My latest Bookmooch finds are books by Beverly Lewis about the Amish. High quality literature they are not, but they are entertaining, easy to read and, if reasonably accurate, give me some insight into a society that has intrigued me since I read Plain Girl as a pre-teen. Lewis' books are series Christian fiction so religion plays a part in them, and the books are part of a set of books which all have the same characters and reference each others plot lines,and though she tried to give enough details about the previous story to make the present one make sense, in my opinion, she doesn't always succeed.
Anyway, this post isn't so much a book review as it is a pondering about the role of the community in helping other members maintain their fidelity to the standards of that community. Like Catholics, according to Lewis, the Amish do not believe in "once saved, always saved" but rather see salvation as a goal to be reached, through the grace of God, by living the life to which God calls us. Lewis sees this as a works-based salvation, and in my experience, her favored characters realize that they have to accept Jesus and are saved by that. I mention this because one thing I've noted in her books about the Amish is that there is almost always a shunned character. In my understanding, if a baptized Amish (they are baptized generally as young adults, after classes to make sure they know what they are doing) persists in sin--including sins such as leaving the Amish lifestyle for a modern one--the community shuns the person. They do not speak to the person, or eat with him/her or otherwise treat him/her like anything but a stranger. If the person is living with other Amish, those people will set a separate table for the one shunned. There are two purposes for the shunning: to keep the person's sin from infecting the community and spreading and to encourage the person to repent and give up his/her sinful choices. In her books, Lewis always shows shunning as hurting the loved ones as much if not more than the ones shunned, and while my memory may fail me, I don't think her characters are ever moved to repentance by it. I wonder though how often it is used in real life, and how well it works.
I say that because to some extent all societies use social pressure to get people to conform to their norms. You don't realize how many "rules" there are until you have an autistic kid who keeps breaking them--and who pays the social cost. Have you ever thought about the fact that you don't walk down the street waving your arms in the air or stretching them over your head? Think of all the fashion rules that even the most unhip among us obey daily--and know when to disobey. In what ways are you allowed to express your displeasure when in public? The penalty for disobeying all these unwritten, and sometimes contradictory rules is social isolation--not a formal shun like the Amish have, but rather the isolation caused by people avoiding the "weirdo". But back to what I was thinking about earlier--to what extent should we use social pressure to get people to behave in a moral manner. Catholics have never shunned to the extent that the Amish do, but my parents have told me that when they were kids, no Catholic would dream of going to a wedding of a Catholic that was held outside a church. Unwed mothers were shunted off to maternity homes and practically forced to put their kids up for adoption. Divorcees were considered to be of questionable character--and don't even go there regarding homosexual behavior. Certain things were held to be right, others wrong and social pressure was used to encourage (or perhaps berate) people into following the religious and moral norms. Today however, the opposite seems to be true. It seems we are all afraid of being judgmental and are all trying to be open, loving people, such that as a society we don't stand up and say "this is wrong and we won't tolerate it" to sinful behaviors, even to the extent that we do to "weird" behaviors. Have we quit shunning sinful behavior because we believe shunning is bad, or because we don't believe the sinful behavior is bad?