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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Are the Amish a Cult?

Way back in July 2007, I wrote the following:
Some articles I'm tossing around in my head right now include:
Are the Amish a Cult?
What is a Mixed Language?
Is Linguistic Taxonomy Eurocentric?

I've been asked to publish the first, so here goes.

First of all, let's define our terms:

1) Amish - any one of a number of Christian denominations with the following characteristics:
a) Rooted in the Anabaptist movement and specifically that led by Jacob Amman.
b) Clergy are appointed from among the married men of each congregation, without any prerequisites of vocational training or calling, for the duration of good behavior.
c) Church membership is entered by effusion by the bishop upon agreement with and submission to the denomination's beliefs and standards, after attaining the age of accountability (usually 16 years old).
d) Denominational rules not only set lines of fellowship between congregations, but serve to unify the various members with similar lifestyles, uniforms, and possessions.
e) Church discipline consists of shunning and excommunication, imposed by the bishop.
f) Continued membership is dependent on following the rules of the denomination, which are agreed upon among the bishops and imposed on the various congregations.
g) Even where it is otherwise legal, marriage to a first cousin--or a non-member--is prohibited.

Now, when people say "Amish," they almost always mean "Old-Order Amish." So lets define our terms a bit more narrowly:

2) Old-Order Amish denominations are those that limit the use by their members of modern technology, usually by prohibiting them from having a public utility connected to their residence, and by limiting the kinds of technology they are allowed to own, requiring a certain uniformity in those modern inventions that are permitted. Furthermore, due to the restrictions on Sunday travel, congregations are delineated geographically, with a married male bishop serving each district.

3) Usually when people say "Amish," they further mean what are also referred to as "Fancy Amish" (by outsiders) or "High-Living Amish" (by the Amish themselves). These are Amish congregations that allow their members to mix freely with outsiders for work, school, and shopping purposes. They allow their members to pay Social Security taxes, ride in cars, watch movies, submit insurance claims, have telephone numbers, and advertise their businesses in secular publications. They observe Daylight Savings Time, subscribe to the newspaper, and often hire outsiders to teach their children--even sending them off on the bus to public school every morning. They can own tractors, as long as they are not used to pull farm equipment or passenger vehicles. They can have electricity, as long as it's not hooked up to the grid or their residences. They can have indoor plumbing, as long as it's not hooked up to a municipal sewage system. They can use pneumatic tires and bucket seats on a vehicle, as long as it's neither self-propelled nor enclosed. They can even own computers and manage websites, but only for strictly commercial purposes.

Okay, now that we've defined whom we're talking about, we can briefly list some Amish groups that are now excluded from this discussion.

-Beachy Amish
-New-Order Amish
-Reformed Amish

So, on to our question: Are the Amish a Cult?

Well, clearly the Amish do share certain cultish characteristics. For example, they believe that they are The Only True Church, and that to leave the church is to forfeit salvation. This is clearly a mark of a cult. Also, they shun anyone who leaves the Church--another typical characteristic of a cult. But these alone are not in and of themselves proof that the Amish are a cult.

Let's look at Biblical Discernment Ministries' Marks of a cult and see how the Amish measure up:

1. Extrabiblical Authority: Not officially. Many Amish use extracononical books, like the 6th and 7th Books of Moses, but these are part of their folk religion, not part of their Christianity.

2. Works Salvation/Legalism: Apparently. Amish believe that there is no salvation outside the Church. This boils down to claiming that if you don't follow their rules, you can't be saved.

3. No Assurance of Salvation: Absolutely. This is an oft-stated Amish doctrine.

4. Guru-Type Leader/Modern Prophet: Not usually, but some have arisen from time to time. And Amish seem as susceptible as anyone to following them; more so if they appear from within the Amish (Acts 20:29).

5. Vacillating, Ambiguous Doctrines/Spiritual Deception: Absolutely not. Seekers know pretty much exactly what they are getting into.

