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Who Are the Amish?

Most Amish communities prohibit their people from joining the military.
Amish adolescents get a chance to live a life free of church rules during rumspringa.
The Amish travel by horse and buggy.
The Amish believe that only adults can be baptized, and only after they have committed themselves to the church.
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  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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Founded by Jacob Amman (c. 1656 – c. 1730), for whom the group was named, the Amish are a Christian sect that broke off from the Mennonite church in 17th century Europe due to the dissension of religious practices. Because of religious persecution in Europe after the sect was formed, they fled to North America, where they now maintain a population of 50,000 residing in parts of Canada and the Midwest and some eastern states of the U.S. One of the most famous groups lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

For many passersby, the Amish way of life may seem peculiar. Sharing a roadway with a horse drawn carriage, operated by people who appear to have stepped out of the Middle Ages, may seem like some kind of anomaly. However, the simple lifestyle, their plain clothing, and their denial of modern technology are a careful expression of their devotion to their religious beliefs.

The lifestyle of people in this sect is centered around farming. Men, women, and children all work hard to contribute to their community. The family is patriarchally structured, and women, although their work is considered very important, live under stricter regulations than men and must behave submissively to their husbands.

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Amish men wear beards and typically dress in plain, dark colored slacks and suspenders. Women wear long, solid colored dresses with an apron and bonnet. Married women are required to wear black bonnets, while single women wear white bonnets.

As Christians, the Amish believe in the doctrines of the Bible. However, their particular religious philosophy differs from that of other Christians in how they feel that God wishes them to live. At the risk of overgeneralizing, there are two key principles that dictate the way they live: Demut and Hochmut.

Demut is the Amish term for humility and submission to God, which they value highly. To achieve this humility and live the way they believe that God wills, the Amish emphasize the value of community, cooperation, fellowship, and brotherhood in the group. Self discipline is also very important.

Hochmut refers to the rejection of vanity, pride, and individualism. The Amish believe that many of the modern conveniences that others enjoy promote these transgressions in some way. It is against their belief to take photographs or to be photographed, because the practice promotes vanity. The use of technology, such as automobiles, electricity, and labor saving machinery, can create competition between members of a community, encouraging pride, arrogance, and rivalry. The Amish also forbid education after the equivalent of the eighth grade, suggesting that higher education contributes to a feeling of self importance. They feel that education up to the eighth grade is all that is necessary to effectively contribute to the community.

People who belong to this community do not view technology as evil, but rather as a complication to the simple life that works to prevent vanity. Doctrines differ among different communities, however, and some groups allow some forms of electricity, primitive appliances, and necessary machinery. One group, called the Beachy Amish, are permitted to drive plain, undecorated cars.

Generally common throughout all communities are prohibitions against joining the military, holding any form of public office, and receiving any assistance from the government. Most people speak a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, which the Amish call Deitsch.

The Amish practice baptism, rumspringa, and shunning. Their beliefs dictate that only adults can be baptized, and only after they have made an informed decision to commit themselves to the church. Baptism is preceded by rumspringa, which refers to a period of time when the adolescents are released from the rules of the church and the strict lifestyle.

During rumspringa, teenagers are permitted to explore mainstream culture, wear modern clothing, and do the things that non-Amish kids do. After this period, the teens must decide whether they want to remain within the church. About 80% to 90% of them resolve to be baptized and stay with their community.

The Amish avidly isolate themselves from mainstream American culture and isolate members of their community who sin in a practice referred to as shunning. They often cite II Corinthians 6:14 as the justification for this practice: "Do not team up with unbelievers. What partnership can righteousness have with wickedness? Can light associate with darkness?"

Today, the Amish are forced to interweave to an extent with mainstream culture due to the increase in the cost of living and the difficulty of acquiring land. Their simple and low tech ways of life simply cannot compete with the cheaper and faster turn around of goods produced by modern technical means. Therefore, they have had to interact with the general public through tourism, the sale of their crafts and goods, and sometimes even work outside of their community in order to make a living.

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Discuss this Article

anon286361
Post 12

They pay no taxes, period. They don't use the Social Security, so why should they pay taxes? They take care of themselves. They don't use insurance, nor hospitals.

anon266258
Post 10

The Amish and Mennonites do believe in Jesus and they use Die Bibel (bible). There are buggy Mennonites also, and Mennonites also live among the English. Amish hold church in their homes. Mennonites have churches.

amypollick
Post 9

The Amish are frequently confused with Mennonites, and may even be called Mennonites by some people. Their beliefs, as far as Christianity goes, are similar. But the Mennonites do use modern conveniences, although they do strive to live simply.

anon163971
Post 8

I live in Springfield, MO and the people you see in vans with cell phones are Mennonites, who do have a lot of the same modern things as we do, but when driving past Rogersville you get into Amish country where they drive horses and buggies and have no modern things.

The full Amish here will get rides with other people and will use someone else's phone in an emergency but other than that they keep to themselves.

anon117975
Post 7

I was visiting my sister in Springfield MO and saw a couple that looked like an Amish couple but in fact were Mennonite. I have seen many of them in MO, KS and CO areas. Amish are more in areas like PA, OH, IN, NY, etc.

clejer1015
Post 5

i met an Amish on flyordie checker site i am curious they do seem to use computers & other modern things like us so i am confused about why they say they live such a simple life style

anon18205
Post 4

Just thanks for this most informative article - ISG, England

anon14305
Post 3

I live in Springfield, Mo. The Amish here are interesting in the fact that they do not shun all electronic technology. They carries cell phones (both men and women) on their hips like most people do. I live life trying not to make judgment but this is plain to see. It is also interesting that the Amish pay no taxes on their land, services, etc. Not sure how the Amish fulfill their beliefs elsewhere but in this city I know what I see and it is not what they "decree".

malena
Post 2

Grannypam45 - As Christians, the Amish believe in Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus to be son of God and they believe that He died on the cross for the sins of man. Perhaps you don't hear too much about that because there are other aspects of the religion and lifestyle that seem more unique and therefore get more attention.

grannypam45
Post 1

I don't ever see Jesus Christ mentioned. Do the Amish believe him to be the son of God or just a prophet? Do they believe he even exists?

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