Table of Contents
2. A Short History of the Amish
3. Main Features of Amish life
3.1 Belief and Cultural Identity
3.2 Family Life
3.4 Rumspringa and Mate-Finding
3.5 Excommunication and Shunning
4. Conflicts with Modernity
4.1 Attitude towards Technical Innovations
4.2 Current Business Problems
7. Works Cited
When I think of Amish people I imagine farmers in awkward clothes cultivating their land or riding their buggies. Of course also the picture of colourful quilts comes into my mind. Apart from that Amish society is on the one hand fascinating and on the other hand very mysterious to me:
How could they accomplish to survive as a subculture which differs so much from the surrounding mainstream society? What are the keystones of their faith? Where do they come from? Will they manage to remain unchanged in such a - as they see it - sinful, seductive and dangerous world?
In this paper I will try to answer all these questions. Moreover, I want to give a comprehensive idea of Amish lifestyle and philosophy in order that we as non-Amish can understand their way of life, which feels so strange and disconcerting to us.
2. A Short History of the Amish
From the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland came the Anabaptists in 1525. Because of their belief in adult baptism 1 and their strict separation of church and state they were persecuted by the state authorities and the Catholic State Church.
The most important leader of this Anabaptist movement was Ulrich Zwingli from Zurich. But he lost his authority and acceptance by negotiating with the city council of Zurich. Doing so Zwingli, in the eyes of some radical adherents, disregarded the separation of church and state. 2 On January 21, 1525, this radical group assembled to pray to God. Afterwards the clergyman Georg Blaurock requested anyone of the group to baptise him. One of them did so and all the others followed this example. Hence, Anabaptism was born. 3
In the following years innumerable Anabaptists were murdered, drowned or burned at the stake. Nevertheless, the Anabaptist movement propagated quickly, especially in Switzerland, Southern Germany, Alsace, Tyrol and Bohemia. Therefore it was necessary to write down the most important doctrines, which was done in February 1527 in Schleitheim, Switzerland. These seven doctrines are known as the “Bekennt- nis von Schleitheim” 4, which is still referred to in the services or in questions of faith.
Around 1530 Anabaptism spread over to Northern Germany and to the Netherlands. Regarding the enormously increasing number of Anabaptists not only the Catholic Church, but also the Protestant Church feared the influence of this group. For that reason the Anabaptists were outlawed all over Europe. Due to that thousands of Anabaptists lost their lives. Facing this misery the so called Ausbund, a collection of sad ballads and hymns especially about famous martyrs, was written. 5 Right up to the present day the Amish use this book as their songbook in services.
In 1536 a very important person joined the North-German Anabaptists - Menno Simons. After some years as an itinerant preacher baptizing and spreading their belief, he became the most important and charismatic leader of the Anabaptists in Northern Europe. 6
Among the Anabaptists concerns about the purity of their community were very popular. Hence, the practice of excommunication and shunning emerged to remain an innocent community, also in case of sinful actions of a member. How the Amish nowadays implement excommunication and shunning will be explained later in the paper.
After another hard and difficult time in the Thirty Years War, there was a serious question which occupied the Anabaptists very much. Should a person under the ban be shunned as well in the spiritual as in the physical way? Was it for instance allowed to have a meal with a shunned family member? Jacob Ammann, an Anabaptist from Switzerland, believed that a brother who falls into sin should be put out of the fellow- ship of the church. No one should associate in any way with the sinner until he repents. Only then he is restored into the fellowship of believers. In Simons' and his followers' eyes this was too hard. 7 They preferred only to exclude the wrongdoer from religious services and meetings. After lots of failed conventions to come to an agreement there was a division of these groups. The group supporting Ammann was named after him. The Amish were born, whereas the others called themselves Mennonites after Menno Simons. 8
Still the Amish were persecuted recklessly. Since the Amish lived according to the principle of non-violence they were easy game. Moreover, their religious life was extremely restricted and their land was confiscated by the authorities. Furthermore they suffered from hunger and the plague. Therefore they saw just one solution - emigration. William Penn, who was on a journey in Germany at that time, offered suppressed religious minorities peace and religious freedom in the British colony of Pennsylvania. 9 The Amish and also the Mennonites followed this invitation gladly. Starting in 1683 a huge stream of immigrants came to the New World. 10 One of the first settlements founded was Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Now the Amish could finally live the lives they wanted. To nearly every family this meant working as farmers.
