Term Paper: Analyzing the Amish

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¶ … Amish -- a culture of community at odds with much of American life and values

Despite their prominence in many states of America, and despite the fact that many Americans and foreign visitors have viewed Amish culture as a spectacle when visiting as tourists, few outsiders are really very well acquainted with the belief system of the Amish. An observer may be able to identify someone who is Amish by his or her dress and the fact that the person is driving a horse and buggy on a busy road, but little else. Those who know the Amish only by sight might also wonder why the members of this religious sect shun certain aspects of technology and not others, and why young Amish are allowed to experience modern life before adhering to the church.

The lack of understanding of the Amish is perhaps understandable, as the total Amish population is estimated only at 134,000. Although it is worthy of note that despite the religion's European origins, the Amish today dwell almost exclusively in North America, there are fewer than 900 members in Canada. 3/4 of all Amish are located in just three states of the U.S., Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana (Inge, 2007). The confusion about Amish traditions may also lie in the fact that the Amish are fairly unique amongst Protestant sects. The Amish faith almost completely integrated into Amish culture and lifestyle, unlike other Protestant sects which are religions 'of the book,' and are therefore more portable and adaptable to national values (Inge, 2007). The tiny sect of the Amish do not evangelize, for that would require leaving the community and going out into the world (the Frequently asked questions," 1995, Pennsylvania Dutch County).

The Amish hold the Bible to be the most sacred text, but this text instructs them, they believe, to place community above all else (Inge, 2007). Rather, the Amish lifestyle was forged as a way to obey the world of the Bible to the letter. To preserve the religious community, unwritten rules agreed upon by elders in the community were generated, rules known as the Ordung that must be strictly followed by all Amish. The reason for the stringency of laws is to preserve the age-old Amish values in an individualistic, contemporary setting.

The Amish people are Anabaptists, part of a religious tradition that came about during the Reformation in Germany that denies infant baptism and believes that an adult must consciously decide to accept Christ. This is why young people in the Amish community are allowed, before they formally swear allegiance to the church to engage in a period of experimentation. "You see these kids, they get drunk, but when they join the church, it ends," said a judge of the alcohol abuse, smoking, modern clothes, attendance at sporting events, concerts, and movies common amongst Amish teams (Drummond, 2007). This is so when the Amish person is baptized in church, he or she is certain of his or her commitment to the church.

The Anabaptist movement believes that only the pure should be involved in religion and that if a member were to fall into sinful actions, he or she should be excommunicated or shunned.The Amish get their instruction for shunning from the Bible in I Corinthians 5:1: "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one" (Inge, 2007). Shunning is a serious action, decided upon the community as a whole and acts as a check upon nonconformist behavior. A person is not allowed to speak to someone who is shunned, even if he or she is a family member. Again, the community comes before personal desires and relationships.

The Amish stress that Gelassenheit, or to "be reserved, modest, calm, and quiet," and obedient to the will of the community is the supreme value (Inge, 2007). This principle governs the way that individuals act, talk, dress, and even walk after they are baptized into the church. Besides their desire to remain apart from non-Amish, as taught by their religion, one of the reasons that the Amish request that their children be taught in Amish-only schools, and terminate their education at the 8th grade is that the Amish fear excess education leads to pride. Their "objections against high school attendance stem from their religious beliefs on social boundaries. I Corinthians 3:19 is an often quoted passage which says: 'The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God" (Inge, 2007). To the end of adolescence, the child then experiments with his or her values, usually learns a trade, and decides upon his or her course in life.

The Amish do not accept the need for higher education. The Amish stress the simple, manual trades as superior for spiritual development. This cessation of education became controversial in a famous U.S. Supreme Court Case, Wisconsin v. Yoder, although the court found in favor of the Amish, stating that there was not a compelling state interest to require compulsory education for Amish youths. The court decision shone a spotlight into the Amish's reserved lifestyle. An anthropologist testified in favor of the Amish: "their culture is transmitted in the oral tradition -- from faith to faith and father to son -and consists of on-the-job training not within [the] four walls [of a classroom]" and pointed out that even the Amish who left the Old Order got jobs as craftspeople (Lindholm, 2007). "Sitting at a desk learning intellectual disciplines blocks Amish religious training and takes them from the training in the skills and attitudes the special life in the shops and fields requires," as well as the values of the community (Lindholm, 2007). To force their children to be educated, it was argued, would destroy the Amish community.

This desire for separatism from 'the English' or non-Amish affects every facet of Amish life and explains many of their practices. For example, "Amish homes do not draw power from the electrical grid. In "1919 the Amish leaders agreed that connecting to power lines would not be in the best interest of the Amish community. They did not make this decision because they thought electricity was evil in itself, but because easy access to it could lead to many temptations and the deterioration of church and family life ("The Amish people and their lifestyle" 1995, Pennsylvania Dutch Country). However, because it was not deemed harmful to the community, "bottled gas is used to operate water heaters, modern stoves and refrigerators. Gas-pressured lanterns and lamps are used to light homes, barns and...shops," to enable the community to survive ("The Amish people and their lifestyle" 1995, Pennsylvania Dutch Country). But cars are prohibited, not because they use gas, but because that would facilitate too fast-paced a life. "There was little hesitation when the Amish decided 'no' to car ownership. It would separate the community in various ways. If only wealthy members could afford it, the car would bring inequality. Proud individuals would use it to show off their status, power and wealth. Cars would speed things up dramatically, disrupting the slow pace of Amish living. So, they will use them but not own them, for then things will surely get out of control" ("The Amish people and their lifestyle" 1995, Pennsylvania Dutch Country).

Maintaining Amish standards, but accepting some modernization to meet needs of [modern] living," has ensured the survival of this austere community, even while the world has changed so much ("The Amish people and their lifestyle" 1995, Pennsylvania Dutch Country). Modern life, the Amish believe, "requires compromise that must not disrupt the social structure. By rejecting certain types of modernity and accepting others, some Amish appear to the outside world to be contradicting themselves - hypocrites. However, from the viewpoint of Amish culture, there is no contradiction. One of the more pronounced inconsistencies is the use of an automobile...although he may not own a car; a member may accept rides and willingly hires an automobile with a driver to transport him from place to place" ("The Amish people and their lifestyle" 1995, Pennsylvania Dutch Country).

Separate yet dwelling in the world in a practical fashion is the hallmark of the Amish community. "As well as being modest, their clothing also separates them from the world," that is from others (Inge, 2007). The Amish do not serve in the military; because their sect is pacifist. However, they do not involve themselves in political causes like the anti-war movement, except when public matters affect the Amish community. They do not swear oaths because that would involve the community in the values of the world ("Beliefs of the Amish," 1996, Religious Tolerance.org. 1996). "They believe that the taking of photographs where someone is recognizable is forbidden by the Biblical prohibition against making any 'graven image'" ("The Amish and the plain people"1995, Pennsylvania Dutch Country). They speak their own dialect, the Pennsylvanian… [END OF PREVIEW]

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