Trouble in Amish Paradise review – Rebels who don’t buy into ‘Because God says so’

by Lynn Connolly

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Last night’s bizarre insight into the mysterious community of the ‘Old Order Amish’ of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was one of the weirdest, saddest and at the same time, dumbest programmes I’ve ever seen. Not because it was poorly produced or anything like that but just because of the fact that in this century, and in a supposedly enlightened world, secular, bigoted, prejudiced and unforgiving ‘religious’ orders such as those adhered to by the Amish still exist. Why?? Granted, the Amish tend to keep themselves to themselves and bother no-one, but nonetheless, their ‘principles’ and laws are ridiculous!

The two main subjects of the documentary, ‘radical’ Amish men, Ephraim and Jesse Stoltzfus, evidently were asking themselves the same questions regarding the most elemental aspects of their culture. For doing so, they faced excommunication from their church and the rejection of their family and friends. How immensely sad that these people’s love for their family members and friends was conditional upon them conforming to the antiquated, pious and frankly ludicrous rules and regulations that govern their lives…

The Amish aren’t the only ones of course; just take a look at so called ‘honour’ killings or even the American craze for the Purity Movement… one false move, you’re out. Is that supposed to reflect the things any God would want for his ‘children’? I thought Gods in general, of whatever caste or creed, were meant to be forgiving and tolerant etcetera, but evidently not for some religions where members can so blithely and freely exclude other members for perceived misdemeanors.

That said, in many regards, the Amish are an admirable people; they have a strong work ethic, a strong sense of community and loyalty to family and friends, but again, God comes first, second and third and ‘His’ rules – though where it mentions in the bible that bikes aren’t permitted to have pedals I’m not sure – are unbendingly rigid and often ridiculous.

Men must wear their braces correctly, and as I just mentioned, bicycles mustn’t have pedals. The Bible must be read and learned in German – don’t ask me why – and even the width of a person’s hatband has to be exactly right.

Ephraim and Jesse both have their families who, like them, questioned the entire premise and were excommunicated for doing so, but clearly you can take the man out of the Amish but you can’t entirely take the Amish out of the man, or in this case men, for their families were not allowed to be filmed for the documentary; Amish ‘law’ forbids it.

And even though Ephraim and Jesse have – to use a favourite colloquialism of mine – ‘done one’ from their home community, they still follow the Bible to the letter and they still implement most of the Amish practices too… so while I admire their cahones for standing up – braces at proper equidistant length from their pants waistband – like many other people, they are in effect picking and choosing which parts of their religion suit them and disregarding those that don’t.

I hope this isn’t too controversial a comparison but I have seen it time and time again; I see ladies walking around in mid-summer in full traditional black head-to-toe covering dress with veils that allow only their eyes to be seen, but they’ll nip into McDonalds or something or have painted toenails beneath their robes.

I’m not criticising, I’m merely pointing out that if you choose a religious order, then do it. If you don’t like its principles, then don’t be part of it. I’ve heard of many Catholics who have had abortions, I’ve heard of many Church of England followers who’ll sit in church every Sunday morning then go home and batter their wives, rob their business partners, abuse their children or in some cases, their ‘flock’.

My point? Every, but every, religious order, sect, way of life even, has rules, and many of them are pointless, nothing whatsoever to do with the many and varied supposed writings of God/s. The vast majority of these ‘principles’ are man-made and therefore, frankly, meaningless in the context of representing any higher being’s thoughts, wishes or directives.

I applaud these guys for standing up for themselves yes, but, as my Granny used to say, “Pi*s or get off the pot” – in other words, be Amish or don’t be Amish. Be whatever you wish to be but don’t put the responsibility for your own actions on the directives of a man-made religion and don’t then abandon it in the main but choose to keep some aspects…

Ephraim Stoltzfus said in the documentary, “It would have been much easier if they’d just killed us.”

Madness – just utter madness.

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Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.