My Amish Friend
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05-04-2012, 02:10 AM
My Amish Friend
I have a very good friend who's Amish. (a long story in itself) It's a very unusual relationship, especially when you consider that he is one of only about a dozen people in the world who know I'm a closeted atheist.

I had know him for a couple of years when I finally came out to him. He kept asking about my faith, and I kept changing the subject until one day I finally gave up and told him. I explained that I hadn't done so earlier because virtually every time I've ever outed myself to a friend before, the response had been one of two things, they either decided they weren't my friend any more and shunned me, or they tried to "Save" me, and BOTH were really annoying.

I appreciated the fact that if he really LIKED me, it was only natural that he'd feel compelled to try to save me from the eternity of torment he believed was coming, but trying to "Save" me was going to be like trying to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and annoys the pig.

Conversely, while I was happy to explain WHY I think the way I do,
I knew it would be almost impossible to do so without sounding like I was trying to convince him
to think that way as well. In truth, it's not a debate that I really
wanted to win. "You're not going to change my mind, and I don't want it to even APPEAR that I'm trying to change yours, so why don't we just not talk about it?"

Naturally that didn't work. He kinda chuckled and told me that he thought he was pretty secure in his faith, and told me that he'd been taught that he should, "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an
answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you..." (Have you ever noticed how much religious people like to quote scripture?) Oh, well. Anyway....

One of the most truly WISE people I've ever known once told me, "In any
conversation, there are two kinds of people...those who listen, and
those who wait to talk. Which one do you suppose actually learns anything? Which one are you, and which one do you WANT to be?"

My Amish friend actually LISTENS. Over the years we've had a lot of REALLY interesting discussions. He truly WANTS to understand my point of view and he's FULL of questions. He's thoughtful, intelligent and surprisingly willing to actually THINK about the answers I give to the questions he asks.

The problem is, as I warned him a long time ago, and have warned him many times since...once you start to sincerely question your own beliefs, even if it's for the purpose of explaining them to someone else...once you start trying to EXPLAIN RELIGION IN RATIONAL TERMS...well...that's a path that only has one destination, and once you set foot on it, you're in real danger of winding up an atheist yourself.

"It may take a long time, and there may be some twists and turns and dead ends along the way, but if you insist on remaining on the path of CRITICAL THINKING...you can't help but wind up in the only place that path leads! If you sincerely want to keep your faith, you really shouldn't think about it too much!"

Now, years later, I think he's actually starting to question his faith. He hasn't LOST it yet, by any stretch of the imagination, but he's started to seriously question what he's believed WITHOUT QUESTION for his entire life...and I'm not sure what to do about it.

I am an atheist. I truly believe that the world would be a FAR better place with no religion in it. But that's talking about groups...that's talking about the whole. In the case of this one individual, I'm not so sure.

I've always wanted to believe that the truth would set you free. For the most part, I still do. But, the freedom that truth brings sometimes comes at a terrible price, and this is one case where I have to wonder if that freedom is worth the price. (I know, that's just about as close as an atheist can get to blasphemy, but there it is.)

When I first met my friend, he was one of the happiest people I'd ever met. He was literally blissful in his ignorance of the world around him. His lack of knowledge about atheists, about other religions, about science, about even the history of his own bible, was staggering. But he was HAPPY! Now, he's miserable. He knows what he WANTS to believe, but he's finding it harder and harder all the time and it's tearing him up inside. He keeps coming to me for answers and I keep telling him that I'm the WRONG GUY to be talking too, if he really wants to keep his faith.

I suppose I could tell myself that deep down, if he REALLY wanted to keep his faith he WOULDN'T be coming to me for answers...but somehow that doesn't make me feel any better.
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05-04-2012, 03:25 AM
RE: My Amish Friend
I say yes happiness is important but you should not avoid talking with him about his faith. Be help and get help so he can be happy with faith or without. You don't have to avoid getting him closer to the truth you just have to be any other friend and help. Keep on talking about him about his faith and what and why he is tearing up inside and try to get help from others on at least the happiness side. Keeping him in the dark about faith for his feelings is horrible and vice versa so just keep on being a good friend.
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05-04-2012, 04:07 AM
RE: My Amish Friend
Sounds like he has an inquisitive and open mind.
You are only offering him an insight to your own view of the world, you are not trying to convince him that your view is the Truth.

