(Don’t) Go For The Trim
A beard tells you a lot about an Amish man. Firstly, if they have one, it means they’re married. Men start to grow their beard immediately after their wedding. Secondly, Amish men are not permitted to have mustaches, but they must grow their beard long. At the same time Amish women are not allowed to have their hair cut either. A man or woman could face being shunned if they go for the trim. More on that later.
The Amish have their own language, known as either ‘Amish’, ‘Low German’, or ‘Pennsylvania Dutch.’ Not to be confused with Dutch from the Netherlands, rather “Deutch,” the language had its roots during an early wave of German-speaking settlers who emigrated to Pennsylvania. At one point, nearly half the population of Pennsylvania spoke the language and today, German Americans are the largest ancestry group within the Keystone state.
Meidung, which meaning “shunning,” is a fundamental practice within Amish culture and was one of the key reasons for its origins. It basically means that you are ‘banished’ from the community for life. One of the most severe forms of punishment, the only way to backtrack on the sentence is either death or to repent for the sins appropriately. Although still common practice, Meidung has received widespread criticism from outsiders and is a sensitive issue.
You’ve probably already seen the Amish clothing style – simple and effective, no fuss or frills. But their is more to it than what meet the eye. The Amish dress code is in place to prevent vanity and focus on the more inward, intangible qualities. This expression of humility and modesty has always been a key tenet of the Amish way of life. Dark colored clothes are often made by hand and women aren’t allowed to wear jewelry or brightly-colored or patterned clothes, dependant on the ‘Ordnung’ of the community.
A typical learning environment for Amish children looks like this, one-room schoolhouses, and the kids will be taught by teachers who have an 8th-grade level education. After the eighth grade, education doesn’t really exist for the Amish. Men would focus on the career they’ll stick with for the rest of their life – carpentry or masonry for example. Women will also do the same, learning about housework, keeping a home, knitting, etc.
An Amish person will normally receive their baptism between 18 and 22 years of age. But rather than believing a baptism will get them into heaven, Amish people believe that behaving well every day and doing good deeds, practicing “Gottes Wille,” aka “God’s Will,” is the key to a prosperous life. Also, surprisingly, the Amish do not practise their faith within a church either, preferring to choose various members’ homes and using each one as an alternative place of worship every Sunday.
It’s a well-known fact that kids go off the rails a bit when they hit their teens. This is also acknowledged by the Amish community. When a child turns 16, they enter a limited time frame called the “Rumspringa.” It is during this time that the child is allowed to walk away from the community and do things that are normally considered by the Amish as forbidden. To ensure that Amish teens are given a fair shot, they are given what is known as a ‘get out of jail free card’ – punishments are lenient if they misbehave to discourage them from leaving.
The Woman’s Church Dress
While a man is obligated to grow a beard and shave his mustache, Amish women also have obligations regarding their appearance. The common theme of Amish life is “plainness,” and this certainly crosses over into clothing, even when it comes to a woman’s big day. On her wedding day, an Amish woman must sew her own outfit, which in some communities, needs to be blue. After she has got married, the Amish wife must wear her dress every Sunday, for the rest of her life.
Land and property is usually passed down to the youngest son (as opposed to most ancient cultures where it’s passed to the oldest son). The older brothers are left to typically learn trades. This potentially happens because the father isn’t ready to retire and sell the farm when the older brothers become adults. From a financial standpoint, the custom could help minimize the frequency of having to pay estate taxes. Put it this way, it’s handy being the youngest son in an Amish family!
Amish Gang Violence
In 2011, several Amish men in Ohio were arrested for illegally entering the homes of a rival Amish gang and shaved off the beards from the men. They accused the gang of doctrinal impurity, hence the beard cutting. Losing your beard is a terrible degradation to an Amish man. Rap can’t be blamed this time. Also, the story didn’t come without a sense of irony after it was revealed that the gang leader went by the name, Samuel Mullet.
Amish kids are given ‘faceless dolls’ to play with rather than more modern toys. This is to install a belief system where a ‘good person’ is made from the inside-out, and not just from the beauty they express on the outside. This principle is prevalent throughout the Amish culture, similar to the reasons behind plain, modest clothing as well as negating ones ego through humble behavior. The idea of faceless dolls can be misread by an outsider as a removal of individualism, but the Amish reasoning is very different.
