Devil's Playground * *

"Rumspringa, literally, 'running around.'
Given the choice, how many young people would endure eighteenth century religious strictures when they could indulge in twenty-first century pleasures? Amish youth are given just such a choice. On turning 16 they are turned loose to experience the outside world until they can decide whether or not to commit to a lifetime within the community. With this freedom comes many conflicting emotions; full-blown teenage mayhem coupled with deep religious roots - a brutal combination. Devil's Playground follows four Amish teens through this experience and is the first film to get inside the Amish community..." --back of the DVD case

"Imagine the power went out in your life. No TV, DVDs, radio, CD players. The telephone is dead. Forget about the Internet. You lose your car and have to resort to a horse and buggy. And, because of the dictates of some local religious leader, you have to wear dumpy clothes, eschew makeup, date only with his permission, and keep with your own kind.
Were you planning on going to college? Forget it. You'll be done with school at 13. Welcome to a life of grueling physical labor.
Now suppose you got back all of these modern comforts, and more. Just one catch... to keep it all, you have to abandon your family and close-knit community, break faith with your religion, decline the promise of salvation, and find your way in a world of overwhelming freedom such as you've never known. Welcome to the Amish dilemma...
Even those who decide never to return seek the approval, however grudging, of their parents...
But some... realize that their choice has been rigged -- as one boy says, if you don't go back to the family farm or craft shop, you're not equipped to do anything in the English world but the meanest of factory drudgery...
Devil's Playground is a classic exposition of the choice between freedom and order, between a closed society and an open one. The viewer must perform the analysis herself; no voices are heard but those of the Amish and their neighbors. Still, this film is milk and honey for the English soul. It raises and deals with substantial issues of choice and dedication." --Martin Scribbs *

"treading dangerously close to Jerry Springer and Girls Gone Wild material. After about 30 minutes, I'd seen enough to get the drift -- it's a hard choice, and about 10% of kids decide not to "go Amish," but the vast majority do. Amish kids are just as rotten as regular kids." --Christopher Null

"The Amish believe that the decision to devote one's life to the church is an irreversible lifetime commitment. They also hold that living an Amish lifestyle requires a very conservative and isolated existence void of "English" distractions such as electricity, cars, radio, television and many other modern conveniences. Before making such a commitment and so that the decision is an informed one, an Amish youngster, upon turning 16, is allowed to explore the outside world (the devil's playground) unsupervised and ungoverned by the behavioral restrictions and community rules imposed by the religion. They may date, go out with friends and while the church does not officially condone it, the teens often smoke, use drugs and drink alcohol. The intent of rumspringa (running around) is to make certain that youth are giving their informed consent should they eventually decide to be baptized into the Amish faith. Stunningly, 90% of the teens return for a lifetime commitment to the church and community...
it has that unavoidable train-wreck allure that is as intoxicating as it is mystifying." --Frank Wilkins *

"another rumspringa tradition: bed courting. After two teenagers go on a date, the boy is allowed to stay in the girl’s bed for the night. Faron and Emma participate in this tradition, while an elder comments about how things are going to happen (but not sex) with two teenagers alone in a dark room." --Heather McIntosh

"Teens who are unsure are given the chance to do as they please and experience all of the evils and pleasures of the outside world. This chance is given with the hopes that it will halt their cravings later in life. These "experiences" include everything from television and designer clothes to extravagant parties and drugs ... apparently ending with pre-marital parenthood and imprisionment. Once the smoke and haze of the sex, drugs and alcohol subside and they have made their minds clear, they can now make their "educated" decision...
"Devil's Playground" does suffer from its lack of perspective... perfect Amish who easily make the transision or the degenerate, drug addicted "American" kids... with no real depth into any middle ground on either side." --Anthony Miele

"No teens party like the Amish, who host huge gatherings on the family farmlands, often attended by thousands of beer swilling Amish youth and friends from all regions of the country. Imagine the torrents of hormonal rage being unleashed for the first time, and you get an idea of the scene. It turns out that they also approve of their male teens bedding their Amish girlfriends before marriage. Multiple logical reasons lie behind the madness:

