Friday, November 11, 2011


Sometimes when you grow up around something, you assume that everyone lives that same experience. I more or less assumed, growing up, that having road crews setting up and working on the same stretch of road for eighteen months straight was the normal situation across the country, as is the inability to purchase hard liquor without walking into a government-owned establishment. 

Growing up in Western PA, I assumed that the Amish were an everyday aspect of every American's life, as if every city and community in the United States had a small but noticeable percentage of citizens who think that every day is Halloween and the only costume option is Abraham Lincoln.

Living in this area--for those keeping score, the Amish are mostly in rural parts of western PA as well as upstate New York , Indiana, and Ohio--thus produces some very strange rumors and headlines. The current Amish salacious news story--bigger than the Butter-Churning Scandal of 1765*--is a beard-cutting assault, which sounds vaguely hilarious but also remarkably creepy. In the end, it's probably both.

The Amish, as most know, are those who choose to live simply. They live primarily as farmers and industrialists--they are known for their high-quality furniture, cheese, and quilts. They shun most technology and, while they will accommodate when necessary by law (such as turn signals on their horse-drawn buggies) they tend to find solutions around compromising their faith. They do shop at department stores and partake in modern medicine, though they certainly have standards as to what they are willing to buy and do.**

Of course, as with any enclosed community, they have their share of problems. Drugs are becoming increasingly problematic (although this is probably exaggerated; the thought of bearded phone-shunning Mennonites freebasing off the bumper of their buggy is too absurd to leave without comment.) The shrinking gene pool is causing more medical problems, which has also given rise to a persistent rumor about exactly how much they will pay "the English" to help them diversify by bumping buggies***. 

(As an aside, another rumor--that the Amish don't pay taxes--is more or less wrong. They don't pay in to Social Security, since their faith specifically forbids procuring insurance, but otherwise more or less pay normal federal and state taxes. Given they are primarily farmers and as such don't accept the massive swill known as farm subsidies--and plenty of the labor laws they don't follow are also exempted by non-Amish farms--the taxpayer probably comes out ahead.) 

I've always been slightly fascinated by the Amish lifestyle. The few cultural references that exist--namely Witness and a few awful comedies--only glance at the entire culture, although the surface-level portrayal is reasonably accurate. Obviously, little theology gets in there, which arguably is the main facet of how and why they live their lives but also not particularly exciting.

Still, the Amish are probably best observed from afar. We all love technology, and living with only 30 other families your entire life would make Desperate Housewives look like a narcoleptic Bible study. (Plus, it's not like the Amish go door to door handing out pamphlets trawling for converts.) So we will all just have to live with enjoying their cheese.

*This didn't actually happen, though I wish that it did every day of my life
**Of course, as with all things, there are various sects of Amish, and each have their own rules (Ordnung). Some permit shopping at Wal Mart and some don't, so I don't want to generalize too much.
**Sorry. I could have gone with a "barn raising" joke, but I'm too classy for that sort of thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment