Hello Mose. I have always been fascinated by the Amish way of life. They seem to lead such a simple, peaceful life. I am sick of my life, and I am ready to start over. I have always felt connected to them, and I feel like I am supposed to be Amish, and that most of my troubles would be over if I joined the community. You’re the only Amish person I know. Could you please help me become Amish?
First let me say that this is actually an excellent question. I can easily grasp why someone looking in from the outside would get this impression, and view the Amish life as a worry free dream life. I suppose the best way for me to “get you” on this topic is by putting myself in your shoes.
My dream is to move to Switzerland. When I was young, I read the book “Heidi”. A book written by Johanna Spyri. It is about a girl who was adopted, ended up living with her gruff grandpa up in the Swiss Alps, through a sequence of events, befriends a crippled girl, Clara, who is 12, and eventually gets Clara to move up into the mountains with her and Grandpa. Between the fresh mountain air, goat’s milk, and out from under the strict household confines of Fraulein Rottenmeier, a miracle is born. Clara actually gets healthy, and for the first time in her life begins walking.
If you haven’t read the book, I strongly encourage you to do so. I have read it numerous times, and I find a deep inspiration between it’s covers each and every time I do so. Obviously the Swiss Alps were romanticized a little bit. The power of goat milk was probably exaggerated some. But to a child, it all made sense. When I had a sister who always had health problems, and the doctors never could diagnose what was wrong, to me it seemed like it was a no brainer. Take her to the Swiss Alps, get her away from it all. The influences of the Amish community. The quack doctors who kept recommending homemade theories. Like dandelion stew, raw uncooked foods, and The list goes on.
To this day, the Swiss Alps hold a magical mystery to me. A mystery I must certainly explore. It would give me a fresh start, a place where I don’t know one soul, where I can start all over, become a Hermit up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, and never have to worry about being social with the world again. That’s a dream of mine. An adventurous dream that will never happen, but it is fun to fantasize and live within the unrealistic realms of it.
Of course by now you know exactly where I’m going with this. Of course by putting myself inside this dream, I can easily see why someone without the proper information, would view the Amish life the same way.
Part of the reason why you don’t have all the inside information, and also coincidentally why right now their are so many television shows about the Amish, is because they are a very private people. So private, indeed, that they remain one of the few cultures of people of whom the world knows little about. And they live right among us, here in good old America.
It is my opinion that the mystery surrounding the Amish, what they do, how they live, what they believe, and what motivates them to maintain the simple life, is also the exact same reason why so many people want to exploit, uncover, or open these mysterious people and their lifestyle, be it in books, films, or newspaper articles.
My personal goal with my role in the films I have done, has always been to do inspirational films while educating the viewer in an accurate manner about the Amish. If I can do this for the right reasons, the ratings will come. I am aware that there a lot of misconceptions out there about the Amish that can hurt them and their lifestyle.
I have always felt like education is a good thing. A lack of knowledge can only lead to misconceptions, and also make it more believable for viewers when other Amish shows come along that are all about creating controversy, drama, misconceptions, untruths, and exploiting the Amish for ratings and money. Proof of this is when numerous viewers of the films I’ve participated in, email or write me after watching what I’ve done, and call other Amish films scripted or fake.
Now that I have randomly gotten off the original subject, and mused out loud my thoughts, let’s get back on track. Could you be Amish?
I was born and raised Old Order Amish in one of the strictest Amish communities in the United States, and remained until I was almost 23 years old. I don’t pretend to know every detail of what they do or believe in. When I write out my thoughts on whether or not you, born and raised in the outside world, could make it long term as an Amish person, I am specifically speaking for the Amish communities within the Midwestern states that I am familiar with.
Now I would like to explain here that although Amish communities vary dramatically across the board in beliefs, such as farm machinery, styles of buggies, dress code, and numerous other man made items, they do remain very similar in their religious beliefs and theories about Heaven and Hellfire. They all preach the King James version of the bible, have a strong desire to keep their children within the Amish community, to have them marry and die within the community.
Although some stress this issue less than others, if you dug deep enough, each and every one of them would feel that if one of their own ventured out into the world, lived outside, and died outside, the hope for this person’s salvation is questionable. Like I said before, if asked, most of them would deny that, and tell you that that is not for them to determine or judge, but again, if you dig deep enough, you can eventually get the real truth.
Therefore, I will tell you a few of the reasons why I am no longer Amish, and why I would probably not be capable of ever being Amish again. My goal in this blog is to give you, the reader, 10 Pros and 10 Cons about being Amish. Since that would be a very long Blog, I will divide it into two parts. “Amish for Life, PART I”, and in 2 weeks, post “Amish for Life, PART II”. The idea being that in the end, you can make your own choice on whether or not you could become “Amish for life”.
