Are Amish free to choose?

One manner of thinking views Amish society as highly restrictive and devoid of most freedoms.  By this view, Amish people are trapped in a harsh system which regulates nearly every aspect of their lives, leading to despair and misery.

Amishman Aaron Miller previously discussed a pair of issues related to the idea of freedom–the Ordnung and Rumspringa.  Today, Aaron shares his take on choice and individuality as an Amish person.  As you’ll see, Aaron views the issue as not so clear-cut:

And now we turn to choices and self.  The idea that the Amish give up all choices is not accurate. Granted, choice is perceived a little differently between the two cultures. Personal desire is not the sole and supreme criteria when Amish make decisions while other Americans seem to jealously guard their choices.

And yet choice is ultimately the domain of the individual. The idea that Amish give up the freedom of choice and let the community make them all is a myth. In fact that is impossible. Even if you do decide to let others decide that in itself is a choice.

The human being believes what he wants to believe. The person chooses his own values and beliefs. The only thing the community can do is reject or affirm what the individual chooses. The individual’s mind cannot be changed unless the individual chooses to do so.

Granted Amish life has a strong communal dimension that is also ecclesial.

That I know is a different dimension than what a lot of Americans are acquainted with. This doesn’t mean individuality necessarily withers away for the Amish person.

All it means is that the Amish person has another source of social strength and collective wisdom to help make choices for the betterment of all and ultimately for good of self.

And really all Americans do the same. We all have traffic laws and tax laws, criminal justice systems, and other laws of the land. And I am sure that in college there are things that are expected and things that are not to done for the same reason of betterment of all and the ultimate good of the self.

In the workplace I have found that the equivalent of Ordnung there is much stricter than anything else I have ever experienced. And in corporate America things are not nearly always for the betterment of the individual but instead it is for the sake of profits that go to the company.

And now finally I will say that although personal desire is not the sole or supreme criteria used when an Amish person makes a decision, personal preference still plays a role.

To be continued...

Part 2

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    1. Sandy

      Good analogy comparing the Ordnung to corporate policy.

      I grew up in a strict religion, not Amish, but with many rules. I always found it strange that people thought I had no freedom of choice, its not like we were locked up, we could walk away if we wanted. We chose to abide by the doctrine. Very good perspective from “Aaron” here..

    2. magdalena

      I too grew up in a strict church, but in some ways it wasn’t strict enough. We were disciplined to dress a certain way, and not undertake some activities (dancing and card-playing, for instance) but because it wasn’t an Ordnung, the rules got too flexible. So when the rich doctor’s daughter showed up for church in a pantsuit and make-up, excuses were made for her so as not to offend her parents and their big contribution. There was a great deal of inequity because of that attitude, and it ruined the church culture in a short time.

      Because I am austere Plain and ordained, in a church that is known to be worldly, people are afraid that I am trying to herd them into a way of life they will find restrictive. But Plain theology is not about making automatons, or even building a theocracy. It is about the apostolic community much like the first century church.

    3. gyakusetsu

      The difference between ordnung, corporate rules, and college rules on the one hand, and laws on the other, is that the first set of rules are all contingent based on voluntary membership, whereas “laws of the land” are based on violent coercion.

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    5. Kate

      Thank you! Another major misconception by the ‘english’ world. I’m glad there is someone like you to stick up for the Amish & their way of live. Blessings,

    6. Bob

      I enjoyed reading this republication of “Aaron’s” thoughts on teh Ordnung — very thought provoking, as were the comments listed above. I work in the medical environment where I see another set of rules and restrictions in play, those mandated by the insurance industry and other parties who pay most of the bills for Americal medical care.
      This is a kind of Ordnung when, viewed from Aaron’s viewpoint. Good healthcare is so necessary when serious illness strikes that I’d rank this set of rules somewhere between the “voluntary” and the “coercive”.

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