Real Complexities of the Simple Life

I love the paradox of this title. There is great complexity behind the fa├žade of the simple Amish life.

Frequently I'm asked about the Amish Anabaptist heritage. Amish and Mennonite are religious cousins - both coming from this 16th century European movement. At that time, Anabaptism was a radical Protestant departure from the dominant Roman Catholic Church, where the bishop was both the secular and spiritual ruler.

One Anabaptist thrust was separation of church and state. "State" meaning secular government and "Church" meaning the assembly of the redeemed. Well, that didn't go over. Anabaptists were persecuted, tortured, and terrorized by Roman Catholics and some Protestant states.

(The real meaning of our U.S. Constitution's separation of Church and State is protection from the government imposing one religion on its people. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.")

Interesting to me is most Amish have reverted back to a church/state oneness similar 16th century Europe in that they're a religion and a culture, where the bishop is the behavior and spiritual ruler. It's also interesting to me that the ex-Amish tell me they know nothing of their church history, when the Amish migrated to America, or why they keep certain traditions today. Although, they've told me that sermons always include stories of their ancestors' torture and suffering.

I found this cultural commentary, The Real Complexities of the Simple Life, which explores a book by a conservative Mennonite woman. Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets The Glittering World is the author's memoire of her tension between Anabaptist nonconformity - separation - from the world and its allure.

Question: Why do you think the masses today hang on to the "simple life" image? I have my own thoughts but, want to know yours. Leave your comments below.

(c)Copyright, 2013. Brenda Nixon


  1. It's taken me a long time to comment on this blog, because it gave me a lot to think about. I also took the time to read The Real Complexities of the Simple Life & the comments people wrote. I focused on your comment, "Tradition is worshiped, and a couple core Anabaptist tenets are now ignored." I'm just now becoming familiar with "What is an Anabaptist?" and "What are core Anabaptist beliefs?" While I don't have it all down pat, I feel the little I know is that a focus of Anabaptist beliefs is about the simple life. If I understand correctly, and again, I'm still learning, Anabaptists follow the teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is a key scripture for them. Jesus led a simple life, and He is the example we should follow. In that sense, hanging onto the "simple life" image makes sense. It's separating oneself from the things of this world that can be a distraction to living a godly life. Is tradition overshadowing this? I don't know. I suppose if you do something long enough and in the same way, it becomes more tradition than anything else, which is where it can turn into legalism. Here's something I learned when I was growing up. I was once bold enough (or stupid enough) to ask the pastor about why women can't wear pants. Although I knew the Scripture references that resulted in that conclusion, I still asked. His response was, it's not that pants are wrong, but that once you wear them, you'll wear them more and more until eventually you are wearing pants more often than wearing a dress. Whether or not that makes sense, it mirrors some of what I've read about the Amish. I've read comments similar in reference to use of technology & other things, basically saying that if you start or let it in, when is enough enough? Will it end up taking over to the point of becoming a distraction from your walk with God? Will it become a distractor to the unity of the family & community? Something to think about.
    So, I apologize if my ESLisms got in the way of that making any sense. (I don't always explain myself very well.) But I said all that to basically say that I can see why people are drawn to the "simple life" and also why & how tradition ends up rolled into one's belief system.

    1. Great comments Dali. One can argue that many religions, organizations, and programs confuse tradition with absolutes. Or worship the tradition, which is the case with most Amish orders. Some of my former Amish family tell me that they never understood the why behind their behaviors (traditions) but, were told, "That's our way."
      On a personal note, I think we need to occasionally reexamine our own absolutes and let them maintain standing - or shape new - traditions.
      And, no, your ESLisms didn't matter, you expressed yourself well.

  2. It sounds so simple but this is what i think. They want to live as simple as possible so that they are not distracted by worldly things so they can focus on God. BUT, now they spend SO MUCH TIME focusing on all the rules to be have that simple life that the rules and practices are the distraction now.
    I just can't get over them not knowing about the history of their people or why they believe the way they believe. It just brings to mind the verse in Isiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray... They are just blindly following with out the knowledge of what they truly believe!

    1. You got it Emma! The rules are their god. But I think in many world cultures & religions (like Islam), there are people who don't want to think, it's easier for them to be told what to do. Then they rest in what they've been told to do as their salvation.
      On your second point, I too think it'd be part of their schooling, to learn of their Anabaptist roots, but it isn't. History teaches us what we believe, why, and the evolution of our behaviors. But then, think of the many Protestants you know who aren't educated about their own church history. Not making excuses for the Amish, just pointing out a fact. By looking at the Anabaptist movement, I'm just now beginning to understand some of the Amish evolution. Truth is, the Mennonites have held more closely to the Anabaptist tenets while Amish have moved away - to focus on conforming rules to preserve their solidarity.