The Amish movement is one of the most fascinating religions in the modern world. They are famous for their simple living that involves shunning many new technologies, especially ones related to mass media and motor vehicles. They also do not wear contemporary fashion and have their own language, Pennsylvania Dutch.
We should also point out that there are actually several groups of Amish. The two biggest are the Amish Mennonites and the Old Order Amish. Amish Mennonite groups started off as Amish, but have since drifted away from traditional Amish lifestyles and have become more similar to Mennonites than Old Order Amish. Notably, Amish Mennonites use public energy utilities and drive motor vehicles.
Old Order Amish, on the other hand, are the ones who use horses and buggies, speak Pennsylvania Dutch, and avoid technology.
10. The Roots
The roots of the Amish religion are found in the Anabaptist movement, which was a splinter group that emerged during the Protestant Reformation in 1525. The Anabaptists are firm pacifists and they strongly believe in the separation of church and state. However, the biggest difference between the Anabaptists and other Christian sects is that they perform adult baptisms. While this may seem like a minor difference to us, adult baptism was against the laws of the Catholicism and it was punishable by death. As a result, the Anabaptists faced terrible persecution, so the Anabaptists were forced to practice in secrecy.
One of the earliest groups of Anabaptists was led by a former Catholic Priest, Dutch-born Menno Simon and his followers would go on to be called Mennonites. Then, in 1677, a Swiss man named Jakob Ammann joined the Mennonites and he eventually became the leader of the Swiss Mennonites. In 1693, Ammann decided to shake things up a little bit and introduced some new rules. Notably, he thought that men should stop trimming their beards and his congregation should stop wearing fashionable clothes. However, his most polarizing new rule was that excommunicated members should be shunned. If someone was kicked out of the church, they were essentially dead to everyone in the church, which is usually all their friends and family. His proclamations were controversial, and it caused a schism in the religion. The people who followed Ammann became the Amish.
Over the next several centuries, the Amish continued to be persecuted in Europe. Then In 1737, 21 Amish families came from the Netherlands and settled in Pennsylvania before expanding out to the rest of America. In 2012, there were Amish people living in 28 states and in Ontario, Canada.
9. The Difference Between Amish and Mennonite
There is often a lot of confusion about whether the Amish and the Mennonites practice the same religion. And if they don’t, then what is the difference? Well, in the prior entry, we mentioned the Amish splintered off from the Mennonites in 1693. After the schism, the Mennonites continued to grow and expand and there are about a dozen subgroups that can be divided into two different groups – plain clothes Mennonites and assimilated Mennonites. Assimilated Mennonites use technology, pursue higher education, and wear modern clothing.
The plain clothes Mennonites can be split into two subgroups – those who use horses and buggies and those who use vehicles. Obviously, the horse and buggy Mennonites get confused with the Amish. Where they differ is that the men don’t have beards and the women can have patterns on their dress. They can also use modern technology like air travel and electricity, including television and the internet, although they may limit access.
Another fundamental difference between the Amish and all Mennonites is their place of worship. The Amish meet to worship in the homes and barns of their followers and the Mennonites have meetinghouses.
The final differences are their geography and the size of their populations. Mennonites came to North America in 1683, 10 years before the Amish splintered off. The first Mennonites settled Germantown, which eventually became a borough of Philadelphia. When it comes to the sizes of their congregation, there are many more Mennonite people in North America than Amish people, totaling about 800,000. Also, the Amish are only found in North America, whereas Mennonite communities are found in 51 different countries on six different continents.
Clearly, the Amish life isn’t for everyone. The Amish also know this and that is why they give young adults, starting at the age of 16, a chance to experience the outside world in a period known as Rumspringa. The experience is more often undertaken by males than females and during this time, they are given more freedom from their parents. Also, since they are not yet baptized, they aren’t under the rule of the church and this gives them freedom from that rule.
What young Amish people do while on Rumspringa can vary. Some wear modern clothes, go to the movies, and drive cars. However, in some cases, Amish people on Rumspringa party hard and get involved in drugs, sex, and alcohol.
After experiencing the outside world, the young people have to choose if they want to be baptized. If they choose to be baptized, they will have to confess their sins and after the baptism, they can get married.
If someone chooses not to be baptized, they have to move out of the community, but they are not shunned like people who are ex-communicated and they can stay in contact with their Amish friends and family. That is because the Amish value that people choose to be baptized and want to dedicate their lives to their faith.
7. Amish Music
While music is a celebrated art form in many religions, the Amish are not permitted to play instruments or listen to music unless it comes from their songbook called Ausbund. In the book, which is the oldest songbook still in continuous use, there are no musical notes. Instead, the tunes of the songs are passed down through generations.
The reason the Amish aren’t allowed to play instruments is because it’s self-expression and that could lead to feelings of pride and superiority. Yes, that may seem harsh, but if you’ve ever spent any time with a musician with a small amount of recognition, you’ll know that the Amish are right about that.
As for the themes of the songs, they are exactly what you would expect from simple-living and hardworking people who were violently persecuted for centuries. It’s all about sunshine, flowers, and rainbows. Just kidding, it’s about martyrdom and the hardship of persecution.
6. Faceless Dolls
The Amish aren’t exactly known for being fun-loving people. However, that doesn’t mean Amish children have to go without toys. One of the most popular toys used by little Amish children are dolls that don’t have faces. While there is no official story of where the faceless dolls came from, they manage to embody a lot of the tenets of the Amish religion.
The first is that the Amish believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Without an identity, the doll reinforces the notion that we are all the same to God.