6. Exclusivity from/Denunciation of Other Groups (leaving the group is, in the minds of the cult member, tantamount to leaving God): Yes; see above.

7. Claims of Special Discoveries/Additional Revelation: This is essentially the same as #1, but we should note here that unlike Protestants, the Amish use the Apocrypha as Scripture. The Book of Tobit is part of their marriage liturgy.

8. Defective Christology: No.

9. Defective "Nature of Man": No.

10. Out-Of-Context Scripture Use as Proof-Texts/Segmented Biblical Attention: Not so much.

11. Erroneous Doctrines Concerning Life After Death and Retribution: No.

12. Entangling Organization Structure: Absolutely not. The various denominations are completely separate.

13. Financial Exploitation: Absolutely not. There's no central fund.

14. Pseudomystical/Spiritistic/Occultic Influence: Yes. Occultism is not a part of official Amish doctrine, but pow-wowing is an intrinsic part of their culture that is never preached against and often excused.

So, how do they rate on a scale of 1 to 13? Four. I would have to say that the Amish are not a cult, but do share a few characteristics with classic cults. The strongest correlation is in the great difficulty that it is for Amish to become converted and start following the Bible. They will, in most congregations, be shunned for it and cut off from their own family members--even their spouses and children. In that sense only, Amish are extremely similar to a classic cult.

April 7, 2014
Well, blogspot doesn't appear to be letting me post comments, which makes it hard to  join the conversation below. But I will address the anonymous comments of 7/30/2012 and 4/05/2014.
Here goes:
Q: "Where did you get your information from?"
 A: A combination of the MennoHof museum, newspaper reports, emails from Anabaptist organization, and personal knowledge of Amish and ex-Amish people. I'm very familiar with the Beachy Amish and realize that they are very different from Old Order Amish Mennonites.
Q: "NO Amish would ever allow a member to watch movies."
 A: Sorry, I have it on the word of Howard Schmucker, who told me as he was watching an R-rated movie about Amish that his OOAM church was okay with it. And of course the wild Amish youth watch worse stuff than that.
Q: "The Amish are nothing more than a church of Lutheranism mixed with fashion."
 A: This is a genetic fallacy. The Amish have nothing in common with Lutheranism, other than both being a splitoff from the German Catholic Church of the 16th century. The Amish do retain some of their Catholic heritage, such as following the Julian calendar for Christmas, Easter, and Ascension Day. But they don't share any Lutheran distinctives. Luther was a bitter enemy of the early Anabaptists.
Q: "Only Christ can save. No Amish principle or way of living can. And because they still wrap themselves in laws, they are not saved. It is that simple."
 A: No, not quite that simple. Some Amish are saved through Christ, but keep the law out of respect for their countrymen--just as the Apostle Paul did.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

M, F, or O?

I just noticed it today, but for some weeks now the local law enforcement website has stopped categorizing arrestees by "Race." This, along with a removal of the "Age" field. The purge hasn't reached the statewide database yet. Question: does the Emergency Response Service still ask if suspicious persons are "Black, White, or Hispanic?" And is this a nationwide movement?

What's next--the elimination (or expansion) of the "Sex" category?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Don't blame Huck!

Four police officers and a real estate mini-magnate are dead in Seattle, Washington, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is being blamed for it.

Or perhaps I should say that an alleged felon who allegedly used to be an inmate in an alleged prison in the alleged state of Arkansas while Mike Huckabee was allegedly the governor has allegedly shot some alleged police officers. Now, have we gotten enough allegations out of the way so that we can speak plainly from here on out? No, I guess I need to say that another alleged police officer went on to allegedly murder the alleged murderer, so that case is now closed. Except that no one is alleging that murder was involved this time, as the suspect allegedly didn't freeze when the alleged officer allegedly told him not to move, which invokes the self defense clause (why is it that police officers, the only people allowed to carry loaded guns inside city limits, are such poor shots that they're allowed to shoot first and then check to see if the corpse was even armed? If I ever turn out to be a firearm fatality, it will probably be because I was reaching for my driver's license and the arresting officer had such a low confidence in his ability to defend himself that he shot me full in the chest, just in case I had a firearm tucked inside my billfold). There, that should take care of all the allegations, and then some.

