Big Amish Brother

Have you seen “Breaking Amish”? It’s pretty fascinating – in how horrible the Amish life is.

It’s not just in all the deprivation (no school past 8th grade for you!) and rules (as one rebel says, “you can wear this but not that…”) – it’s the revolting coldness of “shunning.” If you step out, you’re done. You can never go home, you can never see your family again. Period.

And then there’s the surveillance – there’s the dreaded bishop’s wife, always watching and reporting. There’s the dreaded bishop, who can throw you out for any infraction.

People like it because it seems quaint and pretty, but in reality it’s impoverished, and laborious (“do everything the hard way”) and tyrannical – and ultimately cold-hearted. Affection is contingent on rigid obedience to stupid rules.


  1. iknklast says

    My husband is from Iowa, and people there aren’t impressed with the Amish. They claim to use no technology, but have no problem bumming technology from their neighbors when needed.

    I’ve never figured out what’s wrong with modernity, anyway. Cured diseases? Lights? Ease of transportation?

    It often bothers me, as an environmental scientist, how many environmental advocates want us to return to the Amish way, and idolize the Amish. There are ways we can protect the environment without going backwards in time.

  2. Landon says

    I caught this, and was really interested at how bitter the boy who was adopted into the Amish was about it. He kept talking about how he COULD have been adopted by a “normal” family, and was fascinated by cars (of all things). He had an acute sense of what he was missing out on, what was denied him.

    [I know one of the girls was also adopted, but she seemed more low-key about her regrets on this score.]

    But the thing that caught my attention was the one girl who very pointedly noted that Amish guys don’t do any chores, and how unfair it was. This girl has a real feminist sensibility, even in that environment. That stood out to me. I know they get some contact, second-hand perhaps, with the “outside” world, but the fact that she had such a keen sense of the injustice of her situation was noteworthy, I thought.

  3. says

    Oh hai, it’s ikonografer, Joel Mendez, the guy who “edited” a workshop on bullying and joined his wife Wooly Bumblebee/Kristina Hansen in the bullying of Jen McCreight (and others). Joel Mendez is the affable guy who tweeted me out of the blue to call me a bitch and tell me not to “bother” because I was blocked.

    No, Mr Mendez, it’s not like “ftb” at all. For one thing FTB is not anyone’s family shunning a rebellious offspring. There are many other things, but there’s no point in spelling them out.

  4. says

    Landon – they clearly get a lot of contact with the outside world – I suppose because of school up to 8th grade. I was amazed that they had the teenage “like” habit just as badly as any non-Amish teenager.

  5. says

    Oh and @ 2 – I know – I posted about that article way back in 2005. I remember it vividly – especially the dentist who pulled out all the girl’s teeth, and her mother saying “you won’t be talking so much now.” [shudder]

  6. isavaldyr says

    I suppose this is as good a place as any to ramble about my own experiences. I grew up in a very rural part of Ohio less than a mile from some Amish families. My parents, who were (and are) avid gardeners, had dealings with them related to seeds, produce and simple woodcraft–stakes for tomato plants, things like that. It’s not uncommon for the Amish to have small businesses. Sawmills (only gas-powered machines of course–being connected to an electrical grid is too worldly) and things like that. Less entrepreneurial Amish men often fall into the same niche that Mexican illegal immigrants do in many other places, providing cheap labor for things like home renovations, since Amish will work for less than an “English” roofer or sider and won’t sue you if they get hurt on the job.

    Some Amish are fairly well-to-do and have pretty luxurious lives (by Amish standards–meaning they can afford battery-powered headlights and a plastic windscreen for their horse-drawn buggy), but the ones I grew up around lived in grinding poverty. Think subsistence agriculture. The father worked part-time picking fruit at an orchard, but no one else in the family had an income. And it was a BIG family. At least 12 kids–I wish I was exaggerating. Male children (often at really horrifyingly young ages) were expected to do the farm work, while female children did everything else. The family bathed once a week, all using the same tub of water and homemade soap made from animal tallow. The father and some of the older male children had shoes, but most of the family didn’t. A few years back, the mother died from cancer; she was younger than 50. A lot of Amish will go to chiropractors or veterinarians instead of medical doctors when they have health problems, or rely on folk remedies. I remember hearing about a man from another local Amish family who was badly burned in a workshop accident and rushed to the hospital by his English coworkers. He was bandaged and given instructions to come back for a follow-up appointment, but as soon as he got home he took his wound dressing off and went into the woods to gather herbs for a poultice. I wouldn’t believe that this kind of thing still went on in 21st century America if I hadn’t seen it myself.

