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The Amish People & Tradition
The Amish are a throwback to the “old days”. In the technology-filled world of the 21st century, they live a simple and mostly technology-free life. They arrived in America about 300 years ago, intending to start a new life free from religious persecution. They settled primarily in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Today, the so-called “Old Order” Amish community has nearly 200,000 members. These communities are concentrated in LaGrange, Indiana, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio. Amish culture remains iconic in America with its modest costumes and horse-drawn carriages. It is also known for its fine handcrafted furniture and quilting.
The Amish are known for their modest attire. Men wear black trousers and jackets, while women wear long, dark, long-sleeved dresses with white aprons and shawls. Their customs make them different from mainstream American citizens in many ways. On the one hand, they interpret the Bible literally, which means they adopt specific dress codes and standards of behavior, even as they reject most modern technology. Photographs are also not allowed, as these are considered “engraved images” as discussed in the Ten Commandments. They think that their faith in God is best reflected in their words and deeds, so they strive to follow the example of the Bible and accept God’s will in everything. Because of this, they serve as conscientious objectors and turn their faces away when they are personally attacked.
The strength of community and family is key to the Amish community. Humility and obedience are highly valued, as Christ’s example in Scripture illustrates. Likewise, ambition and pride are rejected. Therefore, there is no competition, materialism or individualism. For example, in the Amish community, owning a car is not allowed because the Amish believe that it would cause a divide in the council, distinguish between “haves” and “have-nots,” and bring about conceited pride.
However, the Amish do accept car travel if business or emergencies require long distances or extreme speed. For the same reason, there is no telephone or electricity at home. Dairy farms, however, are powered by alternative energy sources. There are also often small buildings with public phones for outgoing calls. Self-reliance and individualism are not embraced, but the community itself is independent of external power sources.
Amish values continue to separate them from mainstream American culture. Community members should marry and have children. Their courtship traditions are unique in that they can only marry other Amish, although the people they marry may be from a different Amish settlement than they are. Both men and women follow traditional gender roles and often have extended families. Divorce is forbidden. They also have a common language. English was taught at school, but Pennsylvania Dutch, an obscure dialect of German, was spoken at home.
In addition to clothing, Amish beards are also unique. Once a man is married, he should grow a beard. However, there are no beards and mustaches. This is because they reject anything vain or military. In their home country, the military leaders responsible for the persecution of the Amish sport very stylish beards.
They have no formal or organized system of government, but they are led by appointed missionaries, bishops, and deacons. Shunning is a much-discussed practice, a disciplinary measure based on passages from the New Testament. It is used when baptized members of the community “invade” the community. This means that other community members, even spouses, are not allowed to have contact with the offender while the offender is being shunned. However, once the offender asks for forgiveness, it is freely offered and the shunned are welcomed back into the community.
In 1972, a landmark legal decision enshrined the Amish’s right to continue their way of life without government interference in Social Security taxes and benefits, child labor laws, and compulsory education. In the Amish community, children attend eighth grade in one-room schoolhouses. They are taught by single young women in small classes across multiple grades. Amish children consistently outperform their rural non-Amish peers on standardized tests. In the Amish community, it is believed that after the last bit of formal schooling, the next stage of maturity is best accomplished at home by learning stronger religious beliefs and practical skills.
When young people finish school, girls learn housework and childcare skills with their mothers and other women, while boys learn farming and carpentry skills with their fathers and other men. Young people over the age of 16 are allowed to experience freedom and are even encouraged to live with “Brits” or non-Amish people to see if they want to stay in the Amish community. A small percentage of young people do decide to continue living with the “Brits”, but the majority choose to return to the Amish life, get baptized, and dedicate their lives to community and fellowship.
The Amish are exempt from Social Security taxes, but must still pay other types of taxes, including property and sales taxes. They do not buy insurance, but support each other as a community during emergencies. They do not participate in government pensions, but take care of the elderly at home.
Each Amish settlement lives independently of the other settlements. They share the same core doctrine, but differ in matters of degree. Some differences may include how simple the garment is, or whether and to what extent compromises are allowed when using modern technology. When disagreements arise, members may sometimes go to another community that is more in line with their own belief views.
The Amish were originally farmers when they immigrated from Switzerland and Germany, and today the Amish still rely on farming as their main source of income. They are isolated from the world around them, but possess astute business skills and develop friendship and business relationships with the “Brits” in the surrounding communities. Many “Brits” help the Amish for free, allowing the Amish to preserve 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 both for personal use and for sale in the market. In addition, they are excellent carpenters and dairy farmers. They have also recently started a cottage industry, including selling jellies, furniture, quilts and other handmade items. ‘British’ consumers have raved about the quality of the goods. The Amish strive first and foremost to give the glory to God, so the workmanship is well above average and is a self-evident and lasting testament to their faith.
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