Sunday, October 28, 2007

Book Review: Plain Secrets

The library got one of my holds, in just in time for me to read it on the trip down. I'd reserved it a few weeks ago and kind of forgotten about it, then in preparation for the trip, I reserved a bunch of videos for the kids, so when the library called several times saying some of my reserved books were in, I assumed they were all the videos, and was pleasantly surprised to get there last week and find Plain Secrets there along with the videos.

In a nutshell, the book is the observations of a man who lives near some of the Swartzentruber Amish (the most conservative sect) and who has become friends with an Amish family.

I found it to be interesting reading. . . I'm not sure, if I had to "rate" it, what I would rate it. It is the observations of one man who observed one family. Obviously he "observed" the entire community, but it was only the one family that agreed to talk to him more openly than the Amish generally will talk to "the English" and welcomed him more fully into their home than is typical of at least this sect. The author never says (or at least I didn't notice) what, if any, religion he belongs to. Obviously not Amish, but I'm not sure, and couldn't tell from the reading, if he's Christian or not. While the author's family & the Amish family represented in the book are friends, I still detect a certain negativity on the author's part toward the Amish beliefs. Some of it, I agree with. At least based on this author's perceptions, and it would certainly seem to be the case at least for this family, there seems to be little focus on a relationship with God. This surprised me, I assumed that an aspect of the "plain living" was to keep the focus on God, not "the world" and while they might agree with me if I were ask if this is why they are "plain", in reality, it seems to be more about keeping everyone "dependent" on the community/religion. There seems to be no focus on developing a close, personal relationship with Christ. It appears that the church members are not encouraged to study for themselves, and aren't necessarily given any Biblical basis (or basis of any sort) for WHY they do/don't do things.

In some ways the Amish, even this extremely conservative sect, aren't as "old fashioned" as I would have expected. Even this sect allows the use of gasoline engines to run a washing machine, well pump, etc. (but only if it's connected with a belt? I'm not mechanical enough to know exactly what that means, shrug) they can ride in a car if they need to go for medical care, or for a funeral, or it seems some other reason. They apparently can also ride a bus to go visit family who lives farther away. . .

I was amused by the author's observation/perception, that the women are "oppressed" for the following reasons (I don't have the book in front of me, so going from memory):
  • they're not allowed to wear bras (ummmm, I didn't know this was a privilege! In fact, I have to say I've been much more comfortable since reading this article and switching to almost exclusively wearing camisoles instead of bras)
  • They're not allowed to use tampons, and generally use homemade cloth pads for their menstrual needs. (now, I'll admit, since I've found the mooncup I'd hate to give it up, and no doubt, it would be considered taboo by the Amish as well but prior to that, I had converted completely to cloth pads and I don't think you could pay me enough to go back to paper menstrual products).
  • They cannot wear makeup (shrug, not a big deal to me, and especially since they live in relatively isolated communities where none of them wear makeup, definitely doesn't strike me as a big deal)
  • They cannot shave (ok really, are there women who LIKE shaving? Considering that Amish women never show any of the skin that "English" women typically shave, if the husbands don't care, why WOULD they shave? (and on another note, if they DID, who would know except, again, their husband?)
  • They are not allowed to smoke (apparently the men are allowed to smoke pipes or cigars but not cigarettes or chewing tobacco), not a big deal for me, who thinks nobody should smoke LOL.
So, while I don't dispute that the women are, at least in some instances, are abused, the majority of the reasons the author cites, strike me as not such a big deal.

While I'd heard of the practice of shunning, I guess I'd never really examined my feelings about it as thoroughly as this book made me, or perhaps, more accurately, since it was always presented in a work of fiction (book or tv), I'd subconciously refused to form an opinion based on potentially inaccurate portrayal (if I *had* thought that TV/books portray life accurately, the "Seventh-day Adventist" character on Gilmore Girls proved just how little TV writers bother to research something (the no eating meat is a big emphasis, but the only reason the mother gives for not allowing the daughter to go to a concert on Sat. afternoon is that it's "rock-n-roll" the Sabbath Keeping aspect is never brought up.). Anyway . . . again recognizing that this book is one man's observations, it really does appear that the Amish don't care about a person believing for the sake of believing, it's 100% about appearances. The Amish are decendants of the anabaptists, who were persecuted because they believed in adult baptism, and the Amish still follow this, however, a child, upon reaching adulthood, is basically given the choice of being baptized into the Amish church or being cut off 100% from all contact with their family, community, etc. This is something I can't quite fathom. I hope that my children grow up with a firm personal relationship with God. While I believe, that this will lead them to continue in the church they are being raised in, if they reach a point where they firmly believe that God is leading them in another direction, I will support that decision. What's more, if they reject God/religion, I will still love them and be there for them. It does absolutely NO good, IMO, to go through the motions of a religion without the relationship, this is what leads to legalism, a following of rules for the sake of following rules. I honestly never thought of the Amish as legalistic, prior to reading this book. I assumed them to be devout Christians who each developed a close relationship with God and, as a part of that relationship, they felt that God was asking them to remove themselves from the "evils" of modern life. After reading this book (and again, this may be a result of the author's perceptions) I got the feeling that very little emphasis is placed on any sort of relationship with God. It's all about rote rituals and doing what was done before them with no real understanding of any biblical basis for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW....I never knew they made a mooncup..