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Amish Romance Recovery Network Helps Fiction Readers Cope with 21st Century

nature-sunset-person-woman“It started like most addictions,” Nancy (last name withheld) admitted. “Only, in this case, the pusher was my local Christian bookstore.”

Apparently, looking for “escapist” reads can be dangerous in today’s world. Especially if you’re an evangelical Christian. For Nancy, escaping into the world of Amish fiction became an escape from reality. “At first,” she said, “the stories about tight-knit communities where families sat around the dinner table without the distractions of television and cell phones, became a respite from my hectic schedule.” Soon, however, she found herself reading nothing but Amish fiction. “Men named Malachi and Lemuel became my Fabio. Instead of throwing a scantily clad female over their shoulder, it was a bale of hay. My Amish addiction was like mommy porn, only without the porn.”

Many have sought to explain the Amish romance craze among evangelical readers. Even with the trend recently slowing, it is estimated that Amish fiction comprises up to one-third of all Christian novels. Acquisitions editor Phil Short suggested that the going motto of Christian publishers has become, “When all else fails, put a bonnet on it.” While Short admits that the trend is an odd match for an audience typically picky about theological content, he conceded that in Christian publishing circles doctrinal integrity is often massaged by the bottom line. “It’s easy to justify catering to odd fictional trends when your house also publishes Bibles.”

According to religious sociologist Zola Smart, the factors that have bolstered the Amish trend among evangelical readers are the rise of hypermodernity, hypersexualization, and biblical illiteracy. “Culture’s hectic pace, the increase of incivility and sexual immorality, and the glut of technologies have propelled many spiritually weary readers to escape into novels about a simpler, purer way of life.” Compound this with a reactionary view of culture, a superstitious approach to holiness, and terrible hermeneutics, Smart concludes, “The exponential growth of Amish fiction among Evangelicals during the first decade of the twenty-first century cannot be understood apart from these ‘hyper’ cultural developments and Fundamentalist views of holiness.”

“I fell hard for Amish fiction,” Nancy acknowledged. “The twenty-first century seemed to be becoming less and less real to me. I would find myself daydreaming about a world without zippers, laptops, and profanity. But I was living in a fantasy world.” It was this realization that caused Nancy to admit she had a problem. “I was having withdrawals,” she confessed. “I couldn’t drive past my local Christian bookstore without thinking of young bearded Christian men in overalls.”

At first, Nancy was ostracized by her reading partners. Just the suggestion that Amish Romance could be an addiction which perpetuated a false caricature of the real world led to accusations of ‘worldliness.’ “They questioned my faith,” she said tearfully. “They insinuated that I was watching PG-13 movies and possibly even having wine with my dinner. It was painful.” But the heartbreak gave way to hope as Nancy eventually formed her own group for similar addicts. “Truth is, the devil doesn’t always appear with horns and sulfur. Sometimes he disguises himself with a straw hat, overalls, and rock hard abs.” While she does not recommend going cold turkey, Nancy admits that sometimes it’s necessary to simply avoid the ‘Christian Romance’ section altogether.

Now the Amish Romance Recovery Network exists to help other addicts, like Nancy. “You’re never ‘recovered,’” she said. “But always ‘recovering.’” And as for her goals? “One day I hope to visit a Barnes & Noble. Eventually, Lord willing, I might read a Military Suspense, Science Fiction, or maybe even a Classic.”

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Kessie May 5, 2016, 5:35 AM

    This gave me a good chortle this morning. 😀

  • Anita Cooper May 5, 2016, 5:45 AM

    “They questioned my faith,” she said tearfully. “They insinuated that I was watching PG-13 movies and possibly even having wine with my dinner. It was painful.”

    Please, please tell me Mike that this is satire…

    • Mike Duran May 6, 2016, 7:24 AM

      This is satire.

      • Anita Cooper May 6, 2016, 7:33 AM

        Good to know, but as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction”. 😉

  • Carradee May 5, 2016, 8:03 AM

    I hope this is satire, but… Take out the recovery group initiation, and I’ve actually seen this sort of thing happen, with some folks’ response to various genres—including the ostensibly Christian ones.

