Thursday, August 8, 2013

Are the Amish a cult? Do they beat their children until they join their cult?



If you’re reading this you’re probably thinking I’m one of those people who know something very titillating about the Amish, something that will tickle the ears of a world that loves drama.

Actually, I’m celebrating my two year mark of being an author of Amish fiction, of faction, as I like to call it. Facts mixed in with fiction so readers can get a true-to-life read. Why write about the Amish? Well, like James Fenimore Cooper, who lived among the Native American in Upstate NY and got disgusted about how they stereotyped that he wrote The Last of the Mohicans to give an accurate account to his children; I too, got fed up about how the Amish are portrayed in books, so I started did the same thing.  

My journey living among the Amish started when I was in my late 20’s, living in rural Upstate New York. A neighbor came by to ask me if I wanted to join her in her “ministry” to the Amish. She said she took crates of oranges to the settlements so they wouldn't get scurvy.  “They don’t know anything about nutrition and don’t eat fruit and lack Vitamin C.” Well, I wanted to help these poor uneducated backward folks. So I agreed to go with her, but she forgot to buy oranges, and said we’d just visit families to see if they were okay. Well, we did, and I came home with a recipe for granola, rich in dried fruits that are loaded with Vitamin C. I was so taken with these kind people, maybe because my expectations were so low. This woman, who had a ministry to the Amish, never went back with me. She thought I got my brains sucked out, being lured in by “those people who don’t bathe”. Hmm. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because I was hooked!  (And, yes, the Amish bathe!)

It was the 1980’s, and the Amish weren't glamorized like they are today. I became friends with many Amish families in the Cherry Creek area ten years before Beverly Lewis helped to accurately portray their culture in her book, The Shunning. For 10 years I saw so much prejudice against the Amish it sickened me. Here’s a list of what people thought in the 80’s about the Amish:
  • Amish can’t read and are uneducated 
  •  Amish children are beaten with horsewhips to join church
  • Amish don’t brush their teeth or bathe or use deodorant
  • Amish poach deer and other wildlife and don’t get hunting permits
  • Amish don’t pay taxes
  • Amish  women are abused, having to stay home and raise their children.
  • Amish don't talk to "outsiders" (non-Amish)

This list could be a mile long. When such comments were made, I asked, “Have you ever met an Amish person?” Many said, “No way. They’re a cult.” Oh, I would get so angry, knowing otherwise, and I defended them, which only fed into people’s imagination that I too was backwards like them because I home-schooled AND was a stay-at-home mom, always barefoot and pregnant. (Well, the Amish don’t wear shoes in summer, but I did….how that ties in, I’m still wondering ;)

Well, fast-forward 20-some years. Now the Amish are glamorized in many romance novels or demonized in “reality” shows.  I confess, I can be preachy, standing up on my soapbox, and so three years ago, I felt like Fennimore Cooper, wanting to preserve Amish stories for my children. I didn't want my kids to forget about our Amish friends, Harry and Katie, and how the community cared for this Amish family who was hit hard by tragedy. I wanted them to not forget the reasons I had courage to home-school and be a stay-at home mom was inspired by the Amish culture that put family first. I want my grown kids to pass on to their children that the Amish are not a cult, but a different culture.

Culture is defined as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” (Merriam-Webster) I get a different cultural experience when chatting with the Amish, much like my Italian cousins who live in rural Italy, or  when talking to Haitians on a mission trip. They have a different culture, and I glean so much from listening to them, it shifts my thinking, and I like that.

So, the Amish are not a cult, but a different culture, one that I love. My first book relates the theme: “Two cultures knit together by one faith” (Yes, the Amish are Christians) I didn't know I’d end up writing 5 novels books and two novellas over the past two years,( a pace I set for myself, having so many stories in my head) so if Knit Together: An Amish Knitting Novel was my only book, I wanted to cram in as much of what I knew to be true about the Amish culture. There isn't one thing in that book that isn't researched and approved by local Amish, as their endorsement means more to me than being a New York Times bestselling author. 

I see no end to writing Amish faction, because their too fascinating to me to keep quiet about and they won’t defend themselves, being pacifists…so someone who’s outspoken has to do it ;) And they’re so dear a people, I want them portrayed right. I want to show they are a different culture, not cult.
My husband, Tim, had a surprise book signing party when my book, Knit Together, came out in paperback
My agent, Joyce Hart, who never pushes me to write a "silly" Amish romance novel.
She wants them portrayed accurately, too. (She also represents Suzanne Woods Fisher) 
My awesome nephew Ian, who is looking for his name in the book.  
My first book, Knit Together: Amish Knitting Novel, published 2 years ago by Helping Hands Press.






4 comments:

  1. Karen, what got me hooked on your stories was the faction mixed in with the fiction. If I start an amish book and I know what the author says isn't true I'm done!

    Thank you for the great stories,

    Jeanine

    P.S. I spent last Saturday at a party in Cherry Creek, NY

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  2. Thanks for the kind words Jeanine. Real life is better than fiction. Are you from the Cherry Creek area?

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  3. Speaking as someone who has been Amish (which is the only way to truly understand them; they're as good at presenting a public face to the world as the rest of us) I can assure you that many of these things are at least partially true.

    1. Many Amish do not bathe more than once a week, and choose not to wear deodorant as it is considered worldly.
    2. Many older Amish persons read and write very poorly. Fortunately this is taking a turn for the better in Amish communities.
    3. Many Amish are very selective in choosing to obey hunting laws. This isn't specifically allowed, but neither is it discouraged.
    4. Amish children are punished severely to "train them in the ways of godliness". I've never heard of horsewhips being used, but it's not beyond possibility. Paddles, switches, belts, etc. are used with enthusiasm starting when children are about 1.
    5.Amish wives have no control over their finances or reproductive decisions. They are expected to be housekeepers. However, I don't believe domestic abuse is more common than in America as a whole.
    6. The Amish do pay taxes, but some choose not to obtain birth certificates for their children.
    It's also important to remember that all of the crimes which are present in society as a whole also exist in Amish society but they are rarely reported to the police. One of my best childhood friends was repeatedly raped by her father. He was sent away to another Amish community for a little while and then allowed to return.

    Some of them are undoubtedly very happy and I have nothing against their lifestyle, but I've personally experienced the darkness that lurks at it's core.

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