In Amish Country

(I seem to have a huge backlog of posts. Trying to get them off first!)

I was in Amish country in the Lacrosse-Elkhart region in Northern Indiana in late July. I felt that I was on the set of some 18th century movie. Women in large skirts, wearing bonnets; men with beards and coats without buttons, riding horses or in buggies; and the children dressed like what I had imagined Hansel and Gretel would be. It is indeed amazing how the Amish and a parallel group called the Mennonites (who share similar beliefs and look like the Amish but have slightly more relaxed rules for living) have stuck to a lifestyle from the 18th century. The Amish do not own telephones, have electricity in their homes or drive cars.

While initially it may appear as an idyllic Grimm fairytale, the reality is rather grim in some respects (see Sumedha's account). It may seem surprising that such a church/sect is growing in size instead of losing members because of its antiquated ways. On further consideration, churches or religions which advocate large families (>8 children) growth is inevitable, despite some people leaving. The way Amish life is structured, it is very hard for people to leave. Firstly, children are not schooled beyong the 8th grade and secondly, they do not have much of a social life with people other than the Amish. The tradition of Rumspringa sounds very liberal but is not much of a choice since children are not raised to deal with the 'English life' (as they call it) if they do choose to leave.

However there is much to admire:
their environment-friendly lifestyles;
strong family stucture;
mutal cooperativeness - if a person's house burns down all members of the community provide free material and labour and help him rebuild his house;
their sheer innovativeness;
craftsmanship;
objection to war of any sort - the Amish do not serve in active combat in the Armed Forces;
independence and self reliance - they have given up Federal funding and Social Security, and;
the definitely follow the maxim of 'simple living and high thinking'.

Then there is much to criticize:
in their naivity of religious belief;
accepting the authority of local bishop blindly - he is paramount with regards to crime and punishment, interpretation of scripture and everything else;
its openly patriarchal society, often leaving women in second place;
poor education - only upto grade 8;
lack of belief in courts - they don't take recourse to the federal courts or testify;
AND of course, undeniably, unwillingness to change.

I realised that it was not an easy thing to decide one way or the other on the Amish and slightly amused to encounter a culture that seems good and bad at the same instant. Of course, the countryside is extremely picturesque and their history is very interesting. Given their closed (or shy?) nature it is hard to avoid the tourist traps laid out in such towns which leaves you wanting a more authentic Amish experience.

More pictures from that trip on my website: Amish country pics

2 comments:

Hirak said...

Testing the word verification for commenting.
I am pissed! These damn spammers, can't they take their Viagra, fake breasts, free I-Pods etc. elsewhere?

Ashutosh said...

Yes I read Sumedha's account too. It's interesting; at the same time, blaming our woes on technology seems absurd to me. It is we who have the problem and not the technology. And the little of what I read about incest and early child marriage among the Amish etc. was terrible. Otherwise, I also sometimes yearn for the simply lifestyle of bygone years. It seems hard to see how a balance could be struck...

I had a humongous problem with the spammers too! One day, I received more than twenty junk comments for one post. But the word verification seems to be working fine.