The Amish are Christian sect in North America. They have the most predominant presences along the Eastern coasts of the U.S. and Canada, as well as in the Midwestern United States. They are distinguished from other Christian communities by their insular lifestyle and their simplicity and commitment to pre-modern fashions and technologies. The earliest followers broke off from the Mennonite church in 17th century Europe after disagreements concerning religious practices. The dissention was so great that a number of adherents left Europe entirely for the new world; these were led by Jacob Amman, for whom the sect is named. Most estimates put the group’s population at somewhere around 300,000 people. They typically speak English as well as a dialect of German known as Pennsylvania Dutch, or Deitsch.
The lifestyle of people in this sect is centered around farming. Men, women, and children all work hard to contribute to their community. The family is patriarchally structured, and women, although their work is considered very important, live under stricter regulations than men and typically also must behave submissively to their husbands. Generally common throughout all communities are prohibitions against joining the military, holding any form of public office, and receiving any assistance from the government.
Core Religious Philosophy
As Christians, members of these communities believe in the doctrines of the Bible. However, their particular religious philosophy differs from that of other believers in how they feel that God wishes them to live. At the risk of overgeneralizing, there are two key principles that dictate the way they live: Demut and Hochmut.
Demut is a term for humility and submission to God, which adherents value highly. To achieve this humility and live the way they believe that God wills, adherents emphasize the value of community, cooperation, fellowship, and brotherhood in the group. Self discipline is also very important.
Vanity, Pride, and Individualism
Hochmut refers to the rejection of vanity, pride, and individualism. Community members typically believe that many of the modern conveniences that others enjoy promote these transgressions in some way. It is against their belief to take photographs or to be photographed, because the practice promotes vanity. They believe that the use of technology, such as automobiles, electricity, and labor saving machinery, can create competition between members of a community, encouraging pride, arrogance, and rivalry. They also typically forbid education after the equivalent of the eighth grade, suggesting that higher education contributes to a feeling of self-importance. They feel that education up to the eighth grade is all that is necessary to effectively contribute to the community.
Stance Towards Technology
People who belong to this community don’t usually view technology as evil, but rather as a complication to the simple life that works to prevent vanity. Doctrines differ among different communities, however, and some groups allow some forms of electricity, primitive appliances, and necessary machinery. One group, called the Beachy Amish, are permitted to drive plain, undecorated cars.
Dress and Fashion
Amish fashions and clothing are pronouncedly simple and modest. Men wear beards and typically dress in plain, dark colored slacks and suspenders. Women wear long, solid colored dresses with an apron and bonnet. Married women are required to wear black bonnets, while single women wear white bonnets. Most clothing is simple and free of adornments; most don’t include things like zippers or snaps that have to be affixed with a machine.
Keeping Separate From Mainstream Culture
Communities tend to be quite insular, and membership is something that one generally has to be born into and consciously choose as an adult or late teen. The core set of beliefs dictates that only adults can be baptized, and only after they have made an informed decision to commit themselves to the church. Baptism is preceded by a tradition known as rumspringa, which refers to a period of time when adolescents are released from the rules of the church and the strict lifestyle.
During rumspringa, teenagers are permitted to explore mainstream culture, wear modern clothing, and do the things that non-Amish kids do. After this period, the teens must decide whether they want to remain within the church. About 80% to 90% of them resolve to be baptized and stay with their community.
The Amish avidly isolate themselves from mainstream American culture and isolate members of their community who sin or who choose to participate in the surrounding modern society in a practice referred to as shunning. They often cite II Corinthians 6:14 as the justification for this practice, which says "Do not team up with unbelievers. What partnership can righteousness have with wickedness? Can light associate with darkness?" Individuals who have been shunned are usually cut off from all communication with everyone in the community, including family members. In many cases, the shunned person can be welcomed back provided he or she acknowledges and atones for the sin or sins in question.
Modern Societal Interactions and Overlaps
Many communities today are forced to interweave to an extent with mainstream culture due to the increase in the cost of living and the difficulty of acquiring land. Their simple and low-tech ways of life simply cannot compete with the cheaper and faster turn around of goods produced by modern technical means. Therefore, they have had to interact with the general public through tourism, the sale of their crafts and goods, and sometimes even work outside of their communities in order to make a living.