Thursday, September 13, 2007

STA Movie Review – Devil’s Playground

Well, since I hold no belief in a deity, I obviously do nothing with my life except watch movies all day. (By the way, have you checked out Blockbuster Online? It’s great; they send me a movie, I watch it, take it to the store, trade it in for another move for free, take it home, watch it, they send me another movie....)

So I got some time to check out Devil’s Playground, a documentary about the Amish rite of Rumspringa. Again, since my life is meaningless without God, I decided to take the time to review some key points of the film for you here.

The documentary states that the Amish were born out of earlier Catholics who felt that the practice of baptizing babies and young children, and forcing the religion upon them before they are of an age when they’re able to make up their own mind, is wrong. And in this, I agree with them. It’s wrong to raise a child up as a "Christian child" or a "Muslim child" before it even knows what the hell it means. It’s wrong, and it’s child abuse.

Running Wild
In the Amish tradition, when a child turns 16, they are free to go out "into the world" and check it out. This Rumspringa custom (meaning literally "running around") frees the child from the church and its rules in the hopes that they’ll be making the decision to join the church out of true desire with an informed decision. These kids – who were raised without electricity, cars, TV, internet, t-shirts, phones, iPods, and beer – go completely apeshit. At least some of them do. Two teens in the film (Faron, a preacher’s son, and his friend Gerald) sell meth, have sexual relationships, smoke pot, get drunk nearly every night, and generally act like typical American teenagers who’ve been sheltered all their lives.

After they sample life outside of the Amish community, they, as well as all Amish children, are allowed to decide for themselves when and whether or not they want to join the church. The church actually prefers them to wait four or five years or much longer before deciding. I love this idea; I think everyone should be able to make their own decisions about religion. The only problem is that in most cases, the child’s whole family is within the church. And these are big families; a woman’s job is to have as many kids as she can. This is what makes the decision to join the Amish church so difficult. Could you leave your entire family and start a life on your own without their help? According to the documentary, after the Rumspringa period, 90% of the youth decide to rejoin the church.

No Backing Out
And once they commit, they are held to that promise. One ex-member, Velda, decided to leave the church a short time after dedication, and is now shunned completely by her family. Think about how horrible that would be for most people. No talking to you, no visiting on holidays, no birthday cards. Same thing with Mormons, you’re excommunicated from the church if you leave. This means that they won’t help you or try to "save" you anymore. (Good, no more banging on my door on a Saturday morning.) But the larger point remains: your family, in a sense, doesn’t love you many more. Velda still stayed religious. After all, there isn’t a whole lot of disagreement between Amish and other Christian faiths that some can’t overcome. They can still love Jesus and be "saved", they just have to wait to see their family until they all get to heaven.

Though this film follows teenagers in Indiana, the same applies to all Amish teens during Rumspringa. Some return to their families, others do not. Some are baptized but later leave the Amish church, resulting in their families' shunning them. The greater part to all of this is what I left the film with, and is what I wanted to post about. These kids are given the choice between all the stupid shit in the world, and the loving safety of the Christian church and the religious beliefs therein. At least, that is the choice they perceive.

Get Right with God
But this is the choice that many people, Amish or otherwise, feel they have. I’ve even had friends who would get into so much shit with the police, and they’d tell me how they needed to turn their life around. They see theism as the way to do this; as the only way to do this.

This can be expounded into a much larger discussion on God and morality, a topic that I intend to tackle in due time, probably in several instances. It’s a big issue. For now, suffice it to say that theism is NOT the only way to be "good", and in fact, it may do greater damage than it claims to fix.

Go check out Devil’s Playground, a non-biased look at the struggles of modern American Amish culture. The tug-of-war between the freedom and luxuries of the "English world" and the routines of religious faith and family play out in an educational and somewhat disheartening documentary.


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