Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Community and Formerly-Amish Professionals: An Introductory Survey and Reflective Study

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Community and Formerly-Amish Professionals: An Introductory Survey and Reflective Study

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study of persons who grew up in the Old Order Amish or Beachy Amish church grows out of the author's personal experience within the Beachy Amish church. All of the persons included in this study grew up in one of these Amish churches, earned at least a bachelor's degree, entered a profession and at some point left the church of their origins. Eighty-one questionnaires were sent out with 61 returns being eligible for inclusion. The study includes summary data, but it also draws extensively, though anonymously, from the words of the respondents. The study clearly supports the idea that values from the Amish past are deeply embedded--and often embraced--by those who left the Amish.

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Many people in the United States regard higher education as a highly desirable goal. Whether as preparation for a profession or as cultivation of the life of the mind or--most likely--as some combination of those goals, our culture views higher education as an essential component in the growth and maturation of young adults.

But in some small Christian communities there is considerable reservation--and sometimes outright suspicion and rejection--of higher education. The Family Life magazine, a journal for Old Order Amish and Mennonite families, printed a short reflection on the attractiveness--and dangers--of higher education:

"Mr. Troyer," said a public schoolteacher a few years ago to an Amish father, "do you realize that your son, Bennie, has an exceptional mind? He always gets straight A's without even working. You should certainly see that he goes to high school and college. It would be a shame, a terrible waste, if he didn't."

The Amish father shook his head. The schoolteacher shook his, too, though for a different reason. He went home muttering to himself, "A terrible waste. All that talent, and all he'll ever amount to is an old-fashioned farmer, sweating in the field, tilling the soil with his hands like a common peasant, when he might be a doctor or a dentist. Who knows, maybe even an artist or a poet." A waste? Yes, Bennie might get on in the world. He might well reach fame, wealth, and pleasure. But what if he lost his soul? Would that not be the greatest waste of all? (1)

"But what if he lost his soul?" This question is, of course, the ultimate issue in the resistance to higher education among the Amish and other so-called "plain people." But inherent in the question are key related issues: Who has final moral authority, the group or the individual? What are the central purposes and goals of education? Joseph Stoll, an Amish writer, puts the matter succinctly: "For the world, education is training the mind for success in this life. For the Christian, education is training the child to live for others, to use his talents in the service to God and man, to live an upright obedient life, and to prepare for the life to come." (2)

Skeptics of higher education often cite certain key scriptures to highlight the dangers of "worldly" wisdom and to resist conformity to the appeal of the culture. The Apostle Paul, for example, writes in his letter to Corinth, "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (I Cor. 1: 19-20). Or again in the same epistle, "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (I Cor. 3:19). Perhaps the key verse, though, is the Apostle Paul's word to the Romans, "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Rom. 12:2).

Other-worldly wisdom, separation, distinctiveness, tradition, continuity, the community, the good of the whole: these values are placed above individual achievement and self-aggrandizement. Such self-imposed limitations obviously affect the types of vocations that are open to the Amish. …

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