According to an article in the Washington Times, the Amish are on the rise. The article says the main reasons are two-fold: the traditionally high Amish birth rates coupled with an unusual absence of defection among Amish youths. You see, when Amish youths reach a certain age, they enter into a period of Rumspringa (lit., running around) in which they can experience the outside world. If at the end of this running around, they decide to stay in the Amish community, they are baptized and usually marry soon after. If the temptations of the world are too strong for them to resist, they leave the Amish community.
What recent studies are indicating is that very few Amish children are choosing to leave their communities. Apparently iPads/Pods/Phones, cheap sex, loose living… even electricity just aren’t enough to draw Amish kids away. But this trend is fairly recent. I don’t think it can be explained by a change in the Amish way of life… that’s been pretty static for some time. And it can’t really be explained by material differences between the Amish communities and the outside world. If anything, the outside world has become even more enticing with its material charms. But the outside world has apparently lost something in recent years that Amish communities still have.
What is it? I think it is community. More and more in recent years, American society has become more virtual, even more individualistic… less real. In contrast, Amish communities are just that… they are still communities. And they are real. A child who grows up knowing his neighbors, working with his hands, being self-dependent (but not independent)… what can modern America really offer him to replace that? Facebook? I recently received some “poke” suggestions on Facebook. As if it weren’t already impersonal enough.
I’m not saying we should all go back to Amish style living because I don’t think it is the lack of technology that makes the difference. What really matters here is real community. In light of my last article and the obvious decline of morality among our youths, perhaps you can do some good by just getting to know your neighbors, organizing a community garden, spending some time teaching your kids a useful skill, etc. If your kids grow accustomed to real things, they will be a whole lot less likely to get drawn in by virtual relationships and fake promises. (Hint: I might be referring to political promises here…)