    I admittedly come from circles where someone can insist “All romance is porn for women!” and “Romance novels teach girls to have unrealistic expectations of their relationships!” and many folks won’t argue even if they disagree. (And in some subcircles—such as the one I was in due to my parents—the “unrealistic” items scoffed at included guys showing girls the same basic respect and consideration they do to other guys).

    • Iola May 5, 2016, 5:33 PM

      “Romance novels teach girls to have unrealistic expectations of their relationships!”

      Maybe. Christian romance novels tend to prefer heros who aren’t criminals, wife beaters, alcoholics, drug users, drug dealers, porn addicts or philanderers. Men who love their wives and are faithful to them. Men who don’t misquote the Bible to justify spiritual abuse, or say one thing in church on Sunday and behave in the opposite manner Monday to Saturday.

      If those expectations are “unrealistic”, we’ve got bigger problems than which novels Christian women choose to read (and I’m not holding women innocent of any of these vices. It’s just no one ever accuses romance novels of giving boys unrealistic views of women. That line is reserved for another brand of “literature”).

      • Carradee May 6, 2016, 5:24 AM

        Agreed, Iola…except I actually have heard romance novels accused of giving boys unrealistic views of women and what they expect. The guys who were actually willing to admit to reading romance… [shudders] The harassment was horrible, including to their faces.

        Never mind what would happen if a guy wore a supposed-to-be-pink shirt. :-/ I lost plenty of perfectly modest clothing because it attracted attention for the color and/or style. (If people noticed me, they might pay attention to what I said and realize my parents were full of it, don’tchya know.)

  • Karen P. May 5, 2016, 8:43 AM

    “Truth is, the devil doesn’t always appear with horns and sulfur. Sometimes he disguises himself with a straw hat, overalls, and rock hard abs.”

    Too true! My only question is: do they offer book ads on their website?

  • Avily Jerome May 5, 2016, 9:15 AM

    This is going to be my favorite thing today.

  • Cindy Jones May 5, 2016, 9:44 AM

    This had my whole office is stitches this morning as well as creating an on going discussion on Harrison Ford ????????????

  • Heather Day Gilbert May 5, 2016, 10:36 AM

    This. This is priceless. And sadly, I do think sometimes the hay bale mommy porn aspect of it can be very real. Amish Fabio is no joke.

  • Kristen Stieffel May 5, 2016, 8:42 PM

    LOL Mike. Nailed it. 😀

  • Anne May 5, 2016, 8:43 PM

    Although I read a lot of romance when I was younger, I’ve tended to avoid it in recent years. Not long ago, I started to read some of the work of Rene Girard and mimetic theory – and it occurred to me I should be really disturbed about the implications for much of Christian literature but the romance genre in particular.

    • Mike Duran May 6, 2016, 7:41 AM

      Anne, I’m interested — can you explain what memetic theory revealed to you about reading Christian fiction, particularly Amish? Thanks!

  • Jay DiNitto May 6, 2016, 4:22 AM

    “I couldn’t drive past my local Christian bookstore without thinking of young bearded Christian men in overalls.”

    LOL

  • Jill May 6, 2016, 9:55 AM

    Ah, Mike, you’re just jealous of Real Men who wear overalls. I mean, you could put on a pair of overalls, but everybody would still know you weren’t Amish.

    • Karen P. May 6, 2016, 6:35 PM

      Yea, but Mike rocks a Punisher T-shirt like no one else!

  • Arwilda Allshouse May 14, 2016, 10:23 AM

    If it’s addiction for the readers, imagine what it does to the authors! I think the fantasy is for young women to find a good Christian man who is chaste. They are out there. Several I know have been the inspiration for some of my Amish heroes. I am surprised at the number of men who read my books. What are they fantasizing about?

    If “Romance novels teach girls to have unrealistic expectations of their relationships!” what do Amish Romance Novels teach girls, and guys?

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