Thursday, March 15, 2007

Amish You, Baby, Come Back!

The Amish are descendants of Swiss Anabaptist groups formed in the early 16th century during the radical reformation. Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut or "humility" and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity) — often translated as "submission" or "letting-be," but perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way. The willingness to submit to the Will of God, as expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism so central to the wider American culture. The Amish anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on community; or which, like electricity, might start a competition for status-goods; or which, like photographs, might cultivate individual or family vanity. It is also the proximate cause for rejecting education beyond the eighth grade, especially speculative study that has little practical use for farm life but may awaken personal and materialistic ambitions. The emphasis on competition and the uncritical assumption that self-reliance is a good thing — both cultivated in American high schools and exalted as an American ideal — are in direct opposition to core Amish values.

The Puritans sought "purity" of worship and doctrine, especially the parties that rejected the Laudian reform of the Church of England. Those who sought further reform of liturgy and theology away from that of the Roman Catholic Church and those who justified separation from the Church of England following the Elizabethan Religious Settlement are commonly called "Puritans" by historians and critics. Puritan oppression, including torture and imprisonment of many leaders of non-Puritan Christian sects, led to the (voluntary or involuntary) "banishment" of many Christian leaders and their followers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This negative impact of Puritanism on many new colonists had a positive result on American history in that it led to the founding of many new colonies - including: Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, and others - as religious havens that were created for devout Christians who wanted to live outside the oppressive reach of Puritan theocracy.

The power and influence of Puritan leaders in New England declined further after the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s. Although they began as a trial of one or several self-avowed witches who admitted to practicing voodoo-type rituals with malicious intent, the trials got out of hand and ended with a number of innocent people being falsely accused, found guilty, and executed by Puritan leaders.

The Quakers began in England in the early 1650s by George Fox as a Nonconformist movement from Anglicanism and from Roman Catholicism. Quakers were significant in abolishing slavery, acknowledging the equal rights of women, and ending warfare. They have also promoted education and the humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill, through the founding or reforming of various institutions. Friends faced persecution again as they migrated to America. The first Friends in the New World came in order to spread their beliefs. In 1656 Mary Fisher and Ann Austin did so, and were imprisoned and banished by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their books were burned, and most of their property was confiscated. They were imprisoned in terrible conditions, deprived of food and even light. Were it not for somebody smuggling food to them, they might have starved in their cell. They were eventually deported. During the 19th Century, Friends continued to have an impact on the world around them. Many of the industrial concerns started by Friends in the previous century continued. New ones began. Friends also continued and increased their work in the areas of social justice and equality. They made other contributions as well in the fields of science, literature, art, law and politics.

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