  1. Belief that salvation can only occur when an "adult" independently commits himself to the church
  2. The Rumspringa rite of passage allows teens to get these devilish notions out of their system
  3. Proper early upbringing and desire for Heaven will lead them back to the church
  4. 90% of Amish youth become committed church members, and male boyfriends invariably follow their Amish girlfriends
... followers the "English" path... are set "free" into the world without preparation to deal with it... without even a high school education opportunities are severely limited. It's far easier to return to the warmth and security of the Amish community." --John Nesbit *

"related to the Native American vision quest. The difference is that for Amish, they need to find their answers in the wilderness of the soul. They subject themselves most intentionally to temptation and find out about their strength of character on the other side.
In interviews with the teenagers, the documentary shows that partying is never all that is on their minds. These young Amish adults are struggling with what they want to believe, how they want to spend the rest of their lives. The downside to putting off baptism in the Amish church until you are old enough to choose is the tragedy that occurs if you die before you choose the church, because the Amish belief system affirms that anyone not baptized is lost. The Amish teens seem to take this very seriously." --Tim Stopper

"In September, 2002, Norm Kauffmann, then Town Manager of Shipshewana, called a meeting of the area Amish to discuss concerns raised by the film [Devil's Playground]. While all agreed that the views were an exaggeration and distortion of the alcohol and drug problem, those present also agreed on the need for a response." --Amish Youth Vision Project

Amazon Customer Reviews

"I was a Swartzentruber Amish, a more strict Amish sect then the Old Order...
The New Order Amish have hardly any such problem as the ones in the movie. The NOA are a more closly knit group then either the SA or OOA.
The SA on the other hand do not allow their teens to experince any of these things in this movie. When I was 10-14 I was sneeking out of the house to go to my "Enlish" brother's [now a Srg. in Iraq] house to watch TV.
But I personaly never had the beer parties that were in the movie, exept for about 2 weeks when my parents where away to sell our old house, 20-30 miles away!
But as far as the OOA go, yes the movie is vary real." --Joseph Slabaugh *

"while the makers of this movie followed those young people who enthusiastically embraced the sex-drugs-and-rock n' roll lifestyle, I happen to know that not all Amish kids on Rumspringa do." --Kurt A. Johnson

"some of the world's most conservative people run wilder than most of us ever do... Do most Amish kids stray this far before coming back? Do some not stray at all? Do the adults really just sit idly by for all of it? After seeing this movie, I have no idea" --J. H. Huebert

"like kids everywhere-- maybe just a bit more lost at sea as a result of their strict upbringing" --Lukas Jackson

"As someone who grew up in a Mennonite community myself, it was a huge eye opener for me, and one of the most educational 90 minutes I've ever spent." --James R. Jenkins

"In many ways, someone raised in a repressed environment will do too much when released from the repression. And that will do a lot of harm to the individual but the institution is stronger for it." --Timothy W. Lieder

Other Ex-Amish stories


Lucinda Streiker-Schmidt *


Torah Bontrager * *

The biggest negatives?

-The rape, incest and other sexual abuse that run rampant in the community

-Rudimentary education

-Physical and verbal abuse in the name of discipline

-Women (and children) have no rights

-Religion–and all its associated fear and brainwashing–as a means of control (and an extremely effective means at that)

... 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 [Wisconsin v. Yoder] 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.

For four years, I tried to come up with a way that I could leave before turning eighteen without my parents being able to take me back, so I could go to school...

My dad got the daily paper, and my mom caught me reading it once. She beat me for what she deemed open signs of rebellion. Following that, I’d wait until my mom took her nap and then I’d read the paper from cover to cover.

One day, when I was fifteen, the front-page article covered the case of a sixteen-year-old boy who essentially divorced his parents. He was awarded limited emancipation because of having been abused by them. The article said that you could get emancipated based on physical, verbal or sexual abuse, educational deprivation, and a few other conditions as well. If you were emancipated, you had all the rights of an eighteen-year-old.

The instant I read it, I thought "Ah, ha! This is how I can leave before I'm eighteen and go to high school."