No Photos Please
Amish people do not like it when you take their photo. The communities are mostly against having their photo taken because of the belief that the photo is a fixed image. Although most Amish refuse to be in photos, some believe that it is acceptable to have ones photo taken spontaneously, in a natural setting for example. As long as one isn’t deliberately posing, or their face isn’t showing, snap away. But usually, you won’t catch them taking a cheeky selfie, as they won’t have a cell phone to start with.
The Amish Computer
Every Amish community has members who cleverly invent loopholes in order to work around particular rules. For example, despite the need to distance from technology, many communities are adopting computers. This computer, called the Deskmate is specifically marketed toward the Amish. This deliberate no-frills computer has no internet connection and can’t play videos. Users can’t play games on it either. Its sole purpose is business-oriented, including standard laptop facilities such as word processing, accounting and spreadsheet programs.
The Amish run puppy mills in order to breed dogs and dog farming is a large generator of revenue for many Amish communities. States such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana are home to many puppy mills, which is considered by many to be a contentious area of the Amish community. Some believe that the dogs are wrongfully treated like livestock, spending long periods of their lives living in cages and overbred. One source says that they damage the dogs’ vocal cords so they don’t bark.
Look, “Am” on TV!
The Amish have been portrayed in several TV shows. There are claims that some of the shows display religious bigotry, but they continue to be a success. Some shows that have featured the Amish or at least had actors portraying members of the community include 2 Broke Girls, Grey’s Anatomy and The X Files. In the popular Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black, one of the show’s characters, Leanne, hails from an Amish community and even speaks Pennsylvanian Dutch!
The Amish community believes that electricity actually hinders human life rather than making it better. Also, Amish communities don’t use power from public electricity because of the belief that too much reliance on public power can make someone too dependant on material things. Amish are careful about what they bring into the household, and electrical appliances usually aren’t considered essential. Holes in the ground for purposes such as graves are dug by hand rather than machinery, and they’ll turn down vehicles for more old-school methods such as horse and cart.
It’s true – Amish people pay taxes like all the other people, but what about social security benefits? Aha! Unlike all of us regular Joes working, Amish people do not pay social security taxes. Amish people signed away their benefits to social security, and as such do not pay that tax. The Amish communities have a system in place to care for their elders, and their belief system goes against commercial insurance.
To Play Or Not To Play?
Similar to why kids are given faceless dolls, the Amish generally don’t play musical instruments, believing they are a form of self-expression, which could encourage inflation of the ego as well as feelings of superiority and arrogance. Amish church songs are taken from the Ausbund (High German songbook) which does not have music notes. This book is the oldest Anabaptist hymnal and also one of the oldest Christian song books that is still being used.
Like all religions, death is a fundamental element of Amish life. Generally, communities tend to not dwell on their losses, and take a more stoic approach. More than ever, “Gottes Wille” is the mantra that revolves around the funeral process. The body usually is taken for embalming, and is then returned home for a viewing, while relatives and community members will pay their respects. It is traditional that an Amish woman wear her wedding dress, apron, and cape when she passes away.
So Many Rules!
Needless to say, the Amish way of life is full of obligations that the outside world may look at with disbelief. Unless you are able to see the lifestyle through the eyes of one of these communities, it will be difficult to understand the logic behind some of these customs. For example, women are not allowed to be bishops, preachers, or deacons, while men are not permitted to wear belts. Also, women are not allowed to wear any jewelry or even patterned clothes.
Becoming Part Of The Clan
If one wishes to join the Amish, there are plenty of hoops that you will need to jump through to become a member! Firstly, it is imperative to be able to read, write and speak Pennsylvanian German. Secondly, you must leave all your modern day luxuries outside the commune. Finally, one must live with a typical family and adhere to the customs and lifestyle of the house. The last step is to receive a vote of confidence by the church. If the church says yes, you’re in!
The Devil’s Playground
As previously mentioned, when Amish teenagers turn 16, they are allowed to explore the customs of the wider world. This means that things like alcohol, premarital sex and use of electricity are permitted during this life stage before full commitment to the Amish church. The Amish term for the American way of life is “The Devil’s Playground.” Things considered to be “The Devil’s Playground” include electricity, music, and basically anything else that is fun. Softball, however, is definitely a permitted sport.
Although the Amish are known for being a very orderly and law-abiding people, one particular group has been involved in a strange controversy as of late. A group from Kentucky made the news recently for refusing to abide by a law that requires horses to wear poop bags for when the animals defecate in public. According to The Bowling Green Daily News, Dan Mast and Emanuel Miller, members of Auburn’s Swartzentruber community, argued in court that the rule violated the community’s right to practice its religion.