    Amish children go to special Amish schools whose curricula have little or no science and only go up to about 8th grade. They have inadequate nutrition, inadequate healthcare, and live in homes without running water or electricity, meaning no cooling in the summer and no heat in the winter that can’t be provided by a wood-burning stove. It’s hard for me to imagine what it’s like for the women, especially, who have to work outdoors in the brutal heat and humidity of the Ohio summer wearing heavy, black or dark blue-colored dresses and tight-fitting bonnets. They can’t even count on having a glass of ice water to cool down when they’re done–no freezer. (We’ve let this family use our freezer to store their meats more than once.) It’s just an awful, awful life of deprivation that “English” people, even poor ones, can scarcely imagine. It’s also worth noting that Amish parents very much believe in corporal punishment.

    The thing that pisses me off is that the way Amish people live would be considered abusive to their children if “English” people did it. But because they believe it’s mandated by their religion, they get a free pass. People I know don’t understand why I get so worked up about the Amish, but I’ve lived around them, talked to them, seen where they live, and it’s awful. One thing I will always remember: when I was younger, we used to have a trampoline in our front yard, and whenever the Amish kids would come down to ask a favor of my parents or barter on behalf of their father, they got to jump on it, and they were more thrilled with it than I’ve ever seen anyone be about anything. They’d also stand outside and look in our livingroom window at the TV, standing utterly still and transfixed in complete wonder. It makes me sick to think of how many other amazing things they’ll never get to experience simply because they had the misfortune of being born into a religion that rejects the whole world.

  7. hyrax says

    “Affection is contingent on rigid obedience to stupid rules.” hmmmm….sounds a lot like….ummmm…..ftb, actually

    Hahahaha. Wow. Comparing FtB to the Amish? Haven’t heard that one before! At least it’s a new absurd slur.

    Also, the idea that people join FtB because they’re seeking affection is hilarious. Especially in context of the veiled reference to Thunderf00t– because he certainly did nothing but try to make friends.

  8. says

    My experience with the Amish has been limited to dodging some of the Amish girls on bicycles in Ephrata, PA (at least, I was told they were Amish. They rode odd bikes that looked a century out of fasion and wore tight “pioneer” style dresses). I could not imagine having to wear that in the middle of summer, especially riding a bike.

    I’ve never had any respect for the idea. It does seem very odd to me that we would take children away from an environment like that if they were in an inner city family, but we just give this a pass because “religion”. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that they go off and live away where most folks just don’t have to see them.

  9. Musca Domestica says

    I can’t believe they are allowed to adopt children! All the other nuttery aside, banning education beyond 8th grade is a direct violation of human rights.

  10. Sastra says

    Years ago I read that during the draft young Amish men were exempted for religious reasons, and had to do community service work instead. The Amish elders complained to the government. It seems that after the youth were exposed to the world outside — going to cities and working and helping non-Amish — they didn’t want to come back. They wanted to marry, get jobs, and live a different kind of life.

    The Amish culture was being threatened.

    As I recall, the government responded by passing laws mandating that Amish conscientious objectors had to remain in Amish territory, doing work among the Amish. Had to protect and preserve the community.

    I have friends who romanticize the Amish for their natural ways, their natural medicine, and their natural spirituality. They really LIVE their faith! When I point out the inherent control, misogyny, repression, shunning, ignorance, and general authoritarianism of the Amish, I am accused of insensitivity. I am not respecting the cultures of other people, and I don’t understand spirituality. The Amish are sincere. And all-natural. Pure. Good. They all WANT to live the way they live. There’s no pressure: some of the teenagers are even granted a year to decide between modern life and ever seeing their family again. It’s choice all the way down.

    They did seem to be shocked (or incredulous) when I told them the so-called pacifists were not averse to beating their wives and children. The Amish are presumed to never hurt anything or anyone, no matter what. Sort of like Gandhi in a horse-and-buggy, with homemade bread.

  11. Derby says

    The majority of communities I’ve been in are pretty hypocritical about technology. I have good friend who is the manger for the largest sheep-shearing supplies dealer in the US and I’ve gone with her numerous times to work with the Amish. The communities I’ve seen use all of the latest technology in the feild: they just have everything outfitted to run off of pneumatic power rather than electricity. One time we were visting and an older woman invited us to help her shuck peas. I thought this was going to be an all day activity with all of us doing it by hand, but no. She just dumped her crop into a standard industerial shucker like any other farm – it was hooked up to a pneumatic system being driven by a gas generator rather than hooked up to the power grid.