Today approximately 250,000 Amish reside in the United States, mostly in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.
3. Main Features of Amish life
3.1 Belief and Cultural Identity
The first and most important aspect to be mentioned is that the Amish clearly and rigorously distinguish between their world and the world surrounding them. In their opinion they are a chosen people believing in the one and only true religion. In contrast to that they classify the non-Amish world as the ‘sinful world’ 11.
The Amish hold the Bible as the ultimate word of God. God's word guides their every- day life. They follow the teachings of the Bible as literally as possible and apply them to every aspect of their lives. Everything they do can be explained by a certain verse from the Bible. To them the Bible is the ultimate word of God and requires no further interpretation. Hence, the Amish do not have any religious authorities apart from their bishops. Amish religious groups are organized in districts which are usually comprised of 25 to 35 families.
Their services take place every other Sunday. Then all the Amish of a certain district meet at one of the members' home. The service lasts from around eight o’clock in the morning until about twelve o’clock. During the service the people sit on backless benches which are brought to each family’s home for this special occasion. After the service the hosting family will serve lunch. The members have lunch in a certain order. First the men are served, then the boys, afterwards the women and finally the girls. 12
Fundamental values, beliefs and views of their faith are fixed in the so called Ordnung or charter. “The charter encompasses basic beliefs and a body of tradition and wisdom that guide the members in their daily lives.” 13 “The older rules clarify the basic principles of separation, non-resistance, apostasy, and exclusion. The contemporary Ordnung guides members in the application and practice of the principles.” 14
This non-conformity with the surrounding world becomes obvious in everything the Amish do. At first glance their entire outward appearance seems strange. Amish boys or men usually wear wide, dark trousers often held by suspenders, a dark shirt and a vest or jacket. Moreover, a straw hat belongs to their every day outfit. Amish men and boys will also all have a Dutch-style haircut: parted in the middle and cut straight around the head covering about half of the ear. Amish men do not have beards until they get married, then they grow their beard but always keep their upper lip shaven - no moustache, just an untrimmed beard around their chin. A moustache reminds them of the soldiers who persecuted them in Europe. The Amish will never grow a moustache because they associate it with the violence they categorically refuse to use.
Also Amish women dress in a prescribed way: They wear long dresses, the usual colour being black, blue or dark green. In all cases an apron is worn over the dress. As soon as a woman marries, the apron is black. Single women have white aprons. In addition to that a woman’s head is always covered by a white cap according to the bible verse: “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head” (1 Corinthians 11:5). Also the women’s hairstyles are not individual. Their hair is generally long, parted in the middle and pulled back in a bun at the back of the neck. On Sundays there is a special dress code: Men and boys wear white shirts and the colour of the women’s and girls' dresses is always black. “Since all Amish women learn to sew at an early age, most clothing is homemade.” 15 A picture of a typical Amish family and their clothing can be found on page 20.
In addition to clothing Amish people also detach themselves from people not belonging to their community by speaking their very own individual language - the so called Pennsylvania German . “The dialect resembles the Palatine German folk speech.” 16 It is primarily a colloquial language spoken among community and family members. 17
Certainly English is also spoken at least to communicate with the Englishers , as the Amish call their American neighbours. English becomes more and more important as will be described later on in section 4.2. Furthermore many English words are needed for some technical innovations, because there are no equivalents in Pennsylvania German . At school the pupils speak English as well. Besides their language Amish people make use of other ways symbolizing their demarcation such as their horses and buggies.
