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Rumspringa

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Category: Religion

Autor: anton 02 November 2010

Words: 2202 | Pages: 9

Rumspringa: An Amish Ritual

Introduction:

In the Amish religion, there lies a pivotal tradition for many of its adolescent followers. There are a number of Americans whom are likely to have never heard of this rite; as it is practiced by a small demographic, consisting of roughly 200,000 people . Their tradition, referred to as the Pennsylvania-German term “Rumspringa”, can best be explained by the word’s translation. With “rum-”, translating in English to “around”, and “-schpringe”, meaning “to run” or “to skip”, Rumspringa roughly translates to: “running around”. In essence, this is what the young participants do, as they explore the modern American society. While this tradition entails both religious symbol and myth, the primary purpose behind Rumspringa is to serve as a religious ritual.

Upon turning 16, it is by the decision of the youth whether he or she will go and explore the outer limits of the Amish community and religion. It is at this age that a person is thought to be mature enough to make wise informed decisions. Sometimes lasting for years, participants live in modern society, what the Amish refer to as, “The Devil’s Playground”. Throughout their journey, the adolescents are expected to reflect upon whether or not they would like to return to their religion and make a lifetime commitment to the sacrificial lifestyle . Should they return home from the luxuries of technology and temptations of video games, cars, alcohol, drugs and such, they can then be baptized and forever committed to the Amish religion.

Myth

While the practice of Rumspringa itself if ritual, the origins of this tradition are based on a myth promoted by English philosopher John Locke. Following the Lutheran Reformation, there was an emergence of a number of Christian sects. One such sect was the Anabaptists (“rebaptizers), held an opposing stance to the practice of baptism at birth. It was their belief that only when one had reached adulthood, could they make a conscious and informed decision to become part of the church. This philosophy digresses back to the myth stated by John Locke, “Nobody is born a member of any church…” It was the belief that one had the right to choose what faith they followed. Consequently, the myth was highly opposed by Catholics and Protestants, whose own values enforced being baptized at infancy. It was with this conflict, that the grounds for additional sect formations such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish religions in England were provided.

Myth has also played a key element in the adolescents’ decision-making process during Rumspringa. While many Americans may not regard it as so, to the Amish community, life outside of their territory is mythologized to be a land of the damned. We may not believe the myth that we are forever damned for watching Thursday night television or using washing machines to do our laundry; but within the Amish tradition, when adolescents choose to live this lifestyle, the myth is held that they are literally playing in “The Devil’s playground”. The religion holds this belief because of their certainty that there is no salvation outside of their church. In a video documentary by Lisa Walker on the Rumspringa ritual, concern over the “right path” is quoted by Faron, an Amish teen, as he ponders, “It all comes down to whether you want to be Amish or not. To be, or not to be- that is the question”.

With this Amish concept in mind, should the young candidates chose to live a life without sacrifice in “The Devil’s playground”, they will be forever condemned. This plays a critical role in the youth’s final choice of direction; whether they should forever join the church or not. Torn thoughts are further expressed in the documentary by another teen, “I know for sure that if I decide to become Amish, I’ll get to heaven.” This confidence in the religion’s capability of salvation is highly prevalent among those undergoing Rumspringa. In a New York Times article, teen Gerald Yutzy, will have a hard time giving up freedom, but has similar views, “I’ve got to stop partying so hard,” he explains, “Amish life is real strict, yet it might be the best way to get there [Heaven]”. With the modern world symbolizing damnation, the Amish religion counters by symbolizing salvation. These statements alone, with such confidence in the religion, help explain why there is an impressive and astonishingly high, (80-90%) return rate among the tested Amish.

Symbol

The concept of “The Devil’s Playground” not only serves as an Amish myth, but as a symbol as well. Consider the statement made by Roger Schmidt saying, “Symbols reveal how life should be ordered”. Our daily experience in modern America is conditioned to be a normal concept to us, thus a symbol of the world we know. Consequently, if Schmidt’s statement rings true, it also orders how our lives should be lived. To the Amish, on the other hand, this everyday life most of the nation leads symbolizes temptation and sin. Per Schmidt’s philosophy, the Amish life is then ordered by what the outside world symbolizes to them; a life of sacrifice and purity must be lived.

Aside from the everyday symbol that orders life, there is one other symbol in Rumspringa that bears mentioning. Oddly enough, the symbol lies within the meaning of the word “Rumspringa” itself. A point that Schmidt makes is, “Symbols are vehicles of meaning”. With this in mind, one might ask what Rumspringa a vehicle of meaning is for. While the word literally translates to “running around”, many have perceived its’ name as being a result from the erratic behavior conducted by its’ curious teens. However, the meaning of the word Rumspringa is meant to symbolize the circle that the ritual’s path makes. Instead of thinking in terms of teens running around aimlessly, one must think of teens journeying around in a circle: The teens depart, explore, and return full-circle back into the Amish community. The word itself symbolizes and encompasses the triadic pattern of ritual that is to be discussed later. It can be said that in short, the tradition of Rumspringa is attributed by both the elements of myth, and symbol.

