“But have you seen the second half of the documentary, the part about shunning?” a friend asked me after I blogged about this documentary.
I hadn’t, but now I have. The Amish “shun” those who leave their sect, not allowing any real or regular contact with the community after they join the “English” world. And I have to admit, I came away from the second part of the documentary with a greater understanding of the purpose of shunning:
The Amish have a way of life they need to protect. They believe in it with all their heart. We may not believe in it, but they do.
Amish life is so different from the mainstream life all around them that it’s only natural that young people would be tempted to leave. Cellphones, trucks, music, television, movies, computers–they’re big competition to farm chores, a horse and buggy and Sunday meeting.
But here’s the thing: Suppose the Amish DID allow young people who leave to come back at will and enjoy family and friends. Pretty soon, others would also want to leave and live an “English” lifestyle. Cultural cross-pollination would begin. And pretty soon the Amish culture would disappear. Because there’s no such thing as being “a little Amish.” Someone’s either Amish or not.
Shunning is a necessity to protect the Amish lifestyle and culture.
That’s its purpose. And it’s effective.
It’s not that different from rules in other doctrinaire sects you’ll find in every religious tradition.
Looking at it from our modern point of view, it seems cruel and intolerable. Draconian, even.
But answer this: how should they effectively protect their culture? or should they just let the chips fall where they may?
I’m not going to sit in judgment of the way the Amish live–that’s their deal. I wouldn’t want to be Amish. And I feel badly for the young people who feel stuck in the middle–they love their families and community but they don’t want to be entirely Amish.
But I also have an understanding of the “all or nothing” nature of that life. That leaving and coming back to visit is like being a little bit pregnant–which is to say, impossible.
I may not hold their beliefs, but I can’t blame the Amish for wanting to protect their way of life as long as possible. I’m sorry there’s such awful collateral damage. But I just don’t see a practical way the Amish can protect their lifestyle and still allow significant interaction with the outside world.
It’s a sad situation, in a world full of sad situations.
I’d love to hear what you think.