David Yoder *


Joe & Esther Keim, Ministry to Amish People


"Before I read it I worried that the goal of the book was to slam the Amish revenge purposes or some other bad reason. After reading the book I realized that these are the stories of people in search of freedom, usually religious freedom... It is interesting to note that the Amish left Germany in the 1800s to seek religious freedom but according to this book, the community that was set up then prevented those born into the faith from practicing that same religious freedom. Because the Amish are born into the faith they are faced with a choice in their late teens to either join the Amish religion or to leave the community and never speak to their Amish relatives and friends again-what a tough choice if one has some doubt about whether to join the church or not." --christinemm

"As a former Amish, I own this book, and I have to agree it was poorly edited, but it is a true-life experience book." --Joseph Slabaugh


Ruth Irene Garrett * *

"She'd [the author's mother] heard that I once had a bracelet on my arm that allowed my husband to track me and that I still had a microchip in my wrist that branded me with the mark of the beast--666... It is never easy leaving the Amish. Especially if you've left to marry an outsider... [p.5]
At one time, it would have been inconceivable for me to consider the Amish a cult.
But now I understand the meaning of the word, and I think it's possible they may be just that. [p.162]"

"A fascinating book, but kind of disturbing. You get this idea that Amish life is unbearable, when I really doubt it. For Irene, it was hard, because her father was so harsh, but I have met and known Amish and the men tend to be very gentle. Yes, it is patriarchal, but that does not make it automatically "bad".
I would be upset too is my daughter, unmarried, slept with a man over 20 years older, twice divorced, disabled, obese and virtually unemployed and then ran away from home to marry him.
I can see where they considered it adultery. I sympathized with Irene, and at the same time, I feel for her family. They are all between a rock and a hard place." --susan

"Being an avid reader and researcher of the Amish customs and religious beliefs, I anxiously read this book from cover to cover in 24 hours. In doing so, Ms. Garrett portrayed her life among the Amish in a very descriptive, yet negative manner. I understand I, myself, am not Amish, therefore I am unable to make a complete analysis of her words, however, there was a very obvious negative pattern set in the very beginning that continues throughout the whole book." --Amy Shank

"I once joined an Amish sect in college, before converting to Mennonite. I can vouch that, in my experiences, what she vividly describes, is all too real in this secluded world. Now that I have written a book, I realize the zest and courage that it takes to come forth with the true harsh story of being a woman in a harsh religion. I made mine fiction; however, Ruth Irene had the courage to write a non-fiction book." --Teresa Phillips

"The writing is simply fantastic... Every nuance of emotion can be felt from simply the tone of her words.
While I didn't learn as much about the Amish as I had hoped, I did learn the story of a beautiful, brave woman who learned what it is to follow your heart." --Christy L.

"I am sure that she had legitimite reasons for wanting to leave the fold. However, there are many ways of doing so and in this case it seems as though she has jumped out of the frying pan into the fire." --LiteraryLady

"Having grown up in a Mennonite family I found the stories all too familiar. I see individuals today going through the same thing Irene went through and can only hope and pray they find the way out of this culture. Live free or die is not just a slogan on a bumper sticker. These are truly enslaved people." --imfree


Chris Burkholder *

"If you are thinking this will educate you as to the beliefs, rituals, and inner workings of the Amish community, then you are in for a rude awakening. Instead you read about one man's sexual depravity and deliquency growing up, a depravity and delinquency that could be found in any community not just the Amish. Those acts he described in the book served no purpose other than to embarrass himself and others.
I live in one of the towns mentioned in the book, and know many of the people he refers to in the book. It is not impossible to imagine that many of the acts of abuse(physical and sexual) of both human and animal may have been embellished." --Treadwa

"one guy grew up Amish, defied his parents, drank and had sex with animals and relatives... 214-page work of drivel" --Logan E. Garrels

"I am a former Amish guy and I was given Chris' number from a guy that did an interview with him. I then called him and we talked for a few hours, we had simular stories, so I would like to congratulate him on his courage to come out and exposing it.
Chris is one of many people that have a story to tell, however a lot are not going to even try to expose the truth. What we really need is for people to unite, and say, enough of the abuse. It should not matter what church you wen to, Amish, babtist, cathlic, or any other chuch for that matter, if you go to a church, you should not have to expect abuse from anyone, but this is a reality for a lot of people in not only the Amish church." --Joseph Slabaugh

"This author tells an unflattering story about the Amish. I think it is probably true. I have long suspected they are abusive with their children and wives, but the sexual exploits were sickening... They should be investigated by the proper authorities--no one else could get by with such acts.
If anyone thinks these people lead exemplary lives this book should be required reading." --Sara Anschutz

