Culture > Television

Amish in the City

Television | Amish in the City exploits a loophole in Amish theology

Issue: "2004 Olympics Preview," Aug. 14, 2004

Reality shows have gone beyond mere game-show survival to traffic in the more important issues of life: marriage, careers, surgery. Now a reality show is taking up an even more ultimate issue: religion. The hook is whether the show can tempt young people to give up their faith.

Amish in the City (UPN) takes three young men and two young women from the Amish community-which isolates itself from society and forbids modern technology-and puts them in a cool house in Los Angeles that they share with a "party girl," a gay guy, a teenager from the ghetto, a recent college graduate from Las Vegas, a party animal from Boston, and a vegan who thinks cows come from outer space. At the end of the show, the Amish young people will choose whether to go back to their old Amish ways or to stay in modern-day Babylon.

The show exploits a loophole in Amish theology. At age 16 or 17, Amish youth enter Rumspringa, or "running around," the time in which the young person decides whether to enter the rigors of church membership. During this time, they are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want in sampling the world's ways. At some point, they may decide to get baptized and become full-fledged Amish. If they choose otherwise, they face being shunned by their families and, the Amish believe, eternal damnation.

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Hollywood thinks religion is a matter of "culture," not beliefs, and the conflicts are played as cultural clashes, not moral and spiritual temptations. The producers set up situations calculated to elicit reactions, including "romance." Religion does break out sometimes, though. The Amish say grace before their exposure to sushi. Ruth becomes excited at the thought of seeing the ocean because she thinks it will bring her closer to God.

Here, the scholarly Mose, not knowing how to swim, almost drowns. After his brush with death, he can't sleep, having nightmares of the undertow. He realizes that if he dies outside of the faith, he could go to hell, and begins earnestly reading his Bible.

The city kids make fun of him, as they do the other Amish unless they adopt the city kids' ways. Contrary to the stereotypes, the religious folk do not try to "impose their values" on the secularists. As mainstream Christian kids know, it is the secularists who try to impose their values on them.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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