As mentioned above Amish world view and lifestyle are predominantly coined by religion and the Word of God. Obedience, submission, modesty, devotion and self- abandonment determine their lives in the community. “Die Einschränkungen der individuellen Persönlichkeit spiegeln sich in vielen Bereichen der Gemeinschaft wider: in kirchlichen Ritualen, in der Erziehung, in der Kleidung, sozialen Bindungen und Freizeitbeschäftigungen. Die Amish benutzen dafür den Ausdruck Gelassenheit: ‘The early Anabaptists used the term Gelassenheit to convey the idea of yielding fully to God’s will with a dedicated heart - forsaking all selfishness.’ ” 18 Hence, Gelassen- heit has not only an impact on their personal characters being quiet, calm, modest, restrained and taciturn but also on their culture and society. “Ihre Gewaltlosigkeit, der Verzicht auf Gerichtsverfahren, das Sichfernhalten von politischer Betätigung, ihre einheitliche und einfache Kleidung sind deutliche Beispiele der sozialen Funktion dieses Phänomens.” 19
All in all the function of all these traditions and habits is first of all to signal the submission of the members under the common Ordnung. Moreover, they all symbolize equality among the community. Additionally a strong community awareness, which strengthens the group’s identity, is confirmed. Over and above the social control is enlarged, because Amish behaviour is expected from people wearing this kind of “uniform”. Lastly, their traditions create a common public appearance which sets up symbolical boundaries around the community.
1 The Anabaptists preferred adult baptism to infant baptism for the following reason: “Ein Kind war die Perfektion der Schöpfung. Von Gott und dem Teufel wußte es nichts, konnte somit auch keine Sünde haben, sich allerdings auch nicht zu irgendeinem Glauben bekennen. Kein schlechtes Beispiel dafür war Christus selbst, der die Taufe erst im Alter von 30 Jahren empfangen hatte.” (Längin, Bernd G.: Die Amischen. Vom Geheimnis des einfachen Lebens . München: Paul List-Verlag 1990, p. 55.)
2 Cf. Langwasser, Silke: Die Old Order Amish. Eine Glaubensgemeinschaft zwischen Beharrlichkeit und Entwicklung. Marburg: Tectum-Verlag 2008, p. 23.
3 Cf. Ester, Peter: Die Amish People. Ü berlebensk ü nstler in der modernen Gesellschaft . Düsseldorf: Patmos 2005, p. 28.
4 Ester: Die Amish People , p. 30.
5 Cf. Ester: Die Amish People , p. 32. There is no musical accompaniment, so the ballads and hymns resemble more of a chant. The Ausbund contains no notes, the melodies are passed on orally from generation to generation.
6 Cf. Ester: Die Amish People , p. 32-33.
7 Cf. Längin: Die Amischen , p. 29.
8 Cf. Kronzucker, Dieter: Unser Amerika . Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt 1987, p. 20.
9 Cf. Ester: Die Amish People , p. 42.
10 Cf. Kronzucker: Unser Amerika , p. 21.
11 Cf. Neumann, Ulrike: Die Amish im 21. Jahrhundert - Strategien und Entwicklungsm ö glichkeiten ihrer kulturellen Unabh ä ngigkeit . München: Grin-Verlag 2009, p. 3.
12 Cf. Ester: Die Amish People , p. 70.
13 Hostetler, John A.: Amish Society. 4th Edition. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press 1993, p. 73.
14 Cf. Hostetler: Amish Society , p. 83.
15 Amish Country - A Pictorial View. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: TEM Inc. 1994, p. 4.
16 Hostetler: Amish Society , p. 242.
17 Cf. Langwasser: Die Old Order Amish , p. 140.
18 Neumann: Die Amish im 21.Jahrhundert , p. 4.
19 Ester: Die Amish People , p. 78-79.