There is a fine line for me in describing my experiences as an Amish person, in it’s truest form, while preserving and not tainting the heritage or reputation of the Amish. A fine line that I intend to try and walk. If any reader, during your time reading this, thinks I am being too blunt, or too critical of the Amish, I probably am. My goal in this two-part blog is to give you, the person who so desperately wishes to join the Amish, the proper information. The downside is that you can read this PART I, and possibly walk away with a few negative feelings, since PART I consists of the top 10 reasons why you may not be cut out to be Amish.
Bear with me, PART II will be much more Charming.
The top 10 reasons why becoming Amish may or may not be for you. I want to make it clear that this does not necessarily apply to every community across the board, but rather the communities in the area where I grew up in, and what I am familiar with. Every once in a while, I hear rumors that some far Eastern communities, who have been established longer, are allowed in moderation, to do some of these things.
1. Electricity: No electricity means no technology. Speaking for myself, If I go for a weekend without checking my email, Facebook, Twitter, Fox Sports, World News, my cell phone for messages, voice-mail or text, I start becoming depressed. Call me a victim of the world. It doesn’t matter how miserable you are with your life, or how much you are ready for a change, my question is, are you prepared to give up every single means of communication with the outside world, every friend you’ve ever made, including immediate family, even if you may or may not be fighting with them right now, for the rest of your life? When you, in 3 years, have a strong desire to just go visit a long lost friend in the city, and spend the day, watch some TV, just for old times sake, and you cave in because the Amish life has lost some of it’s charm and fascination, are you prepared to face the consequences of the Amish community and the church for slipping up just once?
2. Superiority: Usually it is the Female gender that is requesting to go into the Amish community. This portion is specifically for you. It is no secret that for the most part, within the Amish community, the man is the indisputable leader of the household, and the woman is expected to listen and obey him. The man decides what the money will be spent on, among most of the other decisions that are made within a household. I do want to be clear that there are many decisions where the husband and wife make decisions together. Which community to move to if you are unhappy in the community you live in. What to name your children, etc. But are you prepared to be a submissive housewife who says “yes sir” to not only your husband, but also the church and the elders in it?
For the men, although you are the man of the household, you have many superiors above you that control what you do. I will get into that later when I talk about rules to follow within the church.
3. Birth control/children: In every Amish community I knew when I was growing up in, any means of birth control were not allowed. When you think of the perfect life within the Amish, are you taking into consideration the fact that we are probably talking about having kids as fast as possibly natural, until you are beyond the child bearing age? The alternative being that you remain single to avoid having a dozen kids. This would mean no active sex life, as doing so would be punishable within the church by excommunication if it happens out of wedlock. (I have heard of birth control or forms of protection being allowed in the very upper Amish communities)
4. Personal Hygiene: In my community, specifically in my family home, we bathed once a week on Saturday nights. When I was a child, I have memories of every Saturday night, taking the aluminum tub down off the basement wall, while mom started a fire under an 80 gallon kettle. My siblings and myself would carry buckets of water to the kettle, fill it to the top, and the fire below is what heated up our bath water. After the chores were done and supper eaten, one by one, each member of the family would take their turn down in the basement, dipping 3 or 4 gallons of boiling water into the aluminum tub sitting on the cold concrete basement floor. After that you’d add cold water form the basement water spout until the water was the right temperature for you. After you had your short bath, you tipped the tub over and it went down the drain, and it was the next person in line’s turn. Sometimes the last few people in line slept until it was their turn because it may be the wee hrs of the morning until it was their turn. (there was mom and dad, and 13 children)
In an Amish community, it is frowned upon for a woman to try and impress a man. In other words, she is not allowed to shave, (anywhere) use makeup, paint fingernails, wear deodorant, wear skin tight clothing or for the most part, do anything that may look like she is taking pride in her personal appearance. To do so, probably will turn a man’s head, but you would become the talk of the community in ways that you would not be thrilled about. If you went to high school you should know the reputation of the one girl who always wants to stick out, or be the one getting all the attention.
The men, who work in the fields, milk cows, get cow manure on themselves, in the hair, beards, etc, still only bath once a week. I look back now in disbelief about how on Sunday mornings, after my Saturday night bath, we’d do all the chores in the barn, load all the cow and horse manure by hand into the manure spreader, spread it in the fields, milk cows, climb up in the silo and throw silage and ground corn down, and do numerous other activities, and after a quick breakfast, and a quick wash of hands and face, off to church we’d go, and because of my weekly bath the night before, I’d still feel sparkly clean.