    And sometimes their free pass to what, under any other circumstances, would be considered abuse extends beyond just children. I’ve volunteered at a few different Ex-Racehorse adoption and rehoming groups. The majority have been focused on thoroughbreds, but one of them used to get standardbreds (harness racers) in quite frequently. Although all ex-racehorses can be very difficult to rehome, even if they are given away, standardbreds are an obsecure breed and typically come to us having never been ridden. Other than a few who go to the breed’s supporters and the few who go to groups who have the funds and time to start them under saddle, the majority coming off the track tend to end up in Amish communities as buggy horses.

    From both my own experiance as well as with working with other groups who focused specifically on standardbreds, many Amish communities are horrible about animal abuse. There have been multiple times when a standardbred would be adopted out for our group only to be seen starved down and pushed through the local auction two years later. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see these sound, talented, gentle, and willing horses used up and then thrown onto a meat truck headed for Canada, but in many areas in takes an act of Dog to bring any charges of animal abuse down on the Amish communities. And without the local law enforcement addressing the abuse, we legally could not refuse the communities when they came back to adopt again since they qualified in all other criteria.

    Certainly not all groups are like that. I’ve met and heard from many others who have found communities who do a great job caring for the horses, but there are far too many of them who get a free pass to abuse their horses because of “religious freedom” and their “horses are estiential to their way of life” thus they should be expected to be worked hard and continually while denied required maintenience and emergancy veterinary care. After all, their old-fashioned, so anything they do with the horses must be natural and the best! Yuck! 🙁

  12. isavaldyr says

    Amish people often try to circumvent community rules about technology, yeah. They aren’t allowed to own cars or phones, but they are allowed to benefit from those belonging to other people. Many times, we let the father of the Amish family up the road make a call using our phone, or provide them rides in our truck. They benefit from the infrastructure that “English” society and its technology has laid down, but they don’t have to pay into the system with taxes. It would be enviable, if most of them didn’t have such horrible lives of subsistence agriculture/menial labor for English employers at sub-minimum wage.

  13. No Light says

    The Amish are like the Haredim (ultra orthodox Jews). They’ve convinced the world that they are pious, quaint, and respectable.

    In reality both are backward, abusive, repressive misogynist cults where women are simply ambulatory uteri.

    No secular education (for Haredi boys, who are expected to never work), devastating covered-up sexual abuse, and practices that are horrific, but given a free pass because “Religion!”.

    The FLDS. Amish and haredim are like horrible triplets of subjugation, deliberately maintained ignorance, and oppression.

  14. hypatiasdaughter says

    #8 isavaldyr
    This is exactly like some of the stories I read on the “No Longer Quivering” website. The Quiverful movement doesn’t eschew modern conveniences, but many of them head for the farms to flee the “secular world”, where the husband’s incompetence at farming leads a barely subsistence lifestyle, no education or healthcare for the kids and a lot of abuse, justified by “spare the rod and spoil the child”.
    (The Duggar’s are atypical, in that the father owns several businesses, and they are fairly well off. But I hate that show for giving a rosy impression of the Quiverful movement.)

  15. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says


    “Affection is contingent on rigid obedience to stupid rules.” hmmmm….sounds a lot like….ummmm…..ftb, actually.

    I really wish you people would stop with this blatant stupidity. There are no blanket rules for FtB. This collection of bloggers doesn’t have ONE rule (let alone several) that is applied to every poster, everywhere, at all times.
    To put the lie to your laughable statement, go check out my comment in the Lounge and the warm, friendly responses that I received. That affection was not contingent on rigid obedience to stupid rules.

    Try thinking before you post.

  16. susans says

    #18, the Haredim are not like the Amish; you are making that up. Almost everything you wrote about them is false. I am not their biggest fan and there are many things about them as a group I do not like, but you may want to do some actual research.

  17. No Light says

    Susan – restrictive dress codes, women as brood mares, strict delineation of gender roles, rejection of modern tech (except for when it suits them), shunning, lack of secular education, living in enclaves separate from the wider community, riddled with domestic and sexual abuse, speak an old Germanic language.

    I could go on, but do tell me – which of the two groups am I describing, haredim or Amish?

    Also, you know nothing about my background. If you’ve been fooled into viewing Hassidim and Haredim as simple, pious folk who exist on some higher spiritual level, as a tribe of Tevyes, then the joke’s on you.

    You could always explain what you really mean, of course. I have evidence of things that would make your toes curl. Metzitzah b’peh, tax fraud, welfare fraud, endemic sexual abuse etc.

