Most of us have probably heard about the Amish people, and how they don’t really do the whole technology thing. In fact, that might be all you really know about them. So who are the Amish? Where did they come from and what is their history? Let’s take a dive into Amish life.
Who Are the Amish? A Quick History
Amish origins are tied to the Anabaptist movement as early as the 1500s. This movement itself has its core in the Schleitheim Confession. The long short of Anabaptism, which is also what their name loosely means, is a kind of “rebaptism”. Like most variations of Christianity, the Anabaptists were not well liked–the term “Anabaptist” was originally a designation used by the Protestants and Catholics that persecuted them.
We suppose the one thing that would get Protestants and Catholics to cooperate in the old days was another interpretation of the same Bible. Plus, as an unfortunate aside for the Anabaptists, no state body every adopted them as their official religion so they didn’t get to enjoy those nice benefits governments give churches.
Anyway, the word “Amish” first cropped up in the 1710s. Surprise, like their Anabaptist origins, Amish was a designation used against the them. In the 1700s, the movement hadn’t made its way into North America yet, still a derivation of the Swiss Anabaptist movement. This movement, by the way, was referred to as the Swiss Brethren.
Persecuted and part of a fractured movement in and of itself, the Swiss Brethren were pushed into solitude and remoteness. Which, probably, would explain some of the isolationism they get up to today. Like most religious movements, being persecuted made them even more zealous so, yeah.
All alone, the Swiss Anabaptism would develop into the Swiss Mennonites and the Amish. Because of course there would be another split.
By 1727, the Amish would begin to make their way to Pennsylvania. Who could blame them? The place was known for religious toleration. By the 19th Century, their ideology had largely shifted in North America. Which, of course, caused another split into Old Order Amish Mennonites and whatnot. This wasn’t a violent or major one though, we’d have to wait until World War I for that.
Again, this schism was probably more due to a language barrier than some fundamental disagreements. During WWI, German culture was largely stamped out by propaganda. This includes the German language. With members of the Old Orders speaking German in some regions but not others, an English/German language barrier would emerge.
There would be more breakaways, like the Beachy Amish. Basically they wanted to use cars and some of the internet. But, like the Old Order, TV and radio were banned. Which kind of seems like you’re putting the cart before the horse in the technological timeline, but who are we to say?
Speaking of, the Old Order would start rejecting technology as it came about. The first would be the telephone, followed by almost every other technological advancement in the 20th Century. We assume they’re not down with 21st Century tech either. Like those new fangled VR goggles.
Quick overview, the Amish value humility and personal tranquility. To them, it’s a kind of “submission”. That’s got a whole other load of subtext, but we don’t have time to unpack that today. This stands in contrast to what they admonish, namely pride and arrogance. Also technology, they admonish that too.
There is a fundamental repression of individualism in Amish ideology, given that whole “submission” thing. They believe they’re giving themselves to the “Will of Jesus,” and they’d do so in a non-individualistic fashion. This, in turn, means that they, above almost all else, value their communities.
In valuing the community at the expense of the individual, the Amish were put at odds with the American identity. So it kind of makes sense that the Amish are pretty secluded.
If you’re wondering why they reject technology so much, we have that answer. It’s primarily because they believe that technology undermines the idea of community. Primarily farmers who relied on each other back in the day, the Amish were almost founded on this idea of the greater communal whole. Relying on a big robot arm to take care of everything is a big step from relying on people to the Amish. A step big enough to be considered blasphemous.
Even more so is the reduction of “hard work.” Work is considered super holy to the Amish, and technology makes things easier. So using technology to make life easier is blasphemous. We guess they never heard of “work smarter, not harder.”
Yes, this leads to horse carriages in the streets.
Given what we’ve just outlined it’s no surprise that the Amish lifestyle is super regulated. Granted, the methods and degree of regulation differs between communities. Things regulated include the following.
- Dress codes
- Religious obligations
- Interacting with Non-Amish people
In case you were wondering how families operate in Amish society, big families are the name of the game. Pragmatically, it makes sense for them because farms need more hands to tend to the fields. A practice quite common in farming families anyway.
Speaking of dress codes, the Amish dress code is super conservative. We’re talking women show no leg and wear dresses (no pants), men have very specific suits, we’ve got bonnets and the whole shebang. Honestly, it would be like going back in time.
With technology developing faster than ever, you’d think the Amish would adapt. Quite the contrary it seems. Education normally doesn’t go past an 8th grade one, high school and college is typically out of the question. Schools take the form of one-room schoolhouses that are run by the Amish.
Which is a long way of saying they did not (and do not seem keen on) adapting. It’s a pretty closed loop.
Think you know everything Amish? See if you know where they are here.