example of someone who had actually done it. What if..?
However, the allure of joining the Amish quickly wore off, as I describe in this piece about romanticizing the Amish. I came to see the Amish as similar to us (i.e., human), learned to appreciate the positive aspects of Amish life, and recognized that for various reasons there was no way I’d ever cut it in a pair of broadfall trousers.
I think everyone who comes to know the Amish on some level has the thought at least cross their mind, though.
It’s not for nothing that the all-time most-commented post on this blog is “So you want to join the Amish“. I can understand a lot of the sentiment expressed in the comments of that post, even if I think a lot of people are approaching the idea without fully thinking through the implications.
But for a few, I think joining the Amish is a dead-end road. Well, maybe not a dead-end road–that’s too negative. I’m sure that people that fail to be Amish take something important away from their experiences.
In any case, there are numerous examples of people who have tried to join but failed, either deciding against baptism or leaving some time after becoming a church member.
The sacrifices are great, and Amish themselves say that it is really hard to do unless you have been raised in the culture. On this point, I found Lance’s comments on “So you want to join the Amish” interesting:
When I tried to go Amish, I made the decision that it was pointless to long after things the Amish did not allow. I could not have them and that was that. So it was not a difficult burden to leave them behind. It took as long as it took to drive somewhere and there was no point to getting upset that a car could go faster. I never even thought of phone, TV, radio or computer.
I did miss running water for a shower, and, in hot weather, no fan to move the air made nights much more miserable.
What was problematic was the language barrier and the illogical/irrational rules. You must learn the language or you will just be left out at times. English speakers do not adapt easily to Germanic languages and you really need to learn both PA Deitsch and High German to understand at all times. It is not easy and some Amish do not learn the High German well.
Amish make changes to their rules by consensus of the church and if you were not there at the time the rule was made, it can be very hard to understand those rules. Without being born Amish and living in the system since young, you have a hard time adapting to, believing in and trusting it. It is the trust in the system or lack thereof that makes being Amish easy or hard. Our modern school systems teach critical thinking and that goes against Amish thought. They value a high level of yielding to the church in all things the church makes a stand. We have not been taught that and it is not easy to develop.
Though people’s experiences vary, I think Lance’s frank comments reflect a lot of the challenges of becoming Amish.
Yet even with the unlikelihood that that will ever happen, I still occasionally catch myself thinking what it would be like to live as an Amish person.
The well-known positive sides of Amish culture–a strong faith community, an arguably simpler lifestyle, family focus–have timeless appeal. When you’re stuck in traffic, breathing polluted air, anonymous in a big city, Amish grass can start to look pretty green.
I’m curious if you’ve ever pondered it too.
And so I’m wondering–if you “left the English”, why would you do it–and what is the greatest thing you think you’d gain?
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