"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:
"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
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 *
The biggest negatives?
-The rape, incest and other sexual abuse that run rampant in the community
-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."
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
"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".
"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.
"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
"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.
"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.
"He faced several years of loneliness and depression until he started feeling more comfortable living in modern-day society.
"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
Amish TheologyThe 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).
Notes from the video
[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