In my quest to examine different religious movements, I now come to the Mennonites, who are actually a branch of the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists tended to be hated by both Catholics and Protestant reformers because of their unorthodox views. The main one was that they baptized adults rather than infants, but they also believed in pacifism, not taking oaths, and refusing to participate in civil government. The Mennonites in particular were named after Menno Simons, a sixteenth-century Dutch priest who rejected Catholicism and embraced the unpopular Anabaptist movement.
The devotion of the Mennonites to pacifism was even greater than that of their fellow Anabaptists. It’s also said that Simons taught that Jesus did not receive flesh from his mother, but I don’t think that’s an important doctrine for the Mennonite Church as it developed. Mennonites do emphasize simple living, charity, honesty, social justice, and a sense of community. Fleeing European persecution, many Mennonites fled to Russia and North America.
The Amish are sort of an offshoot of the Mennonites, but not exactly, and started in and around Switzerland. Their founder, Jakob Ammann, took issue with the Mennonites of Switzerland for not being disciplined enough, which just goes to show that there’s no radical movement that won’t eventually spawn an even more radical movement.
And the Amish only became more radically conservative over time, rejecting most new technologies and sticking to their traditional way of life. If Wikipedia is correct, the Amish sect is pretty much totally dead in Europe, aside from a small congregation in Ireland. Most of the followers of Ammann’s views ended up moving to North America, where their descendants still remain today. Not all Amish communities survived, but the ones that did are known for their black clothes, long beards with no mustaches (well, on the men, anyway), one-room schoolhouses, travel in horse-drawn buggies instead of cars, and, above all, their general withdrawal from the larger society.
To the Amish, remaining separate maintains their humility and opposition to comfort, which they think God desires. I’ve never quite understood the idea that God wants people to suffer; isn’t that supposed to be what the Devil wants? I remember learning about the Amish way back in second grade, and thinking their lives seemed pretty bleak. I guess it’s different when that’s the only way of life you know, though, and at least they probably don’t have as much of an income gap as the rest of us do.
Actually, I grew up about thirty miles from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where there is a a particularly large Amish community, as a subset of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. Despite their name, the Pennsylvania Dutch aren’t really from the Netherlands, but from Germany and Switzerland. They’re just called “Dutch” because they each pay their own way when eating at restaurants. No, seriously, I think it’s a corruption of “Deutsch,” which of course is German for…German.
A few years ago, I saw a documentary called Devil’s Playground, which described the period known as Rumspringa when Amish teenagers are allowed to explore the world outside their own community. And when they explore the outside world, I don’t just mean they try to find out what the big fuss is about TV. Apparently a fair number of them get involved in heavy drug use.
The basic idea is that the teenagers are supposed to decide whether or not to become members of the Amish Church (since, as was already established, they don’t practice infant baptism), but I have to suspect most of them don’t have anywhere else to go, and hence are probably trying to get the crazy behavior out of their systems before returning. The documentary actually made it look pretty easy for people who leave the Amish community to get jobs and homes, but it wasn’t looking at a representative sample. Another thing that bugs me about the Amish is their general disrespect for animals, which can be partially seen in the fact that they still make horses pull their vehicles.
Hey, dudes, if you want a simple vehicle, how about a bike? I’m not as extreme in my views as Nellie McKay and her condemnation of horse-drawn carriages, but the buggies do kind of strike me as unnecessary. Also, the Amish have been known to be affiliated with puppy mills, and Beth saw a lady at the Amish farmers’ market down the road let a puppy fall on the floor. I guess it’s a little weird to me because I usually think of a simple life lacking in modern conveniences as going hand in hand with close communion with nature, but apparently the Amish want none of that, at least not when it comes to any part of nature that walks on four legs. They do make good stuffed pretzels, though.