Also, in most of the old order Amish communities, there is still no indoor bathrooms. Imagine in the cold winter sitting out behind the house on a frozen 2 holer Moon-house with newspapers to wipe with. This was the place for the women. The men usually used the barn as their bathroom. Sitting in a calf pen, and again the use of newspapers is the source of wiping. For a man to be caught in the outhouse behind the house, is like a man being caught using the women’s restroom in a restaurant. It is understood that the outhouses are for the women.
Although the men are allowed to use shavers to shave above the jaw line, they are not expected to shave below that area. So no mustache or cheek hair, but otherwise, let it grow.
5. Physical work: Everything is done by hand with manual labor. For the women this would mean gardening, quilting, butchering chickens, washing tons of dishes 3 times a day, by hand, with water that was warmed up by a wood burning stove, wood that was usually carried in from the woodpile behind the house by the women, doing all the laundry once a week, on Monday morning, with a gas operated washing machine, where you manually fed each piece of clothing through the ringer washing machine and than hung it on the clothes line in the yard for the wind and sun to dry it, keep the house clean, and have prepared 3 solid meals a day for the men when they come in from the fields or the barn from the chores.
Obviously there are many, many other chores, but for the most part, these are the biggest things I noticed since I was the one working in the fields and sawmill.
For the men, same as the women, the work never stops. In my entire childhood, there was never one moment, where we had all the work caught up on the farm, and we had nothing to do. With a dad and 8 of us brothers, this may seem difficult to believe, but between a large sawmill operation and a 255 acre farm, there was never a break.
Sunday, the one day of rest, was always a welcome break. Although I would now consider myself a hard worker, and am very proud of my childhood, and the values and work ethic that were instilled in me, I resented with every pore in my body, at times, how much work there was, and how little time for me, as a child to go fishing, or to play.
In an Amish community, you have no childhood. From the earliest memories I have, I was working in the sawmill, fields, and doing chores in the barn. When a lot of people think of the Amish, they have a romanticized idea of doing some work, but mostly walking dreamily around lakes, fields, riding horses, fishing, and occasionally doing some gardening, laundry, or some work in the fields. Not to dampen your spirits, but if you aren’t always getting your hands dirty and doing some form of work, you are considered lazy, and lazy is not a good reputation to have among the Amish.
On another note, do you want your kids growing up without a childhood, without hardly any toys, only an 8th grade education, with no possibility of going beyond that, not being allowed to know their relatives in the outside world, and working from their earliest childhood?
6. Freedom: A misconceived idea and a mistake often made with people who wish to become Amish is that your worries will miraculously disappear. That it is a place to start over, leave behind the people who have been bothering or mistreating you in your life. Go to a place where people will forgive everything you do as fast as it happens. A place where everyone loves God and life is carefree.
In order to best explain this one I will make a contrast. In the outside world, I discovered early on that you can be the biggest loser imaginable, and not a soul will do a thing about it. You can live in an apartment and live off the Government, and play an X Box all day and order in pizza and never leave, and as long as you are within the boundaries of the law, no one will raise a hand or force you to become somebody.
When you are Amish, everything you do, wear, drive, build, to only mention a few, gets regulated and monitored in detail. From your dress code, in detail, to the length of your hair, or beard, where you work, how much you work outside the community, how much bling is on your buggy or horse, how your house or barn is built and the belongings inside or outside of it. Besides the visible things, you are also reprimanded on how you talk, believe, and actually, believe it or not, often even how you think and feel about something. When you are Amish, you may not know better, and this may be acceptable for the majority of the people who grew up that way. However, there are always the small percentage of us that question this authority, or even resent it. Especially when it is supposedly based off the bible, but after reading the bible from cover to cover, you discover that it is more a man made tradition, and that you are actually being controlled by something often not bibically based. Couple that with a highly energetic kid with A D D, and you have a Mose…
I could do several topic on things like control, humiliation, or even child or animal abuse. Now is not the time, and also, some of them, like animal or child abuse, you are accountable for in your household, and not anything that is encouraged within a community.
The humiliation comes if and when you do something that goes against the church rules, and you have to confess your transgressions before the whole church, to see if you can be forgiven, instead of confessing to one man in private, like the Catholic people do. Again, now is not the time or place to get into that these topics.
Where I came from, I knew little to nothing of the outside world and what was in it. I didn’t know anything about American history, who is President, who famous actors or singers are, except for a handful of country singers. Because of a lack of knowledge, I had no appreciation for our troops keeping the people around me and myself free and safe. The list goes on, but the point being, the change from such a sheltered, monitored, controlled environment, to an outside world, is so drastic, that it is often impossible to remain in the outside world. Even if you like what the world has to offer, even if you hated your Amish life. The lack of support or lack of leadership if you leave, is often too much to manage.
