I live in an area with many Amish families and regularly shop at an Amish-owned store. In addition, I’ve studied cultish religions for a few decades now. I find them fascinating and chilling.
Imagine growing up in a large family where the father was the ultimate authority. No crossing him. Not only because he was violent, but because you’ve been raised since birth to submit to his authority and not to question anything. Sounds a lot like TV’s Duggar and Bates families, doesn’t it? Hold on, it’s about to get weird.
While Amish communities differ in their practices and in their accommodation of technology, many practices courting…in bed. Yes, you read that right. A boy comes over, he goes to the girl’s room and, while leaving all their clothing on (no mention of removing a girl’s straight pins or a boy undoing the buttons only men are allowed). This is not only fine, it is expected. No side hugs–full-on dry you-know-what. With any boy who wants to. The boy chooses. Never the girl. Of course they many will end up courting for real and getting married.
Contrary to the Breaking Amish-type reality show, all Amish do not get much freedom at their coming-of-age point. As you may well imagine, boys get far more freedom than girls–girls must help with all the drudgery in their parents’ homes. Sounds like we’re back with the Duggars, doesn’t it? While what freedom can be had is being enjoyed, heavy pressure is being exerted to be baptized and marry and stay within the fold.
Author Saloma “Loomie” grew up in a dysfunctional Amish family in Ohio. Her father had a violent temper and, on one occasion, beat her sister so long and so hard her mother actually stepped in (unusual in the Amish world) and told him to stop or he’d kill her. Then there was her brother–a Josh Duggar of the Amish world who went way farther than Josh. WAY farther. No one in the community tried to stop any of this. Her father, eventually, was allowed to make a [lesser] sitting confession of his temper, but his family had to share the blame for “provoking” him.
As the age for Baptism grew closer, Saloma tried to decide on her future. Understandably, she wanted things to work in “her” world–it is very hard to leave everyone you love and the only way of life you know. But Baptism, she rightly felt, had to come from the heart–not from outside pressure of embarrassing her parents or rejecting them. To join the church she had to “lay down [her] questions and follow obediently, and with a willing heart.” (p. 128). That was no small order–especially the no questioning. “Yet the unease of going through the process without my heart being in it did not leave me for a minute. … (p. 128).
Nor was surrendering her individuality an easy concept. It was supposed to strengthen the community, but, she kept asking herself, “didn’t we need to be individuals frist, before we could come together as a community?”(p 131). In a sermon, the Bishop told of grain taken to the mill to be ground. Some of the grains fall to the wayside, he said. Saloma started to believe she would be happier as one who “escaped being ground.” (p. 131).
Thankfully, no millstone reached her. She went free.
The Amish are often idolized. I haven’t seen much in my area that I’d say I approve of–they overwork their horses, their kids work long hours, and their women are treated even worse than their animals. Some run puppy mills. While they won’t vote and don’t serve in the military, the do use public hospitals, especially for their high-risk pregnancies and for the children born with severe birth defects from intermarriage among such a small community. I do not understand why their children are allowed to leave school at 8th grade, but mine must stay until 18. Wrong.
Cults and near cults tend to use many of the same control tactics. Women are subservient to men, lack any control over their fertility, and are extolled to birth large families whether their health or income can support them. Men are allowed great freedom to discipline their wives as well as their children physically. Women must ask for each and every thing. They rarely are allowed control over any money. (Yes, there can be rare exceptions). Children may not have birth certificates so that obtaining a Social Security card is difficult or impossible. This prevents runaways for they have no way to seek legal employment. (This sort of things has been documented as happening in very far right, isolating homeschooling families, too).
Even my feeling on those things paled with how I felt reading of the father’s tepid, sitting “confession” of his poor judgment (for it really wasn’t rendered as ‘wrong’) listening to all that Saloma’s father and brother got away with made my blood boil. Listening to the men ignore a near-murder of a beating and give the father the faintest tap on the wrist was too much for me.
What I Liked
I liked that Saloma saw faith as a serious thing. She could not just go through the motions of the life expected of her. I also liked that she was bold and made a meaningful life, married, had a child and went back to school at about the time her own son was starting college. That was quite a lot! Then she wrote this book. I am so glad she got out. I feel for her sisters who suffered, in one case, even worse abuse but stayed.
Why I Left The Amish: A Memoir by Saloma Miller Furlong
For more Amish books and culture:
Fascinating. I agree with all your points. I watched a documentary on Hasidic Jews for the second time not long ago, and all of this you mention happens there and more. Cults, abuse, indoctrination, it’s all so sad, and yet there’s one thing I admire, not in them, but in persons like the writer, how much the oppressed understand what is important in life, true faith, a healthy relationship with the community, a healthy development of self, freedom and responsibility. All of us not in these horrible cults live so much in autopilot.
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I’ve read/watched tons about Hasidic Jews as well. How do they get away with making women move on planes just because their religion won’t all them to sit by a woman? in the 21st Century!!
I blame society and government for not making them comply. It’s so corrupted, they have a pedophile scandal as huge as the Catholic diocese of some places. (And I am not implying the radical right and Protestant denominations don’t have this problem)