The Amish are a throwback to the “old days.” They live simply and without most of the technology in the midst of the technology-laden world of the 21st century. They arrived in the US nearly 300 years ago, intending to start a new life free from religious persecution. They settled mainly in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Today, there are nearly 200,000 members of what are called “Old Order” Amish communities. These communities are concentrated in Lagrange, Indiana, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio. Amish culture remains iconic in America, with its simple clothing and horse-drawn carriages; it is also known for its beautifully handcrafted furniture and quilts.
The Amish are known for their simple clothing. The men wear black pants and jackets, while the women wear long, dark, long-sleeved dresses with white aprons and capes. Their habits set them apart from regular American citizens in many ways. First, they have interpreted the Bible literally, meaning they adopt specific dress codes and standards of behavior, even though they reject most modern technology. Photos are also not allowed as they are considered “engraved images” as discussed in the 10 Commandments. They believe that their faith in God is best represented by words and actions, so they strive to follow the examples of the Bible and accept God’s will in everything. This makes them conscientious objectors when it comes to military service and turns the other cheek when attacked personally.
The strength of community and family is central to the Amish community. Humility and submission are highly valued, as evidenced by the example of Christ in the Bible. Similarly, ambition and pride are rejected. So there is no competition, materialism or individualism. For example, in the Amish community, one is not allowed to own a car, as the Amish believe this would create divisions in the committee, separate “rich” from “poor”, and lead to boastful pride.
However, the Amish do accept rides in cars when business or emergencies require a person to travel a great distance or require extreme speed. By the same principle, houses do not have telephones or electricity. However, dairy barns are powered by alternative energy sources. Often there are also small buildings with communal telephones to make outgoing calls. Self-sufficiency and individualism are not accepted, but the community itself is independent of external sources of electricity.
Amish values continue to set them apart from mainstream American culture. Members of the community are expected to marry and raise families. Their courtship tradition is unique, in that they can only marry other Amish, although those they marry may be from different Amish settlements than they do. Men and women follow traditional gender roles and often have large families. Divorce is prohibited. They also share a common language. English is taught in the schools, but Pennsylvania Dutch, an obscure German dialect, is spoken at home.
In addition to clothing, Amish men have a unique style of facial hair. Once a man is married, he is expected to grow a beard. However, there is no mustache along with the beard. This is because they reject anything vain or military. In their homeland, the military leaders responsible for the persecution of the Amish had very stylish mustaches.
They have no system of government that is formal or organized, but appointed ministers, bishops, and deacons lead them. Shunning, a much-discussed practice, is a disciplinary measure based on New Testament Bible passages. It is used when a baptized member of the community “transgresses” against the community. What this means is that other members of the community, even spouses, are not allowed to interact with the perpetrator while he or she is being shunned. However, once the person who committed the offense asks for forgiveness, forgiveness is freely offered and the shunned is welcomed back into the community.
In 1972, a landmark legal decision established that the Amish have the right to continue their way of life without government intervention in the areas of Social Security, taxes and benefits, child labor laws, and compulsory education. In the Amish community, children through eighth grade attend school in one-room schoolhouses. They are taught by single young women in small, multi-class classes. Consistently, Amish children have outperformed their non-Amish rural peers on standardized tests. In the Amish community, the belief is that after the last formal education, the next phase of adulthood is best done within families, learning stronger religious faith and practical skills.
Once the youngsters have finished school, the girls learn housework and child rearing with their mothers and other women, while the boys learn farming and carpentry skills with their fathers and other men. At age 16, young people are allowed to experience freedom and are even encouraged to live among the “English” or non-Amish people, to see whether or not they want to stay in the Amish community. A small number of young people decide to stay with the “English,” but most choose to return to Amish life, get baptized, and dedicate their lives to the community and community.
The Amish are exempt from Social Security taxes, but still must pay other types of taxes, including property and sales taxes. They have no insurance, but support each other as a community during emergencies. They do not rely on government care for the elderly, but care for their elderly at home.
Each Amish settlement lives independently of the other settlements. They share the same core doctrine, but differ on a degree level. Some differences might be how simple clothes are, whether compromises are allowed when using modern technology, and to what extent. When there is a difference of opinion, members sometimes move to another community that better reflects their own beliefs.
Originally farmers when they emigrated from Switzerland and Germany, today the Amish still use agriculture as their main source of income. They live separate from the world around them, but have smart business skills and have built friendships and business relationships with the “English” in the surrounding communities. Many “English” help the Amish for free so that the Amish can keep their way of life. The Amish grow crops such as barley, soybeans, tobacco, wheat, and corn, as well as other vegetables. They grow these crops for personal use as well as for the market. In addition, they are excellent carpenters and dairy farmers. They have also recently started developing cottage industries, which include selling jellies, furniture, quilts, and other handmade goods. “English” consumers have highly praised these goods for being of such high quality. The Amish strive first and foremost to give glory to God, which is why the craftsmanship is far above average and is an unspoken and lasting testament to faith.