As a good friend you ought to be able to talk open and honestly with each other. There is value in understanding a different viewpoint to your own.

I'd say life must be difficult for him, I assume he is sheltered from the internet, tv, radio and public libraries (not necessarily by his own choice).

As a friend it is not for you to decide his path, his own community is sheltering him, I assume he sees you as a person who can offer him perspective, if he comes to you with questions then he wants to know your perspective, he doesn't want you to keep him sheltered. That is his choice and you are respecting his choice.
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05-04-2012, 04:36 AM
RE: My Amish Friend
It might help to give him some positives. It sounds like his questioning of his faith is tearing him apart, it may be worth pointing out that there are millions of people who's lives have purpose and meaning and who are happy without faith. If he is now questioning his own beliefs maybe he needs to start figuring out some new positive answers that are more in line with his critical thinking and life.

"Belief means not wanting to know what is true"
Friedrich Nietzsche
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08-04-2012, 11:11 AM
RE: My Amish Friend
The biggest thing is that if you leave the Amish faith, you are "shunned", which means there is an official decision that no one in the church will have any dealings with you any more.

To leave the church would be to basically become homeless overnight. His wife and children would have no choice but to shun him as well, and he's in his mid-50’s with no modern skills.
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08-04-2012, 01:04 PM
RE: My Amish Friend
(08-04-2012 11:11 AM)imlemuel Wrote:  The biggest thing is that if you leave the Amish faith, you are "shunned", which means there is an official decision that no one in the church will have any dealings with you any more.

To leave the church would be to basically become homeless overnight. His wife and children would have no choice but to shun him as well, and he's in his mid-50’s with no modern skills.
The joys of cults.
Still, it is not your decision.
If you are purposefully giving him misinformation or avoiding giving him answers to questions he has asked you then you are disrespecting him, you are basically telling him that you know better than him what is best for him.

It is not your fault he is in the situation that he is in.
It is not your fault that his family might abandon him.

But certainly talk to him about your concerns.
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08-04-2012, 10:01 PM
RE: My Amish Friend
Get him drunk and laid and he'll be an atheist after that.
You're letting him stay a prisoner in his own mind.

The old gods are dead, let's invent some new ones before something really bad happens.
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22-04-2012, 12:08 PM
RE: My Amish Friend
I'm sorry I've taken so long to reply. I don't get to the forum as often as I'd like. Life tends to get in the way.

I appreciate the responses. I'm glad I finally have time to comment on them.

(05-04-2012 03:25 AM)MrMorality Wrote:  ...you should not avoid talking with him about his faith.

Oh, I haven't. In fact, his faith, and the issues he's having with his Church are the primary focus of MOST of our conversations now, since ironically this isn't an issue that he can talk to other members of his church, about!

(05-04-2012 04:07 AM)Stevil Wrote:  I'd say life must be difficult for him, I assume he is sheltered from the internet, tv, radio and public libraries (not necessarily by his own choice).
(08-04-2012 01:04 PM)Stevil Wrote:  The joys of cults.
Still, it is not your decision.
If you are purposefully giving him misinformation or avoiding giving him answers to questions he has asked you then you are disrespecting him, you are basically telling him that you know better than him what is best for him.

Actually, he's a lot less sheltered than you might think. Public libraries are actually Ok, and he now has access to a small Community College library. Using those resources, he can even access the internet. (Although, THAT is something he's NOT supposed to do, and he has to be sneaky about it!) He has an odd mixture of beliefs. He personally doesn't see any problem with Adults using the internet in a small way, to do business or communicate, or even to do research, but at the same time, he does believe that our culture is too obsessed with technology, and is perfectly happy to live on a farm with no electricity, and where "horsepower" literally means, "Horse Power"!

