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The Amish People & Tradition
The Amish are a throwback to the “old days”. They live simply and without most technology in the midst of the technology-laden world of the 21st century. They came to the United States almost 300 years ago, intending to start a new life free from religious persecution. Mainly, they settled 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 dress and horse-drawn carriages; it is also known for its handcrafted furniture and quilts.
The Amish are known for their simple dress. Men wear black trousers and jackets, while women wear long, dark, long-sleeved dresses with white aprons and capes. Their customs set them apart from American citizens in many ways. On the one hand, they have interpreted the Bible literally, meaning they adopt specific dress codes and standards of behavior, while rejecting most modern technology. Photographs are also not allowed because they are considered “recorded 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 that the Bible gives and to accept God’s will in everything. Because of this, they are conscientious objectors when it comes to military service and turn the other cheek when they are personally attacked.
The strength of community and family are key to the Amish community. Humility and submission are highly valued, as set forth by Christ’s example in the Bible. Similarly, ambition and pride are rejected. So there is no competitiveness, materialism or individualism. For example, in the Amish community, one is not allowed to own an automobile because the Amish believe that this would cause division in the committee, separating the “rich” from the “poor” and causing boastful pride.
However, the Amish accept automobile travel if business or emergencies require one to travel a great distance or require maximum speed. By the same principle, the houses have no telephone or electricity. However, dairy barns are powered by alternative energy sources. There are also often small buildings that have communal telephones for making 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 traditional American culture. Community members are expected to marry and have families. Their courtship tradition is unique in that they can only marry other Amish, although those who marry may come from different Amish settlements than they do. Men and women follow traditional gender roles and often have large families. Divorce is forbidden. They also share a common language. English is taught in schools, but Pennsylvania Dutch, an obscure German dialect, is spoken at home.
In addition to dress, Amish men have a unique style of facial hair. When a man marries, 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 home countries, 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 are led by appointed preachers, bishops, and deacons. Shunning, which has been a much-debated practice, is a measure of discipline based on passages in the New Testament Bible. It is used when a baptized member of the community “comes in” against the community. This means that no other members of the community, not even spouses, can contact the offender while he is being rejected. However, once the person who has committed the crime asks for forgiveness, forgiveness is freely offered and the rejected are welcomed back into the community.
In 1972, a landmark legal decision decreed that the Amish had the right to continue their lifestyle without government interference in terms of taxes and Social Security benefits, child labor laws, and compulsory schooling. In the Amish community, children go to school through the eighth grade in one-room schoolhouses. They are taught by young single women in small classes of various grades. Amish children have consistently performed better than their non-Amish rural peers on standardized tests. In the Amish community, the belief is that after the last formal stage of schooling, the next stage of maturation is best done within families, learning a stronger religious faith and practical skills.
After the youths finish schooling, girls learn cleaning and child-rearing skills alongside their mothers and other women, while boys learn farming and carpentry skills alongside their fathers and other men. At 16, the youth can experience freedom and are even encouraged to live among the “English” or non-Amish population, to see whether or not they want to remain in the Amish community. A small number of young people choose to continue living with the “English”, but most choose to return to Amish life, get baptized and dedicate their lives to community and community.
The Amish are exempt from Social Security taxes, but still have to pay other types of taxes, including property and sales taxes. They don’t carry insurance, but they support each other as a community during emergencies. They do not enroll in public care for the elderly, but care at home.
Each Amish settlement lives independently of the other settlements. They share the same basic doctrine but differ in matters of degree. Some differences may include the simplicity of clothing, or whether or not a compromise in the use of modern technology is allowed and to what extent. When disagreements occur, members may sometimes go to another community that better fits their own view of the faith.
Originally farmers when they immigrated from Switzerland and Germany, today the Amish still use agriculture as their main source of income. They live apart from the world around them, but have shrewd business skills and have cultivated friendships and business relationships with the “English” in the surrounding communities. Many “English” help the Amish for free, so that the Amish can 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 the market. In addition, they are excellent carpenters and dairy farmers. Recently they have also started to develop handicraft industries which include the sale of jellies, furniture, quilts and other handmade products. These products have been highly praised by ‘English’ consumers for being of such high quality. The Amish strive first and foremost to give glory to God, and for that, and the workmanship is well above average and is an unspoken and lasting witness to faith.
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