Sunday, July 20, 2008

Escaping the Amish by Torah Bontrager

(I don't usually post news stories like this, and it's only barely tangentially related to the internets and freedom of information... but it is the most interesting thing I found on the Interwebs today.  See, if Torah only had the Internets, she probably would have been out of there much quicker.  Plus, this story was posted on a skeezy guy's site who is making all his money on the 'nets.)

  Torah Bontrager is a twenty-seven year old Columbia University alumn ('07), who escaped the Old Order Amish community and is writing a book about it. Or so she claims. I have no idea. Her story was posted on Tim Feriss's site, who himself smacks of James Frey.  (Tim Feriss wrote a book about how to make money by pushing all your work onto online secretaries called virtual assistants, usually in India, and taking credit for their work.)   If what Torah says is true, that's some pretty strong stuff. 
Part 1: Torah becomes suicidal, then decides she wants to live.
Part 2: Torah escapes in the night, moves to Montana, and spreads awareness. 

Interview exerpt:
"What are the most common misconceptions or myths about the Amish?

The Amish speak English (Fact: They speak Amish, which some people claim is its own language, while others say it is a dialect of German. Most people don’t know that Amish was only a spoken language until the Bible got translated and printed into the vernacular about 12 years ago.)
  • Amish teens have a choice whether they want to remain practicing the religion. (False)
  • Amish is only a religion (Fact: It’s a religion, culture, and language, etc.)
  • Amish kids go to public school, or are taught similar courses (e.g., science) as public school kids
  • The Amish are Mormons (False)
  • The Amish have arranged marriages (False)
  • Amish men have more than one wife (False)
  • The Amish put all their income in the same pot, like a communist or socialist banking system (False)
  • Cameras and music/musical instruments are allowed (False)
  • The Amish are “peaceful gentle folk” (False)
What were the positives of growing up Amish?
  • Growing up bilingual (Though I didn’t become fluent in English until after I escaped and I was always very self-conscious about my command of the English language)
  • The emphasis on the solidarity of the extended family unit
  • The emphasis on being hospitable to strangers, helping those in need, whether Amish or “English” (anyone who’s not Amish is “English,” no matter what language or culture he/she represents)
  • Building your own houses, growing your own food, sewing your own clothes
These experiences taught me self-reliance, self-preservation, and gave me the ability to relate to non-American familial cultures much better than I might otherwise.

The biggest negatives?
  • The rape, incest and other sexual abuse that run rampant in the community
  • Rudimentary education
  • Physical and verbal abuse in the name of discipline
  • Women (and children) have no rights
  • Religion–and all its associated fear and brainwashing–as a means of control (and an extremely effective means at that)
  • Animal abuse
I consider these negatives as personal positives in a somewhat perverted or distorted way. Without having experienced what I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, shaped by the experiences I’ve had since. I always tell people that I’m thankful for having grown up Amish but that I’d never wish it upon anyone else."
Bonus: Torah preempts your misgivings about her statements, including discussions about language vs. dialect and rumspringa.

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