I certainly don't give him any misinformation or even avoid giving him answers. I have to admit, there is a certain part of me that takes a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that I'm helping someone peer out from under the blanket and actually SEE the world as it really is, for the first time. But at the same time, there's another part of me that's made very uncomfortable. As things stand, he has a pretty good life. Yes, he has no electricity, and the table-saw he uses to build his furniture is powered by a horse walking in a circle around a gearbox, but that's the way he WANT'S it. Even if he didn't believe in God, that's still the life he'd want to live. His whole family actually enjoys and derives a great deal of personal satisfaction from being able to sustain themselves using nothing but their own muscle-power and brains. Truth be told, as a group the Amish are some of the most truly HAPPY people I've ever met.

Sure, they're living in a delusion and the warm satisfaction they feel from KNOWING that God's looking after them isn't real. But, damn it, they're happy! I know that most people view the Amish as stoic and unsmiling, but having had the unique opportunity to meet and get to know his community and the people in it, I have to say that I've never met a group of people who seemed so genuinely contented and at peace. Yes, they're cold to outsiders, but they love their kids and are as quick to a belly-laugh as anyone in the "real" world. (maybe even more so)

The thing is...the community works together. The old cliche "Barn Raisings" are REAL. Every week, they tackle a "community project" and come together as a huge group, to build a barn or a house, or dig a pond using nothing but horses and their own sweat. Every member of the community has a small "store" in their home, where they specialize in bringing in and stocking something the community needs. This family might sell lantern parts and fuel, while that one might sell bridles and tack. They also come together to sell their wares and have a community store, where they sell their homemade goods to us "English". Be it furniture, or sorghum, or fruits and vegetables, breads and cheeses, or pies or whatever...the community store is where they bring in the money to keep the community alive.

To be "shunned" means that neither you, nor your family has access to any of that. A family that's been shunned, literally cannot survive. No one will do business with them. No one will sell to them or sell their wares for them. Without a link to the outside world, through the store, they can't sell their wares and ultimately will have no choice but to move away. Shunning is a BIG deal.

Stevil is absolutely right. It's a cult mentality, through and through. When an Amish church, "shuns" someone, they don't do it out of anger or hatred. They do it out of FEAR that they will be "contaminated", and they're idyllic world-view shattered. They see it as a loss, almost like a death when they "have" to shun someone. Naturally I see it as evil. But, as has been said many times, "Evil people will do evil things, and good people will do good things, but for good people to do evil things...that takes religion."

Dan Barker's, "Clergy Project" aims to help pastors who are trapped in a situation where they can't "come out" because they're financially tied to the church. This situation is analogous, but if anything even worse. Here is a man, late in his life, with a very large family to support, and no way to make a living outside his community. He's utterly trapped and only just now beginning to realize that it IS a trap. And I'm in the position of "helping" him realize that he's living a lie.

...and I don't think getting him, "drunk and laid" is gonna help.
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22-04-2012, 12:20 PM
RE: My Amish Friend
Is there any necessity for his family to know that he's an atheist (or at least thinking unorthodox thoughts) ? He could live happily closeted? I mean, he's got this lifestyle which he enjoys - sure it might be hard to swallow a bit of kowtowing to the great God Jehovah but maybe that's a price he's gonna have to pay? *Unless* somehow he can convince the community *not to* shun him after coming out? If they welcome questioning of their faith ostensibly, then to shun someone out of fear after they deconvert shows that they don't really have confidence in their belief themselves.

It's just an all round shitty situation.
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22-04-2012, 01:13 PM
RE: My Amish Friend
Morondog,

In the end, I think that's what's going to have to happen. I don't see any other solution for him.

Then again...maybe I'm making assumptions that I shouldn't. Maybe he will "Keep" his faith. Maybe somebody, somewhere will be able to answer the doubts he's having in a way that will convince him...but I don't see it happening. Right now, he's still a "believer", but I've seen people on the road to de-conversion before, and I'm pretty confident that's where he's headed.

He'll confess a, "crisis of faith" to me one day, then the next time I talk to him he'll tell me about some apologists book he's just read that's put him back on the, "right track" and ask my opinion...and I'll have to tell him that, "Oh yeah, THAT guy! He's in prison for fraud."
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