The point is that Marice Clemmons would not have been able to kill anyone were he still in an Arkansas prison. And that is where he should be today, because Governor Huckabee only brought forward his release date from 2098 to 2047. That's right, if prison sentences mean anything, Maurice Clemmons should have been kept locked up for crimes committed as a teenager until he was 75 years old.

But that's not how it happened. Reducing his 'prison term' from 108 years to 47 meant that Clemmons walked free, on parole. Let's see how well he's stayed out of trouble so far in the first 9 years of his parole:
-He committed robbery and theft in 2001, for which he was given another 10 years of warp time, but his attorney was able to convince the judge that it somehow didn't qualify as breaking parole. By the time the dust had settled he was back on parole, two paroles this time being served concurrently. This is kind of like having to write "I will not throw spitwads in class" 1000 times on the blackboard, all concurrently.
-He committed sexual assault in Washington State, at which time he was recommended to be returned to serve out a few more days of his original Arkansas sentence. The official in Arkansas, no longer involved in a Huckabee administration, said that Arkansas didn't want him back. Washington already had plenty of evidence to lock him up for a long time.
-He was subjected to a psychological exam at Western State Hospital, which concluded that he was a grave danger to society. But they sent him back home to prepare for his trial, once he was able to raise the paltry $15,000 it took to bail him out (despite his long record of failing to appear in court).

If Mike Huckabee bears any blame for Maurice Clemmons' actions on November 29, 2009, he has a lot of people to share it with--foremost of all, those who cooked the books on prison sentences to render them essentially meaningless. Ironically, even had Mr. Clemmons lived to stand trial for the four police murders, and probably even if he was convicted, he would still be eligible for parole before 2047, the date Governor Huckabee (and I'm going to mean it this time when I say this) allegedly set for him to be released from prison for burglary and other acts of teenage hoodlumry.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Thou hast appealed to Caesar--but unto Caesar shalt thou go?

Steven Dale Green has appealed his conviction for leading a gang of off-duty American soldiers in raping and murdering an Iraqi girl, base on the alleged unconstitutionality of a law which allowed him to be tried in Kentucky as a civilian for a crime he admits he committed in Iraq as a member of the occupying army.

I don't know about whether the federal law that allows discharged soldiers from being tried by American courts for crimes committed abroad is constitutional or not; that's the sort of thing that no one ever seems to know but five of the nine members of the Supreme Court. But I can definitely tell that it is un-American to allow a member of an occupying Army to be immune from prosecution in the country where he commits a crime. Just read the Declaration of Independence:

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has . . . . kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

One of the complaints that impelled the colonies to declare independence was that British soldiers could commit the very sort of crime that Private First Class Green did, without having to face a local judge and jury to answer for their crimes. Instead they were either given a military trial and sent back to duty after a slap on the wrist, or even--in the case of officers--returned for trial in England where there would be no witnesses against them.

It was kind of hard to get witnesses to the Mahmudiyah murders, since the perpetrators had killed them all. But it can be safely assumed that had the killers gone on trial in an Iraqi court, at least their leader, PFC Green, would have received the death penalty--something the Kentucky jurors who heard his case didn't quite think he deserved. Now, granted, Green isn't asking to be tried in an Iraqi tribunal, but an Army one--where he thinks he could get away with even less than the lifetime in prison that the federal court handed down.

You have appealed to Caesar, Mr. Green: watch out. If the judges have to go all the way back to the Constitution to nullify the law that convicted you, they might just keep on reading and decide that it's also wrong to allow you to escape prosecution in the jurisdiction under which you committed your crimes. If our founding fathers had any say in the matter, Mr. Green, you'd be on the next plane to Baghdad, in shackles.