Meet the Amish

Who are the Amish? What do they believe? How do they live? Why? What is their history?

If you got to this page, it is probably because you are at least curious about the Amish. You likely have many questions about them.

This page brings together various snippets of information about the Amish. I hope to expand both its content and links, so please come back.

The Old Order Amish take their name from an early Swiss Anabaptist, Jacob Amman.

[Amish beliefs and lives] The Amish, called "The Plain People" or Old Order Amish, originated in Switzerland about l525. They come from an impressive list of martyrs. They were put in sacks and thrown into rivers in Europe. There are no Amish left in Europe; The Amish were saved from extinction by William Penn who granted a haven from religious persecution in America. Since early colonial days the Amish have lived in the United States preserving their distinctive culture, dress, language and religion in peace and prosperity.

To this day they endure as a distinctive folk group because they have preserved a mentality of separation from the world and the sentiments of persecuted strangers in the land. They wear plain clothing fastened with hooks and eyes, not buttons. Their men wear broad-brimmed black hats, plain-cut trousers and the women and even little girls wear bonnets and ankle length dresses. They generally oppose automobiles, electricity, telephones and higher education beyond eighth grade.

The Amish live in nineteen states, Canada, and Central America. However, 80 percent of the Amish live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

Excerpts, adaptations, and/or slight modifications from Origins of the Old Order Amish.

The Amish broke away from the Mennonites nearly 300 years ago when differences arose among Anabaptist leaders in Switzerland and Alsace. Seeking a stricter lifestyle including the Streng Meidung, or shunning, which includes the social avoidance of erring church members.

Persistence of tradition and slowness to modernize have characterized the Amish as they have steadily sought to carve out their lifestyle which is a culture apart from the world.

General characteristics that encompass all Old Order Amish groups seem to include these:
  • Separatism
  • Simple life
  • Family life
  • Harmony with the soil and nature
  • Mutual assitance
  • Disciplined church community
  • Excerpts, adaptations, and/or slight modifications from The Amish in Northern Indiana.

    The Amish do not despise technology and even have incorporated many technologies into their culture. Other technologies, however, have been rejected completely or used within certain limitations as a result of deep religious beliefs and the rules that guide and maintain their distinct culture.

    The Amish prefer a culture based on a community of the faithful. Families tend to congregate in small communities. Most Amish have very few relations outside of the Amish faith. Those who are not Amish are considered outsiders and are simply referred to as the "English."

    All clothing is sewn at home, buttons are not allowed, and only pins are used to keep clothing closed. Women's hair is covered at all times and men wear plain felt or straw hats when outside of the house.

    The most important factor of Amish life is Gelassenheit, or submission to the will of God. Gelassenheit is based primarily on Jesus' words, "not my will but thine be done." By giving up individuality and any thought of selfishness, they embrace God's will by serving others and submitting to Him.

    Any technology that does not uphold the Gelassenheit principles is banned from use. Electricity is seen as a connection with the outside world and violates the Amish principle of separation from society. Electricity also promotes the use of household items, such as the television, that allow the outside, "English," values of sloth, luxury, and vanity to infiltrate the household. Automobiles are not often used because they degrade the Gelassenheit principle of a small, close-knit community. The telephone is banned from the household because, much like the automobile, it promotes a separation of community.

    Each Amish community maintains a list of written or unwritten rules, called Ordnung, that regulates all aspects of Amish activity. The rules pertain to all aspects of Amish life, such as clothing, child bearing, weekend activities, church activities, and occupational activities. The Ordnung is not considered the law of God; instead, it is interpreted as a set of guidelines for living a Godly and pious life.

    There is a common misconception about the Amish opinion of medical technology. The Ordnung actually says nothing about the acceptance of modern medicine. Most Amish have no problem visiting an optometrist for vision correction, seeing a dentist for a semiannual checkup, or going to a local physician for an examination. The Amish usually will not refuse medical treatment for serious illness.

    Excerpts, adaptations, and/or slight modifications from The Amish: Technology Practice and Technological Change.

    The Old Order Amish are among the most conservative descendants of the 16th-century Anabaptists. The Old Order are usually distinguished from the Amish Mennonites (now largely absorbed into the Mennonite Church [MC] or various conservative Mennonite groups), Beachy Amish and the New Order Amish by their strict adherence to the use of horses on the farm and as a source of transportation, their refusal to allow electricity or telephones in their homes, and their more traditional standard of dress, including the use of hooks-and-eyes fasteners on some articles of clothing.

    Tourism has become a burden for Amish in many settlements. While tourists purchase products produced by the Amish (e.g., baked goods or quilts), they also congest country roads, interrupt schools and small businesses and, perhaps most obtrusively, take photographs. Many tourists are simply unaware of the Amish prohibition against being photographed.

    Publications have been an important voice of the Amish. A non-Amish publisher in Sugarcreek, Ohio, has published The Budget, a weekly newspaper, since 1890. Amish scribes from nearly every settlement report about important events in their locality to the nationwide Amish readership of this paper.

    Finally, in many communities the Amish have acculturated into the dominant culture to some extent. They have borrowed technology as well as ideas from their non-Amish neighbors. Examples of the former include the increase in the use of diesel or gasoline engines to provide power for machinery. Indoor plumbing, gas stoves, and refrigerators are found in more and more Amish homes.

    While acculturation is occurring, there is no evidence that Amish culture is on the verge of disappearing. Amish people clearly understand the boundary between their culture and the non-Amish world. While change may be necessary and, in some instances unavoidable, it is made cautiously and with a great deal of discussion.

    Excerpts, adaptations, and/or slight modifications from Amish.

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