There is a sense of mystery surrounding the Amish. Many misconceptions exist regarding the isolated community which separates itself from modern American life. However, the Amish are just a group of people who live their lives in a different way than the average American. There's no technology, social media, or FaceBook allowed. Through an analysis of the way in which the Amish live their life a deeper understanding of the Amish can be developed. As the Amish have largely been a secluded community information about their way of life can often be difficult to obtain. Through the use of research that has already been conducted an analysis of the Amish way of life in their small towns can be conducted.
The Amish are a group of traditional Christians who belong to the Mennonite church. The Amish are very traditional in that they reject all components of modern life. Although this is the most prominent piece of knowledge about the Amish this is not the only characteristic that defines the Amish. “The Amish believe in separation from the outside world, as well as simplicity. In their clothing, lifestyle, and religion, the Amish people emphasize humanity, nonviolence and traditional values rather than progress and technology”1. The values of rejecting modernity if not a revolt against technology rather it is a way to preserve humanity and their way of life. The Amish mainly reside in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Indiana. While they do speak English, Pennsylvania German is the predominant language spoken by the Amish. Although the percentages of Amish within the United States is small, the group’s numbers are growing and expanding.
The Amish mainly reside in small towns or communities in rural areas. Amish land is considered to be owned by all those who work it as they do not believe in owning property. “The Amish are in some ways a little commonwealth, for their members claim to be ruled by the law of love and redemption...Their beliefs, however, do not permit them solely to occupy and defend a particular territory”2. Although the Amish do have to reside in modern times they do have to pay property taxes despite not believing in owning land. The main form of the industry within these communities is farming. The central focus of the Amish is preserving this community despite the individual costs of life. This is reflected in the way in which they live their lives.
The Amish religion places a high value on submitting to the will of God and the community. They reject pride and extolling individual achievements as this takes away from their community. Within an Amish town a church will not be found as they believe in practicing their religion in the privacy of their homes. Families will take turns hosting a congregation of other Amish followers in their home. These congregations are usually held every other Sunday. These gatherings are held for the entire day so that the family has time to spend with each other and worship together.
The Amish religion and way of life follow the Ordnung, which is a set of rules and laws that the Amish should abide by. These laws. These laws include every aspect of Amish life, from children worshipping their parents, to the style of dress and even policies which affect interaction with the government such not buying insurance. These laws are designed to preserve the way of life for the Amish. The laws also mention ways in which the Amish should behave. These character flaws involve honesty, loyalty, and respect for their family. The guiding principle within the Ordnung is that the Amish should maintain separation from modern civilization. It is through this separation that the Amish are able to maintain their community and way of life even in these highly modern times.
Raising children in modern America is far different than the Amish upbringing. The main purpose of the Amish family is to raise children and have them grow up to be Amish. Children must obey and respect their parents at all times. “The family, and to a lesser extent the Amish school, are believed to have the primary responsibility for training the child for life. The child also has an explicit relationship to a wide social fabric within his culture-his parents, siblings, extended relatives, church, community, and the school- all of which help to equip him for adult life”2. The Amish utilize the teachings of the bible to exert their influence on their children. The teachings force children to be respectful and obedient at all times. If a child is disobedient they will be punished through the use of corporal punishment. This form of discipline also comes from the bible for the Amish. At young age children also must work in the farms and contribute to the labor of the home. Education is not highly valued as the Amish believe that the children will learn all they need to know by the 8th grade.
After this age adolescents must become a part of the Amish church through baptism and begin the process to become married. The Amish believe a large family is a healthy happy one which is why their youth are encouraged to marry at an early age. “Amish society exerts strong pressures on young people to marry. Singleness is much more stigmatized than in the dominant culture. Every Amish child—and particularly an Amish girl—clearly receives the impression that marriage and family are among the most important components of adult life”3. Courtship for young couples are also centered around family events and functions. The congregation that occurs on Sundays usually leads to events in which the Amish get together to sing and enjoy each other’s company. During these events, boys and girls are usually paired off with each other in anticipation for the courtship to occur and a wedding to follow which will join two Amish families.
