Saturday, April 5, 2008

Peer Pressure, Popular Culture, and the Amish

I am often skeptical when people blame peer pressure for their child's bad behavior. Does it only take one "bad apple" to spoil the barrel, or is the entire barrel of apples naturally predisposed toward negative behavior? I think that we are all born with evil inclinations that, if left unrestrained, will draw us to bad, wrong, negative, selfish or evil behavior. A perfect example of this is a child who is left to his own devices at a very young age, with minimum guidance from his parents or mentors. Although he may be fed and clothed and physically cared for, if he is left to his own devices, he will surely fall in with the wrong crowd. This is sometimes called "original sin". It may also be the path of least resistance. It takes effort, to live right. We all need guidance, especially when we are young. We are not capable of deciding for ourselves what is moral.

Since all parents suffer from "original sin", we all inadvertently, contaminate our children with the faults within us that "we ourselves", can not see. This is why spirituality and universal spiritual principles, grounded in unwavering bedrock, is necessary, and requires constant reinforcement especially when we are young. In today's popular culture, much effort is made to encourage mental and physical growth and health, while spiritual growth and health has become largely ignored. The freedom that comes from knowledge, power, beauty, wealth and pleasure, without the restraints of spiritual principles and wisdom, will inevitably lead to the self destruction of one's spirit (soul) and eventually lead to the downfall of any free society. After all, total freedom, or misguided freedom, will always result in chaos.

Mitt Romney's speech on "Faith in America" clearly pointed out the "balance" between religion and a free society. I see the religious and spiritual underpinnings being removed from our society. Being that the natural inclination of man is "self destructive", children that are sent out into the world without the strength of spirituality, religion and God in their souls, are predisposed to self destruct and bring down our free society with them.

The Amish people of the "Old Amish Order" separate their society from the "evils" of the outside world. They are a very compassionate, non-violent society. They have their own Amish one room schoolhouses where children are taught only until the eighth grade. State laws make exceptions for them from laws that would otherwise require children to attend school until 16. Federal laws also exempt them from paying into, and receiving government benefits, such as social security, but they still have to pay taxes. They separate themselves from society by forbidding automobiles, electricity, musical instruments, etc. There only music is religious hymns without musical accompaniment. They have no TVs, computers or radios. They have a strict dress codes and forbid any ornamental clothing or furnishings. They are not allowed to appear in photographs and telephones are not allowed in their homes. They all work very hard, even the children. They mostly own small farms and since tractors are not allowed, they pull their plows with horses. Children are given chores to do, appropriate to their age. After they graduate from the eighth grade they concentrate on learning their life's work and the spiritual teachings and customs of their society called "the ordung". They have no churches, but gather in each-others homes for worship on alternate Sunday's. The women learn to be homemakers, and learn to sew clothing, make quilts, prepare food, raise chickens, milk cows, make cheese, and raise her children. The men learn to make furniture, build homes and barns, farm the land, make carriages etc. Families are large, usually 7 to 10 children. They have a very strict religious an social code that they live by. If someone severely violates this code they may be "shunned". No one will talk to this person. He will still live in his house with his wife and children and perform his work, but not even his wife and children are allowed to talk to him until he repents and changes his ways. This may take months, years or his entire life.

This may seem like a very harsh life to you, but all practicing Amish willingly choose this life. When a child reaches age 16, he or she is allowed "rumspringa". Rumspringa is a period from 16 till about 20. At 20 years old, Amish are expected to marry and raise a family. During "rumspringa”, the youths are allowed to date, and experiment with the ways of the outside world. During this period the youths must choose if they wish to return, and live the rest of their lives in the Amish tradition, or permanently leave and join the outside world with all of the conveniences and pleasures and comforts of the 21st century. Eighty percent of the Amish youth return to marry and live out the rest of their life in the hard Amish lifestyle. Due to their large families and small rate of attrition, the population of the "Old English Order" has increased three hundred percent in the last fifty years.

A couple of years ago there was a horrific shooting in an Amish schoolhouse. The perpetrator was a non-Amish man who had ties with the Amish community, because he drove a truck and picked up milk from Amish farms for an outside dairy. He became deranged and hateful after his newborn baby girl had died shortly after birth. In his twisted grief, he wanted to punish God for this misfortune, and decided to murder innocent Amish schoolgirls as vengeance. He entered an Amish schoolhouse and ordered all the adults and boys to leave the building. Then he announced that he would shoot the remaining group of ten young girls, who ranged in age from 6 to 13. The oldest girl asked to be shot first in an effort to protect her younger classmates. In the end all of the children were shot, half of them ended up dying from their wounds, and the gunman took his own life.

The Amish community was in shock from this unbelievable loss. They visited and grieved with the families who suffered the loss of a child. What was astounding was that they also visited and grieved with the widow of the gunman who was not even Amish. They collected money for this widow with two small children. They also attended the gun-man's funeral. As a matter of fact, there were more Amish at the gun-man's funeral than non-Amish.

You may say that the gun-mans "belief in God" is what caused him to murder those Innocent girls. The exact opposite is true. The gun-mans "lack of faith" in a loving and just God, is what motivated him to commit this evil act. The Amish people reacted quite different to their personal tragedy. Although it is impossible to understand why God allows tragedy, suffering and evil, the spiritual principles of faith, forgiveness and humility help us deal with it. Maybe, when we suffer tragedy, we are learning something on a spiritual level that can only be taught in this way. Perhaps these lessons are more important to our eternal soul than all of the universities in the world could ever teach us.. Perhaps those that are spared tragedy in this lifetime, are far worse off in the eternity of our afterlife? I don't know, I'm just raising some possibilities.

These people are physically the same as you and I. The only difference is that they encourage spiritual growth among their people, and they teach these principles to their children from a very young age. Extraordinary effort is put into the "spiritual teaching" of their children for the first 16 years, although regular school only lasts until they are 12 or 13. The children receive the same message from their parents, their teachers, their ministers and their peers. They have a common culture and common values based on spiritual principles. Most importantly, The Amish, as well as all spiritual people, believe in a power greater than themselves, a loving and just God, which we will never fully understand on earth. They are guided by their faith in a loving God, which is the highest value.

Do you think the Amish are weird? Maybe so, but I admire them very much. However, I have no such admiration for today's American popular culture of college graduates who grew up in Godless homes, and think that there is nothing more than a physical and mental existence that ends when you die. Most of what is, lies in the realm of the spiritual world, which we know little about. In my opinion, humility in the presence of God, and allowing faith to guide our lives, trumps all intellectual and physical achievements here on earth. The founding fathers of this great nation of ours, felt much the same way.

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