“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.”