In the same breath, I would speculate that the difficulty of changing from one such culture to another would be magnified a thousand fold if you go from the outside into the Amish community. Think of the culture you are familiar with, that has the strictest religious beliefs you know. Now take that and multiply it by about 6 or 7. If you think I am exaggerating, hear me out. The Jehovah Witness, who, bless their hearts, I have received a ton of emails from former members, feel we have a ton in common. We probably do, but I can think of about 100 things in 5 minutes that they have that would make it easier being a Jehovah Witness then being Amish.
Vehicles, Electricity, Gas heat in their houses, birth control, the freedom to come and go as they please, are just a few that come to mind.
The very fact that you have taken the independent approach of saying, “the heck with this life on the outside, I will go Amish”, already tells me that you are too independent to bow down to a culture who thrives on molding you to a good, obedient, humble, modest, “Amish for Life”.
7. Divorce: In the outside world, and I am not judging anyone even a little here, but let’s face it, the percentage of couples that get married and remain together forever, are right around the approximate 50% bracket. For whatever the reason, it would appear that the good old days are gone where couples live happily ever after…… not that I am sure they all did back then either.
Contrary to popular belief, Amish couples are not hand picked and force married to each other by parents or elders of the church. Rather, both the Amish girl and boy can decide right up until they say their I DO’S whether or not they wish to be married to each other. Both the girl and the boy can, at any point during the relationship, break up with each other and move on to another partner, and nothing much gets made of it.
However, once you become married, there is no backing out. No Annulment, no money back guaranteed. You are absolutely and certainly stuck to each other for life. Yes, there are rare instances. if one of the two decide to leave the Amish. In such a case, the one who remains home, can’t ever, EVER become married under any circumstances. However, if your spouse were to die at any point, Amish or outside, you are free to become married to another Amish person.
8. Speaking the language: Let’s face it, learning to speak another language is difficult, and I can assure you that until you learn to speak Pennsylvania Dutch fluently, you will still be somewhat of an outcast within the community.
9. Entertainment: This one is kinda lame, and I am certainly becoming repetitive, but since I already know what I have for number 10, and I am trying to fill in the last few until then, this one seemed like a good fill-in piece. So let’s say that you have even a few artists who you love, or you have even a few movies you have a soft spot for. You loved all the Batman movies, and your highlight is going to see the new release when it comes out, or you have a crush on Justin Bieber, and buy every album he has. Are you prepared to completely block out all those things forever. Yes, I know you say you can, and at the moment it may seem quite do-able, but I can assure you that after you haven’t heard a radio for 6 months, and you hear that first musical instrument coming out of those speakers, your heart is absolutely overjoyed, and even the artists you disliked the most, and always switched stations on, sounds like heaven, and move you to tears.
10. Amish for Life: And finally, I want to make myself perfectly clear on this topic. You can not go try out the Amish for a trial period, and if you decide after a month, that the life is not for you, you can run back into your old comfort zone that was the world. If you think of the military, boot camp, the grueling workouts in the rain, etc, as tough as that might be, you can still take comfort that you can always throw in the towel and drop out at any moment. Even if you choose to stay in for several deployments, and you have served our wonderful country, and come home a hero, you are still not required to remain in the forces and fight for life.
The Amish will not accept you into the community, baptize you into their church, and give you a chance, unless they are convinced that you are committed to remain, live, and uphold there every value, rule, and tradition, for better or for worse, and commit to being, “Amish for Life”.
Based upon everything I have told you above, even coming from someone who grew up within the community and was unable to make it, so you are getting a perspective from a “burnout”, are you prepared to give up your life, family, internet, phone, electricity, TV, friends, security of the law, fast food, and all the other things that at this current point in your life, you just take for granted? The things you are convinced you are done with, you are possibly sick of.
If you are convinced that God has spoken to you, and it is your destiny to become Amish. If you have Amish dreams, and wake up sad because you are still English. If you had a bad break-up with a partner, are a high school drop out with no potential in life, have fallen upon hard times in life, financially, or whatever other reason that I’ve heard, are you confident, absolutely, positively, 100% convinced that the Amish life is for you, and that your determination can prevail? Do you fall into the .001% bracket of people who grew up in the outside world who dream of becoming Amish, and actually succeed, disappear into the community, never to be heard of again, and become, “Amish for Life”?
Forgive me for being extremely blunt in this blog. I am only one person, with one opinion, and in fairness, you probably need a second or third opinion, but I shoot straight. I tell it as I see it. I have struggled more with writing this blog than any other I have written. I found my inspiration in the mass amount of emails I receive from people who wish to join, and my desire is only to educate you on what you may be in for.
I will post PART II of “Amish for Life” on Thursday, Dec 20.
To Be Continued………….