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Archive for January 1st, 2006

Fruitful

I work, as many of you know, as a letter carrier in Wayne County Ohio, on the edge of the world’s largest Amish/Mennonite settlement.

There is a lumber company on my route and most of its workforce is Amish.

One day a week or so before Christmas I had a COD package–fifty pounds of pecans from Missouri–for Jonas Hosteter, a spry 60-something Amish employee.

While he was digging up the cash for the money order I made small talk.

"You must have big plans for these pecans; fifty pounds is a lot."

"Yep; family’s all coming for Christmas. The grandchildren all love pecans."

"Gee, you must have a lot of grandchildren."

"Yes, I have 84 grandchildren."

I was almost speechless, but managed to say "Well, be fruitful and multiply!"

He half-smiled, and I was on my way.

I’m sure that this is a large number of progeny even by Amish standards, but with the average Amish family having 6 to 8 children, they are certainly outpacing the American mainstream.

I can envision the Midwest in a hundred years: Amish tourists in buggies gawking at the quaint holdouts of suburban automotive culture, with their archaic autos and riding lawnmowers.

Or maybe not.

The more progressive of the so-called New Order Amish, which combine evangelical fervor with a certain openess to modernity, are having fewer children than the more traditional sects (though still a lot by modern American standards). Their homes frequently are indistinguishable from suburban houses, albeit without television. Still, they have all the modern conveniences, from indoor plumbing to natural gas and propane-powered appliances.

And some of the younger couples are rumored to be using contraceptives,
though without the permission of their bishops.

I am not among those who romanticize the Amish. Having lived near them for many years, I can testify that their communities have roughly the same proportions of devout and hypocritical members as any other religious community. A society in which there existed an Amish majority would resemble a sort of benevolent Christian Taliban. No jihad or capital punishment, to be sure, but little in the way of fine or sacred art or music, either, beyond their mournful High German chant and luminous quilts.

Still, all in all, the increase in Amish population cannot be a bad thing.

It is part of a trend that I have noted here before: Amish, Catholics, and other religious traditionalists are having lots of babies, while secularists and liberal Christians are having very few.

Given time, which is by no means assured, secularism may just fade away, victim of its own life-denying ethos.

Daniel Nichols

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