"He faced several years of loneliness and depression until he started feeling more comfortable living in modern-day society.
"I was not educated for the modern world," he said. "I knew what I was running from, but I didn't have any idea where I was going."
... Burkholder said he doesn't want anyone to think he's "against" the Amish. He hopes Amish colonies continue to flourish as they have in this country since the late 1600s. But he'd like to see some more enlightenment among the children who, he feels, have little choice but to follow the strict teachings of their parents -- or face severe punishment and an overpowering sense of guilt and fear...
"People don't want to believe that slapping a child across the face is an everyday normal occurrence in the Amish. Every Sunday in church it is witnessed."" --Edward Husar


John Hostetler *

"SMALL COMMUNITIES, with their distinctive character--where life is stable and intensely human--are disappearing... The merging of diverse peoples into a common mass has produced tension among members of the minorities and the majority alike." --p.3

"Many readers probably bought this book after visiting an Amish community or seeing a Hollywood movie that triggered their curiosity for a culture and a way of life that seem to defy the passing of time. For most people, it will be the first and also perhaps the last ethnographic study that they read. They couldn't have fallen on a better piece of work." --Etienne Rolland-Piegue

"The author is a professor emeritus from Temple University and grew up in an Old-Order Amish family. So in addition to academic credentials, the author has lived the life he describes so well in this book... This is an enjoyable and realistic book with no sentimentality or gloss. If you want to know more about the Amish, this is definitely the book to read." --Joanna Daneman


ABC Primetime: The Outsiders: Amish Teens *



Amish Theology

The Protestant Reformation split into three main branches: Evangelical (Lutheran), Reformed (Zwingli and Calvin), and Radical (Anabaptist). The Anabaptists split institutionally into Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. (The Anabaptists are claimed as "spiritual" ancestors by Baptists, Quakers, and Seventh-day Adventists).

George Blaurock, Conrad Grebel, and Feliz Manz founded the Swiss Brethren Church in Zurich.

Key Amish concepts *:

  • Meidung (shunning),
  • Wertrational (shared moral values)
  • Hochmut (pride)
  • Demut (humility)
  • Gelassenheit (nonassertiveness)
  • Ordnung (order; rules)
  • Ausbund * * (Amish hymnal shown in Devil's Playground)
Key Amish Bible verses:
  • "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? ... Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate..." --2 Corinthians 6:14-17 (Note: The Bible says unbelievers should be loved, shunned, and killed. Rousas Rushdoony preferred killing unbelievers and quoting Matthew 5:17. The Amish prefer shunning and quoting this passage.)
  • "And be not conformed to this world..." --Romans 12:2
  • "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." --1 John 2:15, quoted in Devil's Playground 3:35
  • "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." --Ecclesiastes 11:9, quoted in Devil's Playground 29:20

