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What Pandemic? The Amish and Amish Country Tourists Dispense with Masks | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Four separate images: a ventriloquist holding a doll; a man in a camouflaged shirt and denim overalls smiling; two men with straw hats fake Amish beards pointing to the camera and smiling; a man in denim overalls and a straw hat holding a toilet plunger above his head.
Promotional photo for the Amish Country Theater (2021)

Every other year my wife Sue teaches a course here at the University of Dayton (UD) entitled “The Arguments and Visual Rhetoric of Two Religious Traditions.” Not surprisingly, the two traditions she focuses on are the Amish (about which she wrote Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia) and fundamentalism (about which she co-wrote Righting America at the Creation Museum). 

As part of this course Sue takes her students to the Creation Museum (Petersburg KY), and then to Holmes County, Ohio, which is home to the largest Amish settlement in the world. To prepare for next spring’s trip – in particular, to check out how things have changed since our last visit two years ago – she and I used our UD fall break to visit Holmes County. 

As regards changes in Amish Country tourism, well, let’s just say that it is more evangelical and more kitschy than ever. Take, for example, the Amish Country Theater, which is located on Highway 39 in Berlin, and which is advertised by garishly hokey billboards, one of which almost led me to plow our car into the truck in front of us. 

Visitors to the theater’s website learn that the theater features “side-splittin’ hilarious family variety shows,” including “Donkey Doodle Dandy” and “One Way or an Udder.” These shows feature “the famous Amish comedy trio ‘The Beachy’s [sic]’ and Fannie Mae, whose parody songs and jokes about farm living will keep you laughing the whole way home.” And as quoted on the Amish Country Theater Promotional Video – where one can view “the famous Amish comedy trio” and much, much more – one enthusiastic visitor excitedly exclaimed that the Amish Country Theater is “Better than Branson and Gatlinburg. The talent is amazing! Our church group will be back!”

In short, Amish Country is more evangelical and more kitschy than ever, which was no surprise to the author of Selling the Amish

But what was a surprise was the lack of mask-wearing. The absolute, total lack of mask-wearing.

We visited nine different establishments – bookstores, restaurants, grocery stores, furniture galleries, and more – in the towns of Berlin, Millersburg, Mount Hope, Sugar Creek, and Walnut Creek. Not one of these enterprises had a sign informing visitors that they needed to be masked. More than this, in these establishments – where we were around hundreds of people – we did not see ONE person wearing a mask. Not one tourist. Not one Amish individual. Not one. We were the masked oddities.

So it was a relief to leave Amish Country and head to Columbus for lunch at a popular Mexican restaurant. Where, it turns out, all of the servers and virtually all of the patrons were masked. And as we ate our rice and bean bowls, we talked about what we had just experienced: two days in a popular tourist venue where – despite the fact that (as of October 09, 2021) 712,695 Americans have died of COVID-19 – we saw not one person evincing any concern about contracting or spreading this disease.

It did not take us long to conclude that it seems probable that there was a connection between the lack of mask-wearing and the evangelicalization of Amish Country. Take, for example, Answers in Genesis (AiG), the folks who run the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter (which, by the way, are popular tourist destinations not only for evangelicals, but also for the Amish, who take tour buses from Holmes County to Kentucky to visit these sites). 

The message put out by AiG, again and again, is that 

Of course, once one rejects the scientific evidence for an old Earth and evolutionary science, it is not a huge leap to reject vaccines and masks. Janet Kellogg Ray – author of Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark?: The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit – puts it like this:

The evangelical Christian fear of masking and vaccines is a mystery until you take that Venn diagram and see the overlap between evolution deniers and people taking Ivermectin and thinking the vaccine threatens lives or that masking is the government forcing them to do things against their will.

Right. Reject the pandemic hoax, ignore the state-sanctioned nonsense about masks and vaccines, and head out for some side-splittin’ hilarious fun. 

So it is for a good part of American evangelicalism in 2021.