    I’ll be waiting.

  18. lamaria says

    As a European I can only be baffled. How can the US of A let this happen? It can´t be fear to lose the Amish´ vote if they don´t go voting anyway. Are other christian groups going to kick up such a riot when the Amish´ priviliges are withdrawn? These stories really make my flesh crawl…

  19. tressa says

    First off, Breaking Amish is a farce. Do a Web search; it will show that Jeremiah, Kate, and Abe have criminal records. Jeremiah is 32 – they don’t say that on the program – and has been married and divorced. He has 3 children from that marriage. Kate was living with a boyfriend in Florida while she was down there. Abe and Becca have a daughter together. The whole show is a scripted, non-reality show, much like the 19 Kids and Counting farce and the others. Do you really think these so-called innocent kids could afford a long-term hotel room at the Manhattan Hilton, costing upwards of $500 a night? How did they find TLC? More than likely, TLC advertised or sought them out, offered to put them up in a hotel, and paid them while they were filming. With photography being forbidden among the Amish, how did the film crews get into the homes of the family members? Abe’s mom was paid to allow them in her home. The whole thing was conceived and filmed to increase viewership, and it’s so far from reality it should be called a fantasy show.

    Secondly, shunning isn’t permanent. While it’s hard to understand, it’s used to help the offender reconsider their offense and hopefully repent, thereafter to be restored to the fold. The offender is never beyond hope as far as the Amish are concerned.

    As for the lack of emotions, displaying emotions like laughter, reacting loudly to bad news, and the like are seen as attention-getting behavior and are discouraged since the Amish are taught that the community comes before the individual. This is also the reason for the uniform dress, modest and practical clothing styles and lengths, and lack of adornment. The goal is to keep from drawing attention to one’s self in favor of being part of a larger good……as they see it. Their goal is to become part of the whole, not to be individuals. This is why individuality is discouraged; to keep pride from overcoming the individual in favor of a group mentality, which they feel is much more important because pride separates people while conforming to a community dress code stresses being part of a group. They seek not to be separate and individual because, to them, pride is a sin to be avoided since it interferes with the will of God.

  20. says

    tressa – yes, I get all that. I realize they have reasons for hating emotions and laughter, and for imposing uniform dress. But I think the reasons are horrible.

    And of course I think they’re tragically mistaken to stunt themselves and especially their children because they believe some nonsense about “the will of God.”

  21. tressa says

    Hi Ophelia:

    I agree. There is nothing like the laughter of a child. When they giggle so hard they can’t breathe; when they squeal with delight at the sight of a butterfly, or a giraffe, or a frog; when they give that big old belly laugh that happens when they are tickled; there is something magical in that laughter. As adults, we need to laugh as well. It helps us cope with the horrors we face in day to day life — the news reports of bombings and terror attacks, the random shootings, the senseless murders….laughing about other things, sometimes just nonsense things, gives us a release that gives us the strength to go on.

    I don’t claim to understand their reasoning, but I know that when the Anabaptists were formed, there was a fear that modernization was drawing men and women away from serving God in favor of being individuals. Pride, and not the healthy kind, but arrogance, was becoming prevalent. Families were scattering. For these people, the binding together of their community by common dress, language, and a set of rules gave them a much-needed continuity. It was a way to identify other people who shared their beliefs. It was also a way to shed the need to keep up with current developments and to live a pious life, one they saw as making them closer to God.

    They set their communities up by words in the Old and New Testaments including Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 3:3, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Timothy 3:1-6, and several others. These scriptures admonish believers to live a life separate from others, to live quietly and modestly, to be above reproach, to be sober and self-controlled, and to be dignified. It is their interpretation of these scriptures that are the backbone of their guidelines or rules. They see them as helping them keep apart from the bad influences of the world, of living according to God’s commandments.

    Not everyone believes the same way, but I for one admire their ability to stay strong in the face of the comments and misunderstandings they receive. I don’t agree with how some of them treat animals, and I certainly don’t agree with abuse of family members, and I feel they need to be held accountable for the laws they break. However, when it comes to how they live within the confines of the law, I feel we should leave them alone. It’s as much a part of the freedom of religion as the choice not to practice a belief system at all. We have to give them the right to believe and live the way they see fit as long as it doesn’t cause harm. When it does, we need to intervene so that nobody is in danger.


  22. Beth LeBlanc says

    How can one offer support for the kids wanting to leave being Amish? Offering a ‘new family’ that will take them in and help guide them along the way and education?
    I’ve looked and looked and can’t find where to even start!


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