Notes from the video

  • People in the video
    • Faron Yoder acts like Tupac, hated factory job, dealing crank (crystal methamphetamine); "she's [Emma] such a dream girl"; "life sucks" because Emma doesn't want to go Amish with him 57:15, "I'm not English, I'm not Amish, I'm just me" 1:14:02; "Jesus didn't get baptized till he was 32" 1:14:45; ended up in prison Comments Track 1:14
    • Emma Miller=47:37 went English; "I knew him [Faron] being himself and I liked it"; modeling and actressing 56:45 "well, we broke up"; ended up non-Amish in San Diego CT 1:15
    • Velda Bontrager=32:40 shunned by Amish, she&her boyfriend had already joined the church, wedding dress made her feel she had "nowhere to go" 40:45, couldn't be herself, "I've been doing a lot of thinking about going to college" 58:50
    • Joann Hochstetler 31:05 went Amish "I wish I could say I had never opened a can of beer... I didn't dress Amish, I went to a Baptist church..."; "September 12th is the day I'm going to be baptized... rebuke the devil, the world, and my own flesh and blood" 1:12:40
    • Gerald Yutzy not going to be Amish; "Step into it, go slow, don't do what I did" 59:45; not clear what happened to him
    • Sara=Faron's first girlfriend 27:47 (breaks up at 35:20)
    • Steve Yoder (Beachy Amish preacher)
    • Daniel Esch "I guess I've questioned even the Amish leaders... Why can't we have this? Why can't we have that? ... natural progression of things..." 1:18
    • Scott Stuart Shipshewana Indiana Police
    • Matt Eash & Velda Lehman in "Matt & Velda" deleted scene in DVD's Special Features; "I know that Matt wants to be English. I try and persuade him a lot of time but it's hard. We'll be together somehow..." 1:05; "I always thought we were going to be a Amish couple, 'cause he actually he told me he always wanted to be Amish. And then all of a sudden he changed his mind. He lied to me!" 3:36; "... I think I could be just as good off English. I just want my life to get settled and be happy! ..." 4:58; "I think that it's more important to have the right husband than going to the right church." 5:55; they both leave Amish (but will she convert him later?)
    • Tom Meyers, Amish Historian in "Perspectives on Amish Life" deleted scene in DVD's Special Features, author of The Old Order Amish: To Remain in the Faith or to Leave; rules are "boundary maintenance mechanisms"
  • Studies * 41:20 ? "that's the thing about being Amish. You don't question. You just give up." 42:20 ? will join the church this fall 44:00 Godsmack Ozzfest 50:13 bed courtship 50:30 "we've got... unwed mothers"
  • Commentary Track (in Extra Features) by Director Lucy Walker, Editor Pax Weisman, and Producer Steven Cantor
    • "... everyone thinks the same in a way which is so unlike American culture. Umm, people always used to use the same phrases and sentences even. It's really a kind of groupthink mentality. Incredibly, umm, conformist society. They have this expression 'breaking the will of the child'... begins on the second birthday..." 5:05
    • Faron "a star... Tupac kind of swagger and twang... his father was an Amish preacher... he would love to be an Amish preacher, Faron. And he can quote more Bible verses than most of the other kids... wildest kid who idolizes Tupac Shakur... he's going to get torn in two different directions... no comfortable compromise between those..." 6:00
    • topic vs. narrative documentary 16:05
    • Dale Lambright 17:50
    • Filmmakers wanted balance, but kids who intended to stay Amish tended to not be willing to be filmed. 18:50
    • Gerald "hurt his hand horribly towards the end of filming and I just so felt for these kids working in factories. Faron hated his factory job. He'd been working in a metal factory, I think, since the age of 13... So many of the kids would would passionately describe how tortured and upset they were and how they begged their parents to let them go through and go to high school..." 21:00
    • "... ostensibly give these kids the choice at age 16 to go out and experiment with the outside world, but the reality is they've only got eighth-grade educations. It's very difficult for them to leave. They have to leave their families... and to go out on their own with no help, no family support, and only an eighth-grade education, it's pretty tough for them to make it..."
    • over 300 hours of footage 27:20
    • They edited the video for over a year. 28:50
    • "The wild thing about these kids is even if they're, you know, high on crystal meth amphetamine and doing all these other worldly things, they don't for a second doubt the existence of Heaven and Hell. Heaven and Hell are as real as New York and Los Angeles, and I find that so hard to believe. When uh, when the first, it was actually Gerrold, was the first kid I accidentally asked that question to, 'What do you think of Heaven or Hell?' and this serious look came over his face and I thought 'Boy, he believes in a very very literal kind of fire and brimstone Heaven and Hell. And that kind of haunted look in his eye! He knows where he's going.' Um, and, to not question that was so strange to me. I didn't know any teenagers that would, wouldn't question that. And I guess sometimes, the Amish, you know, there's a stereotype of the Amish, and how they're different, and they make pies, and so on. And, and then there are the actual things that genuinely did surprise me about quite how different their culture was. And this was one of them." 29:16
    • "I remember at the end of filming, um, Emma said to me, and I'd been hanging out, Emma, you'll meet her later, and I'd been hanging out with Emma, and she seemed so Americanized for an Amish kid, and I got used to treating her really like a little sister, and kind of assuming that same cultural background that I had. And, uh, suddenly she said to me, suddenly I was having a deep conversation with Faron and we were saying 'What if God didn't dictate the Bible?' And, um, I thought 'Wow! These questions aren't in the culture!' And so everything is just taken at face value. Um, and any kind of questioning or independent thought is kind of beaten out of you. And so there isn't very much time for independent thought..." 30:26
    • Velda "her story really illuminated all the issues of Rumspringa, especially the guilt of leaving the family. Rumspringa is set up so you're ostensibily allowed to leave if that's your choice, but it's very difficult to leave, and she's an example of someone who just went through absolute torment from her family, and now she's actually gaining strength as the days go by now, but I think while we were filming just seemed so fragile. She was on the verge of crying, and actually did cry a few times. Every time you look at her, she's on the verge of cracking..." 33:33
    • "If you're an old person you ought to be Amish because they just so wonderfully take care of their old folks... It was just so serene and magical. And I thought to myself, what are we doing, what are we doing with our lives? These people have everything. They've got 10 children, all living within a couple of miles. See them every day. Spend Sundays with them every week. And, uh, they know where they're going-- they're going to Heaven. They've never had to question anything in their lives. They just kind of got on with doing it well and enjoying it. And they love their gardens and their jokes, and the pleasures in life that they have, they really really really enjoy. And they know that they're going to Heaven. And I thought 'That, that must be the way to live.' And I'd go back to the English, the non-Amish world after we're shooting, and get on the Internet at the Bed and Breakfast or something and just think 'How vulgar is this world that we live in, and we're getting it all wrong. I want to sign up and be Amish right now. I don't mind. I don't need the career. I want this life. I want this peace and serenity.' And then other times I'd think, 'This shouldn't be allowed!' [describes Amish woman resorting to anorexia for birth control, which caused her to become very ill]" 35:56
    • Velda's fiance wanted to be Amish but she didn't. ~40:00
    • York County Historical Society "treasure trove of archival material" 45:45
    • Emma's thinking about modeling and actressing as a possible career. 48:35
    • overnight bundling, a lot of pregnancies, "have to get married", weddings are mostly Tuesdays and Thursdays in November 50:10
    • Many Amish men join the Amish church to marry an Amish woman who has already "joined church". 52:10
    • "Some of these kids just seemed to be running away as fast as they can, and yet in the end you learn that so many of them are drawn back..." 52:33
    • "At times during working this film I, you know, I thought 'Amish are terrible' and at other times I thought 'Boy, they've got it all figured out. You know, they really care for each other. Um, they've got something that's unique and it's, the rest of our lives are very empty.' So it was almost a day to day kind of thing. It's a real, uh, privilege working the project with, being involved in something that helps you think about your own life." 52:52
    • over 300 hours of footage 54:10
    • Gerald 59:33
    • Channel 4 in England required editing out Amish swearing. 1:00:30
    • "... the RV industry located to this area in Indiana specifically to take advantage of all this incredible nonunionized, exceptionally honest and hardworking and skilled, labor... They're just dream employees..." 1:01:20
    • Velda published a feminist poem called "The Spare(Other?) Rib"... A really happy story..." 1:08:20
    • Faron "got a gun, his parents called the cops, and he got arrested... downstate Federal penitentiary in Indiana..." 1:14:10
    • Emma "in San Diego... always traveling... little adventurer, and, um, I love it. And she just got her GED... college... And she's so excited about life. And that's just wonderful to hear." 1:15:05