Ritual

While these two elements are an important part of this Amish tradition, Rumspringa is mostly embodied in the form of ritual. Schmidt describes that there are certain rituals that serve as what are called life cycle rights. These rites entail ceremonies “performed at crucial junctures in the human life cycle- birth, puberty, marriage, and death”. With the crucial coming of age at adolescence, Rumspringa can be considered as one such rite. It serves as a rite of passage, endowing privileges to the individual who has come of age. With this point in life reached, they undergo a passage into being considered mature, and responsible enough for making lifetime decisions and commitments. Rumspringa serves as a ritual to display this passage entrusted upon the young Amish.

Rituals are also said to have phases congruent to the dreams of Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero. Schmidt explains that while Campbell’s “triadic pattern” can pertain to any “universal cosmic force”, rituals have a triadic pattern of their own. It is explained that the first phase is characterized by the subject’s departure from his once normal and ordinary world. From there he may enter the second stage where he is no longer what he used to be, but not yet what he is to become. After the transition has been made, the final stage completes with the initiate being re-introduced to the community.

The first stage of the Rumspringa ritual is characterized by when an adolescent knows there is a call for action. Upon their coming of age, they become aware that they have the opportunity to leave the only way of life they have known throughout their childhood. Ahead, the doors to a new world have been opened, and behind, the doors to their old lives are being shut. It is this analogy that explains that for the adolescent, the departure from their “normal” world has begun.

After the young Amish cross through those doors, into “The Devil’s playground”, the second stage begins. No longer an Amish child, but not yet an Amish adult. This time of transition can hold many trials and tribulations for the naпve and sheltered teens. Going from a life of limited luxury, to a life in modern society can pose as a shocking transition. What we consider everyday conveniences turn into extravagant lifestyle changes to the Amish. “Can you see me driving around in a horse and buggy the rest of my life?” asks Yutzy, the teen quoted in New York Times. This question may have never been asked should he have chosen to not forgo Rumspringa.

Temptation during the second stage unfortunately, extends far beyond the access to automobiles. Because of its taboo, many Amish teens unwittingly subject themselves to the addiction of drugs and alcohol. Another reason for the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse is the substance-promoting setting of “Middle America” that most Amish teens are thrown into. Most of those who undergo Rumspringa do not experience a wider variety of activities aside from the partying and exploring within their limited respective cities. As politics and religions author and professor Steven Mazie explains, “The ‘English’ world to which Amish kids are introduced to is a sharply limited one… Rumspringas do not seem to include trips to museums, reading great novels, or backpacking through

Europe.” This concept too, can help justify the Amish’s initially surprising retention rate.

Regardless of whether a teen chooses to stay in the Devil’s Playground, or return to the Amish church, the elements behind the final stage of ritual are the same. Upon the completion of the second stage, a transition has been made. An individual who stays in the modern world has made the obvious transition from

the Amish religion which they were raised. Someone who returns to their community still makes a transition: one that involves the certainty of having a lifetime commitment to the church. It matters not what decision is made, for the conclusion of Rumspringa is justified by one reason: the adolescent has become an adult.

One may wonder how a person knows when they have reached adulthood. In short, adulthood is entered through Rumspringa once a decision has been made. An individual enters the ritual an adolescent, and emerges with their decision as an adult, religious or secular.

The final stage concludes (as discussed earlier) with the initiate being re-introduced to the community. With the transition made from one stage in life to another, it makes perfect sense that a re-introduction should be in order. Again, the decision an individual makes matters not, for either way, there is a community

awaiting them. A person may be re-introduced to the Amish community with a

newfound sense of faith, and lifetime commitment. Or conversely, a person may find that they are reintroducing themselves to modern society as a citizen, no longer just an exploring and confused teen.

Conclusion

Many do not understand the logic behind practicing such a tradition. It would seem that by offering exit from the church, the Amish would lose members.

However, after certain information is considered, it is no wonder as to why so many teens return back to the religion. As discussed earlier, many Amish teens do not get a gratifying sense of what the “English World” is due partly to the limited activities offered by their settings. Also a dilemma was the “black and whiteness” of their decision “to be, or not to be”. Confidence in one’s eternal salvation is hard to turn down.

One aspect that further makes the decision to walk away harder is the convenience of returning to the community. Even if one wanted to stay in the outside world, their education is limited to the 8th grade, and landing a stable and

lucrative job is next to impossible. On the other hand, if one were to return to the community, it is likely that they would have family businesses or job positions awaiting them.

It is with these notions instilled upon the Amish youth that many question the legitimacy of Rumspringa. While the purpose is to offer choice to those who are unsure, many youth feel like they are still without it. Consider at such a fragile stage of life, sacrificing a stable future, those you are close to, and in principle, eternal salvation. In Walker’s documentary, Velda, a young woman explains the hard sacrifice of lifelong friends and family by leaving the church, “…they will shun you. The shunning is the last way of showing you that they love you…They’re afraid for your soul.”

Nonetheless, the tradition of Rumspringa in the Amish community is a monumental stage in life. Whether it is merely good reality television for us (think: UPN’s Amish in the City), or a criticized practice matters not to the Amish. Much like many of the other rites of passage practiced in the world, it can be said that the meaning behind this ritual lies within those who are conducting it.

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