Do the Amish Party?
by Dan O'Brian
Rumspringa (pronounced Room-shpring-a) Definition: Running around.
The Amish are a group of people who want to be different from the world. They want to let their light shine through the life they live. They don’t actively convert others to their religion. To them, a simple life that forsakes all vanity speaks for itself. Cable TV, Xbox 360’s and other gaming systems, alcohol, smoking, and even electricity are considered to be distractions that will take value away from their lives. Amish folks do not question the traditions of the church. They are content to be satisfied with the way things have always been. “Idol hands are the Devil’s workshop” is a concept they use to keep themselves busy so as not to think of or do vain things.
Generally, when you see an Amish person they are driving a horse and buggy. The faster pace of the world with their fast cars and places they have to be as quick as possible is quite foreign. The slower pace of life allows them time to meditate on God and evaluate their ways in order to be what God wants them to be.
You have to commend them for being consistent. Generally, a religious person follows church culture on Sundays and lives in the world culture on the following Monday. At the very least, the Amish way is a consistent way to live your life. The Amish key verse is I John 2:15: 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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Amish children are dealt with in an interesting way. Until 8th grade, most Amish children are in a one-room schoolhouse. They drop out after 8th grade and get jobs. Up until the age of 16, they have no contact with the outside world. During this time, the parents bring up the children the way they think they should live their lives, and try to instill in them the values of the Amish.
You may wonder how they have managed to stay the same throughout the years. Virtually no one questions the church or tries to change the way they do things. This is accomplished in part by a period in the Amish life called “rumspringa”. After Amish children reach the age of 16, they go out into the “English” world to experience what it is like. It’s during this time that they either choose to join the Amish church or leave it forever. This period could last anywhere from a few months to a few years. The decision is very hard for many. To leave the Amish church is to forget everything you have ever done: forget your family, church, work, friends, and your community.
This “dabbling” in the outside world is like playing with fire. The boys dress English and drive cars. The girls typically do not. If there isn’t a party around, then they make one. Within minutes, word spreads that a party is on and Amish adolescents from miles around, and even from other states, jump in their newly acquired cars to attend a party that could number in a few hundred to a thousand. These parties include alcohol, smoking, sex, rock music, gaming, and sometimes drugs like methamphetamines. Sometimes the parties are held in a parent’s backyard. The parent has knowledge of what goes on and does nothing to stop it, for the Amish adolescents must be free to make their own choices. However, if an Amish person were to die during the time of rumspringa, hell is their destination. An Amish preacher commented on this belief and quoted “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.”
And for all that they do, the Amish children know that the church will take them back unconditionally. And the Amish church reports that currently 90% of all rumspringa adolescents come back to the church, which is the highest percentage reported thus far. When they come back they are baptized into the church and make a promise to God to follow the rules of the church for life. The ones that leave the church, choose material things and the “English” way of life over their own families.
But is this a good practice for the Amish people? On the positive side, at least their young people are given a choice. You can’t say they are forced into their religion. However, age 16 is a time of great inner pubescent turmoil.
It does raise the question of how to keep your children in the same faith that you have as they get older.
Erik Erikson had no formal training in psychology, but was trained to be a psychoanalyst by Sigmund Freud. He stated that people pass though eight psychosocial stages in their lifetime. At each stage, there is a crisis to be resolved. The stage I am concerned with is Stage 5, which ranges from age 12 to 18. Erikson says that the question “Who am I” becomes important during this time. To answer it, adolescents increasingly turn away from parents and toward peer groups. Erikson believed that during adolescence the individual’s rapidly changing physiology, coupled with the pressures to make decisions about future education and career, creates the need to question and redefine the psychosocial identity established during the earlier stages. Teenagers experiment with various sexual, occupational, and educational roles as they try to find out who they are and who they can be. This new sense of self is a reassembly or an alignment due to the resolutions of the previous crisis and the new opportunities that are now afforded them. This will contribute to the final stage of development where the individual will look back over his or her life and accept the accomplishments, failures, and limitations that have occurred. Of course, some will be filled with regret at the way they have lived their lives.
So, how do we deal with our young ones if we want them to grow up right? In my experience as a Christian, almost everyone has fallen away from the faith at some point in time. But this “Crisis of Faith” is not limited to the young ages. I have a friend who recently went through a crisis of faith and she is around 29 years old. She began to question what truth is and did not accept the Bible answer. The problem is that by that time she was already settled in life, had a husband, and a job, and now all that is in jeopardy. There is too much collateral damage for a crisis of faith later on in life.
Why don’t people develop their faith personally at a young age? Well, many reasons pervade in the current day, but I believe there is a main reason: Erikson states that parents who are overly restrictive and harsh give their children a sense of powerlessness and incompetence, which can lead to shame and doubt in one’s abilities. If you aren’t given the chance to make a decision, chances are the decision is made for you. You roll through life following the beliefs that aren’t really your beliefs but you haven’t realized it yet. If you did, it would be the beginning of your crisis of faith.
Knowing that the crisis of faith is advantageous at a young age, how then as parents do we proceed? Usually, between the ages of 18 months to 3 years old is when a child starts to develop his own system of doing things. A child at this stage has the dual desire to hold on and to let go. Parents who allow their children to roam freely while at the same time provide an ever present guiding hand help the child to develop a sense of autonomy (self-governing). Now really, are they self governing at that point? No. But you can allow them chances to make their own decisions in certain situations. After all, we as parents know what our children can and cannot do. (At least, if we are looking for that kind of thing.) As the child grows older and reaches the teenage years, allow them to gradually increase in responsibility and freedom. As a parent, know that someday they will probably have a crisis of faith. And the Christianity that you want them so badly to hold on to… foster their minds to question it and be ready to answer those questions. Better it be you than someone else. Show them your faith is true, and teach them to recognize a lie. At least they will have the tools to deal with their crisis of faith properly.