Life with and without the Amish

Ezekiel, who grew up in an Amish household, describes his journey from the Amish to where he is toda

I am 33 years old. 33 was a big number to reach. Bigger than 21, or 30, because 33 is the year I have officially been living out in the World longer than I lived amongst the Amish.

I saw many of the people I grew up with, went to school with, and worshipped with do a lot of wild things on Rumspringa – the time when Amish teens get to live outside traditional Amish society without strict rules. I wasn’t nearly as adventurous as many of my friends, but ironically now live a life as a musician that perhaps many English (non-Amish) would consider wild even by their standards. Though, from what I have seen on television, still relatively tame compared to most musicians.

I loved a lot about the Amish lifestyle. I still do. The focus on family is something I will never lose. Rejecting Hochmut (arrogance) and embracing Demut (humility) are two things I learned being Amish that I will always practice and believe. Gelassenheit is something I try to hold on to in every day life. Calmness. Patience. Especially considering the boisterous nature of my profession, I need that quiet time. While the Amish take it to be submitting to the will of God or assertive, in my life here in the World (apart from the Amish)it has taken on a deeply personal meaning for me just as many of the beliefs I was raised with have.

While I loved the Amish life, I chose to leave it for reasons that became as strong to me as the love of what I left behind. Foremost among then was my wavering belief in God and the spiritual aspects of the life. I don’t know when this doubt first lit inside me. I was devoutly spiritual as a child, up until my teens. When I left on Rumspringa I came to a great appreciation of music, learning, and reading. I moved to New York when I was 18 and acquired my Certificate of General Educational Development, which allowed me to get a diploma from high school because Amish education stops at the 8th grade. I went on to four years of college, studying literature. The more I learned, the more I read, the more I questioned. That is not to say that people who still embrace God and religion, of any faith, are wrong in their faith. But the questions that came up for me were deep cracks in the foundation of my own. I came to believe that there is no right or wrong in religion. An individual’s faith is what is right for him or her, and no one else has the right to dispute that. If there is a God, I believe there is one God, but he or she is the God that each person chooses to believe in.

Then, as I have heard so many stories go in books and movies out here in the World, there’s always a woman. That was the case with me as well. I met my now-wife when I was 20 years old and working as a waiter. I had been through roughly two years of college and was still a bit “on the fence” as to what I was going to do with my life, but meeting her was, ultimately, the deciding factor. As it’s forbidden to marry a non-Amish woman, unless she joined the faith, I knew then and there that I was not going back. I had found my calling, and was lucky enough that she found love with me as well. Most Amish come back from Rumspringa to find a spouse and join Church. Rumspringa ended for me when I found a spouse and decided not to join Church.

A question I am often asked is if I am still Amish, and I am. It is part of who I am, and always will be. I still visit my family. I still embrace much of my Amish upbringing. I still value most of what being raised Amish has taught me. I will never lose sight of that, as surely as those who decide to join Church after Rumspringa will never lose sight of God. But just as their faith is strong with Him, my faith is strong with my family, my friends, and the people and life that I love.

Ezekiel was born Amish and grew up in Lancaster County, PA. He has now left the Amish and resides in New York with his wife.
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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.