Amish v Mennonites
Contrary to the common misconception, Amish people ARE NOT the same as Mennonites, and it can actually be quite insulting to confuse the two. They come across as very similar and do share some common ground, as both stem from a Protestant tradition known as Anabaptism, literally meaning “to be baptized again.” However, there are some fundamental differences such as interpretations of the doctrine.
Tobacco and alcohol are not allowed in the Amish community, and they often grow or produce the food they eat, making them basically organic. Because of this, the Amish have lower chances of getting deadly diseases such as cancer. However, some Amish do accept smoking among members of their community, but it certainly isn’t common practice. Shipshewana, Indiana, is historically a sober town. Many cite the Amish traditions that have influenced the town as to why it is still booze-free.
Although against modern technology, the Amish aren’t against modern medicine. The community will often rally together if a member becomes sick and needs a hand paying for medical care. Also, scientists and medical researchers have found that asthma rates among Amish children is incredibly low compared to the rest of the population. Sometimes, even non-existent. Studies found that the close proximity to farm animals, machinery and even dust, has given the children a much better immune system to lung diseases such as asthma.
The Amish people, who shun all forms of modern technology, are used by ‘vaccinations cause autism’ advocates as examples as to why the vaccinations shouldn’t be given to children. A study was conducted in 2005 at Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which has one of the largest populations of Amish in the United States. The results showed that there were 3 cases of autism in kids, and that two of those children had been vaccinated. Interesting.
Modern Amish Family
Family is constantly at the forefront of Amish life. The Ordnung (which will be revealed later) guides family life as well as every other aspect of life. The family is intended to be a microcosm of the entire Amish community – co-dependent, loving and efficient. These days, the Amish community has evolved very much with the world around them. Some parts of the country will allow for colored clothing and things such as baseball caps whereas other groups will be considered more ‘extremist’, banning all of these things.
Have you ever heard of bundling bed? Well, it’s a practice adopted by the Amish to incorporate intimacy within a relationship without the need for actual physical contact. Two separate blankets are used and sometimes a board will be added to the centre of the bed. Bundling is a practice that stems all the way back to the Old Testament. It was the custom for “men and women to lie on the same bed, as lovers, without undressing.” Besides, it is also economically efficient.
Since the Amish descend from about 200 18th-century founders, and are already such a small community, there have been many cases of in-breeding with an alarmingly high rate of genetic disorders. Despite their acceptance of modern day medicine, the Amish response to genetic complications from in-breeding, tends to be “Gottes Wille,” which translates as “God’s Will.” This expression of faith is their reasoning behind the refusal of genetic tests to check for family relations before marriage and childbearing. Prevalent disorders include dwarfism and Angelman Syndrome.
The ‘creator’ of the Amish life was Jakob Ammann, an Anabaptist from Switzerland, who believed in a very literal translation or interpretation of the Bible. Many people chose to follow him and his new belief system, thus being known as ‘Amish’. Amman proposed new practices such as washing one another’s feet in communion service and the banning of trimming beards. He installed a strict discipline and developed the practice of shunning, which proved to be divisive between his early followers.
The Amish can trace their roots back to 16th-century Europe. In 1525, young Swiss reformers who were fed up with the slow pace of the Protestant Reformation, decided to baptize each other, which was at the time considered punishable by death. Searching for political and religious freedom, these radicals fled to North America in two waves. The first came in the mid-1700s, while the second came during the early 1800s. They originally settled in southeastern Pennsylvania, but late stretched to Ohio, Indiana and other Midwestern states.
As with all modern things, the Amish refuse to take out insurance, on anything! If any member of the community is in trouble in any sort of way, the entire community will band together to help them. They do not accept any state benefits either, and believe that salvation lies in helping one another in a fully functioning community. Typical fundraisers that are organized in order to help cover people’s medical needs include all-day auctions and cake bake sales.
If you’re interested in all the facts we’ve told you so far, here’s a fun fact that may interest you at this stage – you CAN, in fact, convert to being amish, but there are a few rules of course. First of all, if a person decides to convert he is placed in an Amish household where he can adapt and learn the cultural rules. Once the perspective convert adapts, he must learn the Pennsylvanian German dialect. However, nothing happens without the church’s approval!