During an Amish wedding, the event is fairly simple compared to those of other traditional American weddings. The wedding is usually held during the weekday and will occur after the crop has already been harvested. The bride wears a simple dress and will not wear any jewelry, not even a wedding ring. This is because the Amish forbid wearing any kind of jewelry for their women. The wedding ceremony can take up to several hours as the Amish believe that the ceremony is the first step for the couple and the importance of marriage should be embedded in the new couple. The ceremony focuses on family as well not just the couple. After the ceremony the couple spends the night in the bride’s parent’s home. They will then spend the next few weeks visiting relative who came to see them at their wedding. This practice again focuses on the family.
The simplicity of the wedding ceremony is echoed in all other aspects of Amish life. Amish clothing needs to be simple and plain. The clothing has muted colors and no embellishments. The clothing is also reminiscent of another time in history as the women wear aprons and bonnets. The clothing can have symbolic meaning for the wearer. As various colored capes that women wear signify something. White capes indicate that a woman is single, while black capes indicate that a woman is older. The clothing for men is simple as well as they wear simple trousers with pockets. Their clothing has dark colors and they will often wear straw hats. Men are forbidden from having any kind of facial hair. The clothing goes back to the simple way of life which rejects technology.
The rejection of modern advances lies in the belief that technology leads to convenience for those individuals. Life should involve hard work and labor in order to keep the Amish centered on the family and their way of life. Therefore the Amish do not use any modern technology which would make it easier for them to live. They drive around in horse-drawn buggies rather than cars. They do not use modern appliances such as dishwashers or washing machines. The Amish also do not use electricity which means they must find alternate ways of adapting. They adapt through making all of their own products. Even their furniture has to be built from wood which has not been created through electric machines. This makes it so every aspect of their life is pure.
While this may be difficult for regular Americans the Amish have lived this way of life for decades. This form of living has been passed down from generation to generation. As many Amish children do not know of any other way to live they remain within the Amish life. At the age of 16, an Amish teenager is able to choose between continuing to live the Amish life or live in modern civilization. Those who refuse to become baptized within the church are excommunicated from their church and are banished from their family. “Defectors are children who have left their parental home and have been identified in the directory by their parents as having made the decision not to join the Amish church”3. Due to this harsh punishment for not becoming baptized and remaining within the church most Amish teenagers choose to be baptized within the church. These teenagers have only known one way of life and to be rejected from their church, community and family can be so traumatic that many choose to remain within their communities.
While this way of life has existed for the Amish for many years, the recent advances of our modern era have frequently clashed with traditional Amish communities. These conflicts occur within both smaller-scale interactions with outsiders or larger scale interactions with the government. As cities expand and begin to develop closer to Amish communities interaction with outsiders can often occur. The Amish face discrimination and prejudice at the hands of those who do not understand their way of life. The Amish must also pay taxes to the government despite not using any government services. The Amish do not believe in any forms of welfare despite not having much money. The Amish also do not believe in paying social security which after battling with the United States government for many years they were able to be excluded from.
Despite these difficulties and battles the Amish have been able to maintain their way of life for many years and may be able to do so for many years to come. The importance of the family unit and relying on the community is seen in every aspect of Amish life. From their daily lives, events and important life functions (such as weddings and baptisms) the family is at the center of each interaction. Staying away from modern technology is only a small part of Amish life although this is what is most focused upon in our society. Rather the family is the main focus for the Amish. Regardless of the world-changing around them the Amish will continue to have their beliefs and values which will maintain their communities.
1. Bassett, DR, Schneider, PL, & Huntington, GE. 2004. ‘Physical activity in an Old Order Amish community.’ Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 36, vol. 1, pp. 79-85.
Hostetler, JA. 1993. Amish society. JHU Press.
Meyers, TJ.1994. ‘The Old Order Amish: To remain in the faith or to leave.’ Mennonite Quarterly Review 68, no. 3, pp. 378-395.