Literally "running around", rumspringa is the period during which Amish teenagers are free to experiment with English (i.e. non-Amish) ways of life. They get to do almost anything they want, as long as it's not illegal, without fear of social repercussions.

The idea is that one cannot choose to be Amish without having tried out some alternative lifestyles such as using electricity, buying machine-churned butter from a 7-Eleven, and -- in one famous case -- dealing cocaine. Some Amish teens don't go particularly wild during rumspringa, and some go balls to the wall.

When an Amish teenager reaches the age of 18, they can choose to continue living as English or they can choose to officially join their Amish community and accept baptism. Most teenagers, having tried the modern way of life, choose to be Amish.

My old friend Sylvar says off-handedly at the end that "Most teenagers, having tried the modern way of life, choose to be Amish." I think this should require further thought and some sort of explanation as to why that would be the case. I mean, if you gave this set of facts to the average internet user, what percentage of Amish kids would you say they would predict "return to the fold?" I would guess it would be south of 50%. I know that I never returned to "the faith of my fathers" after boastfully declaring myself an atheist at a very young age, probably around 12 or so. In fact, I spent misspent several careless years as an evangelical atheist. Looking back on that, I'd give anything if I could take back some of the awful things I said to some True Believers during those wanton and wasted years. Religion is a very strange animal and is looked upon as rabid at birth by many so-called Modern Thinkers. Hopefully, most of them will mellow as they age and try to be more forgiving to their fellow fallen angels.

I cannot imagine growing up Amish, but I was raised in the Bible Belt with a parttime Baptist preacher for a dad. This was in the 1950s when, for all practical purposes, there were no atheists in America except maybe in the big cities on the coasts. Our rumspringa turned out to be called the Age of Aquarius. This shift in attitudes is not hard to understand. When I was in high scool, the idea of getting laid on a first date was totally out of the question with any decent girl. Then, out of nowhere came a movement whose advertising campaign was free love. Now there's a marketing idea that the worst ad man in the world couldn't miss a sale on. And do not kid yourself for one second: Hippies didn't give a damn about World Peace; however, they cared quite deeply about a free piece of ass. Quite deeply, indeed. Religiously, even. Mass movements like this can be genuine or they can be whipped up by media hype and bully pulpits.

I would like for you to consider your current opinions about Mormonism. You hate them, don't you? Even though you didn't really have much of an opinion about them this time last year. And even though almost every time you hear someone speak evil of them, it ends with, "Now, don't get me wrong: The Mormons I've known IRL are some of the nicest folks I've ever met." I, too, can attest to this. When our daughter was a toddler, we lived next door to a Mormon family, and you could not find better neighbors. Kind, thoughtful, decent humans who never bothered us once about what we thought about the cosmos or who ruled it. And I would wager that more Mormon kids grow up to be practicing Mormons than Jewish kids grow up to be Jews or Baptist kids grow up to be Baptists. So what makes you think they are so evil this winter of 2012? Well, if you can't admit it to yourself, I'll tell you. It's because Mitt Romney has been the presumptive Republican nominee for POTUS this winter. And our Atheist-in-Chief President up for reelection, along with his willing sycophants in the media have made a conscious effort to convince you that Mr. Romney is not qualified to be President because he is a Mormon. You think I exaggerate? Then just watch as Romney fades and Rick Santorum surges. You will not hear so much about Mormons and you'll go back to forgetting they exist. Now the enemy will be evangelical Christians, even though Obama is supposedly a Christian himself. I must say it's a form of Christianity I know very little about, seemingly based on Black Revolutionary theology which paints the white men who founded America as "devils." Be that as it may, all that was just to say that popular opinions are being formed by forces outside yourself, and it's hard for me to imagine that these Amish kids mostly return to that way of life after spending a couple of years in the carnal world called America in 2012.

How do you keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree? Apparently it involves a cocktail of lifestyle mixing equal parts unconditional love, Gorilla-glue-strong family values, and an unwavering commitment to a Higher Power than their own ego.

I had never heard of rumspringa until I listened to episode 457 of This American Life. It's very interesting, if you've never heard it.

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