The second part comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, which says: “Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.” The Amish have interpreted this to mean that humans should not make objects that look like humans. However, without a face, the dolls aren’t real representations of humans.
Finally, the Amish will go to great length to avoid sinning, and having a fancy doll would be a sign of vanity, where the plainness of the doll are a representation of the Amish’s humility.
5. Pictures (or Lack Thereof)
If you were invited into the home of an Amish family, besides the fact that they don’t have a TV or any electronics, another thing you may notice is that there are no personal pictures, like wedding pictures or baby pictures. That is because pictures violate several tenets of their faith.
First, they believe that pictures of people emphasizes individuality and the Amish believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Secondly, an important rule is not to make graven images, and they believe that pictures violate that rule. Finally, Amish people want to be remembered for their contributions and the way they lived rather than their physical appearance.
However, it’s important to clarify that it’s not against their religion to appear in pictures, but it is against their religion to pose for a picture. So if you happen to be traveling in Amish country, which can be tourist attractions, and want to take some pictures, the Amish people would prefer not to be in them. However, if you have to have a picture of Amish people, ask if you can take their picture, but don’t ask them to pose. Lastly, if possible, please take the picture so their faces aren’t recognizable.
4. Relationship with Technology
By far, what sets Amish people apart from many other people in society is that they do not embrace technology. The reason they do this isn’t because they think it’s evil, instead, they worry that it will lead to assimilation with the rest of society, and being their own separate independent community is a tenet of the Amish faith. This is the reason they do not embrace any sort of mass media like television, pop-music, and the internet.
If they do use electricity, it is often propane, battery, or solar powered and it does not come from public utility lines. For example, lights on their buggies that are powered by batteries that are charged with solar panels are perfectly acceptable.
When the Amish determine if they will embrace a new technology they first discuss if the community will use it. They do not automatically accept that new is always better, like many other people in society. Since they discuss it in their community and there is no higher Earthly governing body, like the Pope for the Catholic Church, technology use varies from subgroup to subgroup. For example, the most conservative group of the Old Order Amish is the Swartzentruber Amish, who mostly live in Holmes County, Ohio, have no modern luxuries including indoor plumbing. On the other end of the spectrum is the Lancaster Amish, which is the biggest subgroup of Old Order Amish. They have indoor plumbing, they use their own self-generated electricity, and they use pneumatic tools.
Also, there are no Biblical or religious reasons that prohibit the use of modern medical technologies, so what extent of medical care an Amish person wants to take advantage of usually depends on the family.
3. The Amish Have Higher Rates of Genetic Disease
The Amish are a unique Christian subgroup, because they do not try to attract new members. Yes, people do convert, but it’s pretty rare. What’s interesting is that while they do not get a lot of new members, the church’s population doubles every generation. In the early 1900s, there were about 5,000 Amish people living in North America, but today there is 250,000. This happened because they have a retention rate of 80 to 90 percent and then couples have six or seven children.
The problem with this system of population growth is that it creates a shallow genetic gene pool and this creates a genetic bottleneck called founder’s effect. When there is a bottleneck, genetic defects have a greater chance of being passed along to the next generation. In the Amish population, founder’s effect increases the likelihood that Amish offspring will inherit rare genetic diseases. Some of these diseases are so rare that they don’t even have names and they can leave the person crippled.
Other diseases that are known and that are common among the Amish are Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, which is colloquially known as “bubble boy disease;” Cohen’s Syndrome, a disease that affects muscle skills and mental development; and dwarfism. One such person who was Amish and has a genetic disease caused by founder’s effect is Verne Troyer, who is best known for being Mini-Me in the Austin Powers series.
Sadly, genetic diseases are such a problem among the Amish that a special facility, the Clinic for Special Children, was opened in 1989 in Pennsylvania to treat and study the genetic diseases that affect the Amish community.
2. The Amish Have Lower Rates of Cancer, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease
While the Amish have a greater risk of getting genetic diseases, their lifestyle also does appear to have several health benefits because they have lower rates of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
There are several explanations for this, however, researchers believe the main reason is the lifestyle that the Amish live. Notably, tobacco and alcohol are prohibited. They also eat food that they grow themselves, so they eat very little, if any, processed foods. Also, their work is very active, so everyone gets plenty of exercise. As a result of their diet and the amount of physical activity they get, sometimes Amish people are overweight, but obesity is rare.
The Amish also live in a rural setting, so they are further away from pollutants. Finally, while the Amish life isn’t completely stressed-free, people live and work in a very supportive community. This would lower overall stress and when problems do happen, there is a large support network.
Finally, it is possible that there is something in their genetics that helps lower the cancer rate and research is currently being performed on Amish people’s genetics that could have wide reaching effects on the treatment of genetic diseases in the general population.
1. How do You Become One?
After reading all of this information, you may be thinking that the Amish life is great, and you want to join the fight. If you do, what you need is time and dedication and to get rid of the whatever piece of technology you’re using to read this list.
First, you need to live in the Amish community for a year. Some Amish families will even allow potential converts to live with them for this year. During this time, new converts must attend home worship service every Sunday and find a job working with Amish people. They also have to learn to speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a variation of German. This is the language that is most commonly spoken in Amish households. In fact, children learn Pennsylvania Dutch first and then learn English when they attend school.
After all that, and the person is sure that they still want to be Amish, they go through another period where they learn the ordinances of the church. Finally, the members of the church vote on the candidate, and if the vote is affirmed, the person becomes a full-fledged Amish.
Obviously, due to the drastically different lifestyle from contemporary society, only several dozen non-Amish have joined the fight.
Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website, or his true crime YouTube channel.
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