Thursday, July 17, 2008

Escaping the Amish

I'm currently in Lancaster, PA, teaching CTY at Franklin & Marshall College. Lancaster, for those who aren't from around here, is the heart of Amish country--you can't really go out in public without encountering at least a few of them wandering around, even in the mall (which seems kind of strange to me). As both an atheist and somewhat of a Server Monk, the Amish have always kind of baffled me--they're more or less the opposite of everything I stand for--but I've always considered them one of the more tolerable (if odd) religious sects; at the very least, they seem peaceful, and choose to eschew those they disagree with rather than clash with them violently.

This perception, widespread as it may be, is apparently not entirely accurate. I came across an interview today with Torah Bontranger, a 28 year old woman (and recent Columbia graduate!) who "escaped" from the Amish when she was 15. The picture she paints of Amish life contradicts the gentle, tolerant, pastoral image we're usually presented with. Snip:

For as long as I can remember, I had always envisioned a life such that wouldn’t be compatible with the Amish religion and lifestyle.

I loved learning, and cried when I couldn’t go back to school the fall after graduating from Amish 8th grade. The Amish do not send their children to formal schooling past 8th grade. A Supreme Court case prevented forcing Amish children into high school on grounds of religious freedom. I knew that, by US law, I wasn’t considered an adult until eighteen. I didn’t want to wait until then to go to high school.


The Amish take the Bible verse “spare the rod and spoil the child” in a literal sense. Parents routinely beat their children with anything from fly swatters, to leather straps (the most typical weapon), to whips (those are the most excruciating of), to pieces of wood.


One of my acquaintances stuttered when he was little and his dad would make him put his toe under the rocking chair, and then his dad would sit in the chair and rock over the toe and tell him that’s what he gets for stuttering.

Even little babies get abused for crying too much during church or otherwise “misbehaving.” I’ve heard women beat their babies — under a year old — so much that I cringed in pain.

Neat, eh? Though Torah is careful to stress that she was raised in what's called an "Old Order Amish" community (apparently the anabaptist equivalent of Hasidim ), I suspect that this implies that "normal" Amish life isn't all sunshine and horse drawn buggies either. In any case, it's a compelling story, and she tells it with an intense, religious fervor that is almost certainly a by-product of her first 15 years. She's apparently got a book forthcoming--I look forward to it.

Part 1
Part 2

1 comment:

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Amish people is really sick, they think they are doing some great contributions, but they are just growing gays and lesbians kids.