Strange To Each Other
The Amish community is a mysterious world within modern America, a place frozen in another time. The Amish live without automobiles or electricity. Education ends at the eighth grade and life largely centers on farming, family and faith.
They have simply chosen to maintain their traditional beliefs and customs, continuing a lifestyle uncomplicated by the ways of the modern-day world. The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted. Most Amish cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery, live in houses without electricity, and get around in horse-drawn buggies.
You may associate the Amish with their clothing style. It comes off to many as a sure way to distinguish them from the rest of the world. The males will typically wear self-made attire which includes black hats, dark suits, straight cut coats without lapels, plain pants with suspenders, solid colored shirts, and black shoes with socks. The women will traditionally wear bonnets, long dresses with shawls over their shoulders and black shoes with stockings. Amish women are forbidden to wear any type of jewelry and are encouraged to keep a clean and plain look. It is frowned upon for any woman in the community to cut or trim her hair.
The family is the most important social unit in the Amish culture. Large families with seven to ten children are common. Typically the father is considered the head of the Amish household. Schooling concentrates on the basic reading, writing, along with vocational training, with farming and homemaking skills considered an important part of an Amish child's upbringing. German is spoken in the home, though English is also taught in school. Amish marry Amish - no intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare. The most forgiving people on the planet, their forgiveness is all about giving up: giving up the right to revenge and giving up feelings of resentment, bitterness and hatred … and treating the offender as a fellow human being. The essence of Amish daily life is ‘giving up’: giving up self to the group and to God. And, forgiveness is not an individual matter, but rather a collective act done by the community. It’s not uncommon for the Amish to pray the Lord's Prayer eight times a day and 10 times on Sundays. They pay particular attention to the key line: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
Imagine a secret, religious compound-- a place where men have multiple wives. The narrow dirt road cuts away from a padlocked metal gate with a "No Trespassing" sign and an infrared security camera. Hidden from the prying eyes of a judgmental world, immense log cabins and meeting halls rise above the West Texas brush. In their shadows, women in floor-length dresses till soil in a garden the size of a football field as their husbands build a retreat for church members who believe "plural marriage" is the only way to eternal salvation. Take an in-depth look into the largest polygamist community in West Texas. It’s a mystery jutting into the desert landscape building by building. The only sneak peak is from above. There is a 62,000 square foot temple, a football field sized garden, a peach orchard, a cement factory and several houses up to 22,000 square feet.
The mysterious "polys" – as the locals like to call their new polygamist neighbors – are the women in floor-length gingham dresses and braided hair occasionally driving pickups down Main Street. The group has worked on its private community with an efficiency that has earned the grudging admiration of even the most skeptical of the townspeople. For now, local authorities are defending the group's right to live the religion, and Texas doesn't outlaw the "spiritual" marriages practiced by men with several wives – unions in the eyes of their church but not the law.
Today, "fundamentalist Mormons" in Utah and nearby states practice polygamy. Manti is deep in polygamy country. A survey showed that 60,000 American families live under polygamy with one father and more than one wife. For most people, the word polygamy conjures up images of child brides dressed straight out of the 1800s. Yet the isolated, cult-like communities only tell half the story. The other side shows extravagant homes in typical suburban neighborhoods filled with willing wives and dozens of children. Manti’s Quorum of Twelve, as it is called, is part of the excommunicated members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The dozen men have more than forty wives among them. These ladies are not plain-looking religious fanatics dressed in plain old time dresses, but beautiful women, many with college degrees, who don’t mind sharing their husbands. Excommunicated by the Mormon Church, they see themselves as loyal followers of Warren Smith, who in 1843 announced a revelation from God saying polygamy was a crucial key to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. "We are proud of our Mormon heritage. Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion," said the statement from the group. Church members believe that men must have at least three wives to get to heaven's highest plane.
Americans in general want to live and let live and believe everyone is different. And as Americans, they often seem strange to each other.