The Amish take their practices very seriously, so once a person from the community plays against the rules, he or she can face harsh excommunication. There are some good news, though – if the said person asks for forgiveness and decides to go back to abiding the Amish laws, he or she can be repented! However, if the person is excommunicated indefinitely, all communication is terminated and people are not allowed to remain social or business ties.
Even though the Amish choose to stay isolated from the rest of the population, they do contribute a certain amount to the national economy and purchase a range of produce (everyone’s gotta eat, right?). Most of the time, they do grow the food they consume, but certain things like dry foods, candles and books, are purchased in specific shops. The interesting thing is that they don’t necessarily shop in Amish supermarkets; you might even spot someone Amish in Walmart!
Speaking Of Walmart
You’re probably wondering why the Amish don’t mind shopping in large chains like Walmart, and if you’re not wondering that, we’re going to tell you anyway. Although the Amish prefer to grow their own food in their back yard, they never say ‘no’ to good value and a lot of variety! Where can you find that? Well, that’s pretty much a no-brainer – Walmart is the ultimate place for wide selections and cheap prices. Say no more.
Mandatory Secular Experiments
You’re probably thinking that the Amish don’t have a choice; well, they sort of do. At the tender age of 16, the Amish teenagers are forced into taking a trip. This mandatory trip involves packing up their bags, going out into the real world, and exploring the life full of materialistic goals and capitalism. Despite the good idea behind this little ritual, which gives Amish teens some freedom of choice, almost all of them decide to come back.
The Amish are traditional by nature, and this statement is proven again and again. Many political campaigns tried to convince the Amish communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but unfortunately, they haven’t been as successful as the president’s campaign itself. The Amish community leaders repeatedly state that the group has never and will never participate in any of the elections, especially when it comes to voting.
As we’ve already seen throughout the article, having a big family is a big thing for the Amish. Statistics show that the population within the Amish community doubles in size every single generation. This is because every single family has so many children! in the last twenty years the population of the Amish doubled in total, and the sect is said to be spreading across the entire country. The change is visibile – from 100,000 in 1989 to 251,000 today!
Since the beginning of the 2000s, the interest in the mysterious Amish community has been increasing; naturally, television networks such as TLC decided to make some money out of the concept. Some of the most recent reality TV shows include about the Amish “Breaking Amish” (since 2012), “Amish Mafia” (2012-2015), and “Breaking Amish: Brave New World”. The shows caused a lot of controversy in the media outlets, and you won’t believe what happened behind the scenes of “Breaking Amish”…
All Just For Show
Having read all these facts about the Amish and their closed, conservative community, it’s quite disturbing to see what the stars of “Breaking Amish” are up to on live television. Just after the pilot of the show first aired, many spoke out, stating that the entire cast had left the community before agreeing to tape the show, or that they got married prior. Some have even gone as far as to say that all the relationships were scripted and staged…
Arrested Under Influence
The Amish community is incredibly strict, especially when it comes to overindulging with alcohol and perhaps even illegal substances. As we’ve mentioned before, the “Breaking Amish” series caused quite the stir with the community, especially when one of the cast members was arrested. Kate, whose photos have flooded the internet over the years, was arrested for DUI back in 2012. Her mug shot can be seen on the right.. and the community was not happy.
No Education After 8th Grade
As we’ve mentioned previously, education in the Amish community isn’t always seen as a priority. When children are going through their teenage years, boys are normally told to pick a trade they’d like to get into, whereas girls are expected to become housewives in the future and look after the household as well as the family. Because of this, the Amish don’t have any education after the 8th grade, considering it useless for the future of their kids.
Sleeping Together Before Marriage – YES
Despite the fact that the Amish community is extremely conservative, to the point that they would never use technology in any kind of context, they actually encourage young couples to sleep together before marriage! However, this also comes with rules. The couple can share a bed together, but both of them have to be fully clothed and a wooden board is placed between them in order to prevent any kind of potential intimacy. Harsh rules!
A Large Population Means Large Houses
Nowadays, there are believed to be anywhere from 250,000-300,000 Amish people that live in at least 28 states. There are many reasons for this, most notably the fact that the Amish population doubles every generation because they have such big families and with so many children. Their houses are usually huge, in order to accommodate large families, and they tend to be rather plain buildings, either white or some color similar to nature – green, brown or blue.
As Amish life is extremely traditional, it makes sense that the typical life of an Amish woman is also fittingly traditional! Women primarily take care of the homes, cooking and help their neighbors. Quite different than the way of life the outside world is used to, Amish women rarely make decisions by their own and will generally follow their husband’s wish. As kids, they are predominantly ruled by the family and the church and as adults, they take the lead of their husbands, taking on a ‘housewife’ role.