Lucy Walker's comments

[S]ome of the most interesting moments I had shooting the film were just in experiencing the bliss these people had from this lifestyle. I remember sitting in a yard one beautiful summer evening, watching the hummingbirds at the feeder, sipping lemonade handed to me by this very beautiful old couple, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, all of whom live within a few miles, all of whom do exactly the same thing, all of whom take wonderful care of their elders. When you retire as an Amish, they put you in the house next door, the "grand-daadi" house or the Grandfather's house, an annex next to the main house, and you've got all that family around to take care of you, you're involved, you're shelling peas and picking strawberries, never having to question what you've done with your life. There's no such thing as divorce, but this makes marriages much happier, it seems.

You know, as a feminist, a modern working woman, to find myself envying this old Amish woman who'd never been allowed to even think about having a job, and who'd had fifteen kids and a husband who considered himself the head of the household--what was I doing envying and admiring and even enjoying this person? It was very confusing and alluring and interesting. I caught myself thinking at times, "I don't want to grow old without being Amish--it sucks out there! This is the way to do it."

On the other hand, there was another woman I met who was 42, balding, dreadfully thin, and perpetually sad. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. It was obvious that she had some kind of disease but I was too scared to ask her about it. Finally, I found out that she had anorexia. Now what was a 42-year-old woman doing with anorexia? She'd had seven kids, her husband suffered from a variety of health problems. She just didn't want any more. And the only method of birth control available to her was fasting.

Then I thought to myself, "This can't be allowed, this isn't right, something's got to be done." Or you find out that the kids aren't allowed to go to high school. The Amish believe that education fosters pride. Kids used to go and work the farms after finishing eighth grade, but the Amish have run out of farmland, so now they're put to work in factories--the government grants the Amish an exemption from child labor laws on religious grounds. So our main character was working in a metal factory at the age of thirteen--a smart, ambitious, marvelously curious kid. What's his brain going to turn into if he's stuck working in a metal factory and fantasizing about parties on the weekends when he turns sixteen? Where else has his brain got to go apart from stirring up trouble for the police? What else fun and engaging is he going to be able to do?

So I would always alternate between this idea of the Amish community as Heaven or Hell, thinking "This is a great way to live, this is better than we have it," and "This is a terrible way to live, this is cruel." Those within the Amish population that fit the cookie mold are really happy. But the second that you want to do something different, or that you are different, you're in Hell...

Considering the problem more abstractly: Individualism vs. Collectivism

  • "The individual is more of a problem than anything else. The unsatisfied mind. Some of that inborn nature, we can't deny, but that's one of the duty of a Christian, is to control that inborn nature. That's really the main thing about being Amish. You don't question, you just, you just more or less just give up, you know. The way a lot of the decisions are made by the Amish on what they will allow or not allow, uh, isn't connected to technology as much as some people think. A lot of it's based on their perception of how it will affect community and family life. That solar-powered battery charger, how's that going to tear your family apart? But the car, the television, the video games, you know those things can keep you out of relationship. Even as a young kid, I think I realized the benefits of being in a close-knit community. And, and if you're going to have good community, each individual has to give up some of that individuality." --Devil's Playground 40:46
  • "The Group and the Self" by Daniel Goleman in New York Times on 25 December 1990
    • collectivism
      • '"collectivism," in which a person's loyalty to a group like a family or tribe overrides personal goals. Recent studies say this outlook predominates in most cultures of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.'
      • "such societies have among the lowest rates of homicide, suicide, juvenile delinquency, divorce, child abuse and alcoholism. They also tend to have lower economic productivity"
      • "collectivist cultures comprise about 70 percent of the world's population"
      • 'While collectivists are very nice to those who are members of their own groups, they can be very nasty, competitive and uncooperative toward those who belong to other groups," said Dr. Triandis. "There is an unquestioned obedience to one's own group and even a willingness to fight and die for it, and a distrust of those in other groups."
        This attitude, he said, encourages the kind of ethnic fighting common in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, India and the Middle East.'
      • 'Child rearing in collectivist cultures is intrusive; children have virtually no privacy or autonomy. "A child's dependence on parents is considered good, as is breaking the will of the child to obtain complete obedience," Dr. Triandis said. When there is conflict between personal and group goals, the group takes precedence. People feel comfortable in hierarchies, and place a premium on harmony within their group.'
    • individualism
      • 'virtually all the data of modern psychology and most other social sciences come from the most individualistic cultures, like the United States. As a result, some social scientists say, many Western assumptions about the universals of human behavior actually apply to a minority of people'
      • "The individualism that's on the rise recently in the U.S. is one of 'What's in it for me?' with immediate gratification of one's own needs coming before all other loyalties. Commitments like marriage only hold while they pay off."
      • 'within a given society, "individualism is higher among the affluent, socially and geographically mobile, more modern segments,"'
      • 'The most individualistic people in a collectivist society tend to be "rebels ready to migrate from the oppression of the culture," said Dr. Triandis. That may partly explain why societies like Canada, the United States and Australia, all settled by immigrants, are among the most individualistic.'
      • '"In earlier days," he said, "the individualism in America was one that also honored community values. Today we have an ideology of individualism that simply encourages people to maximize personal advantage. This leads to a consumer politics in which 'What's in it for me?' is all that matters, while considerations of the common good are increasingly irrelevant.'
    • contrasts
      • 'People with a collective focus tend to think in terms of long-term goals, which benefit the whole group, Dr. Triandis said; their time frame is likely to include "a chain of generations." Individualists, by contrast, "look for immediate rewards for their efforts."'
      • "The five most strongly individualist cultures were the United States, Australia, Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, in that order... The five where collectivism was strongest were Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru and Taiwan."