Barn raising is a practice amongst the Amish in which the community will come together in order to build a barn for one of their fellow members. Barn raising symbolizes many things, primarily helping thy neighbor and taking part in selfless acts. The custom was most common during the 18th and 19th centuries in rural America. The practice has continued, more or less unchanged in many Amish and Mennonite communities.
Don’t Take Me To Church
As previously stated, the Amish community does not carry out Sunday services in church (not common). Instead, they hold the services in a community member’s home, which helps to keep the service personal. These services normally consist of worship readings, led by a preacher, and continue with hymns and scripture readings. Normally, the script is translated from the German translation, and the service is followed by a social gathering and a lunch.
Weddings On Thursdays
This is a very common question on the Internet – “why do the Amish marry on Thursdays”? Typically, Amish wedding ceremonies are carried out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are used as “clean up” days for the day after the wedding. The reason Saturday is not a good day for weddings is because the following day would have to be clean up, and Sunday is meant to be dedicated to prayers, making a Saturday wedding sacrilegious.
An example of an Amish run in with the law came in 1999, when two Amish men were arrested and convicted of conspiracy to deliver class A drugs. These men bought and sold more than $100,000 worth of illegal substances between 1992 and 1998. A group of Amish men and women were required to attend a hearing at the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. Abner Stoltzfus and Abner King Stolzfus were sentenced for their part in a drug ring that operated in Lancaster County’s Amish community. The pair allegedly sold drugs to Amish youths.
A Peaceful Community (For The Most Part)
The Amish are known for being a peaceful community, and have only ever had one homicide in their history. But although it isn’t motorized, a horse and buggy is still considered a vehicle and you can be arrested for drunk diving. There have been several such cases. Also, their are many scenarios of members of the Amish community who have in deed gone of the rails. While some convicts have returned to their communities, there are many who haven’t been able to after a life of crime.
Keeping Church And State Separate
Since their origins and despite their secluded dynamic, the Amish have been respectable civilians wherever they have lived. Although the Amish prioritize the word of God over governmental rule, the majority of community members support the separation of church and state. Contrary to popular belief, Amish people do pay taxes and are taught to respect governing authorities, according to the teachings of the Bible. Ultimately though, religion will often take precedence, with the community citing the biblical phrase, “Obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
MAP – Mission To Amish People
Since 2000, Mission To Amish People (MAP) has offered help to Amish people who are trying to leave the community and integrate into regular communities. The ministry believes that there are many Amish people who need a place to turn for help. MAP intends to assist people who have lived in Amish communities, who potentially need help in any way or want to transition from one culture to another. The Mission To Amish People provides a variety of facilities to people including housing, community projects, counselling, education and Bible clubs.
Amish Aren’t Arrogant
Amish people aren’t arrogant, and they won’t force their religion down your throat either. They are perfectly understanding of other people’s religions, and to believe theirs is the ‘best’ would only go against their own beliefs. They reject Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and rever Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity). Gelassenheit is more commonly understood as an need to be less self-promoting.
Due to religious beliefs, the Amish people do not join the military, serve in police forces or even sue in a court of law. This is because of the literal translation from the Bible about not hurting your neighbors. They will not take part or watch any form of physical violence or abuse. The value of non-resistance is deeply rooted in Amish belief, in regards to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he instructs his disciples to turn the other cheek.
A Devoted Community
The Amish culture is simple and so is their way of life. They don’t believe in stained glass windows or other ornamental designs within their religion, and don’t show huge displays of worship either. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the Amish believe in separation of church and state, and services take place every other Sunday in a community member’s home, not in a church. And as previously mentioned, some of the core tenets of Amish belief include the rejection of pride, arrogance, haughtiness and the reverence of humility and calmness.
As previously mentioned, the order, or “Ordnung”, is a set of rules which the Amish live by, and the rules are likely to change from community to community. The Ordnung are the practices which have been passed down through the generations in written form, and there are ‘verbal agreements’ too – passed from person to person. Although loopholes have been implemented, the Ordnung remains untampered. Amish people can face being shunned if they go against the church or violate the Ordnung in any way.
When you do decide to get married, it must be to another person of the church. The engaged couple has to personally deliver wedding invitations, not use wedding rings, and the bride typically sews her own dress. The honeymoon usually consists of visiting relatives and collecting gifts.