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Who Are the Amish?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

Lifestyle Basics

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.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon286361 — On Aug 20, 2012

They pay no taxes, period. They don't use the Social Security, so why should they pay taxes? They take care of themselves. They don't use insurance, nor hospitals.

By anon266258 — On May 04, 2012

The Amish and Mennonites do believe in Jesus and they use Die Bibel (bible). There are buggy Mennonites also, and Mennonites also live among the English. Amish hold church in their homes. Mennonites have churches.

By amypollick — On Feb 06, 2012

The Amish are frequently confused with Mennonites, and may even be called Mennonites by some people. Their beliefs, as far as Christianity goes, are similar. But the Mennonites do use modern conveniences, although they do strive to live simply.

By anon163971 — On Mar 29, 2011

I live in Springfield, MO and the people you see in vans with cell phones are Mennonites, who do have a lot of the same modern things as we do, but when driving past Rogersville you get into Amish country where they drive horses and buggies and have no modern things.

The full Amish here will get rides with other people and will use someone else's phone in an emergency but other than that they keep to themselves.

By anon117975 — On Oct 12, 2010

I was visiting my sister in Springfield MO and saw a couple that looked like an Amish couple but in fact were Mennonite. I have seen many of them in MO, KS and CO areas. Amish are more in areas like PA, OH, IN, NY, etc.

By clejer1015 — On Sep 17, 2008

i met an Amish on flyordie checker site i am curious they do seem to use computers & other modern things like us so i am confused about why they say they live such a simple life style

By anon18205 — On Sep 17, 2008

Just thanks for this most informative article - ISG, England

By anon14305 — On Jun 13, 2008

I live in Springfield, Mo. The Amish here are interesting in the fact that they do not shun all electronic technology. They carries cell phones (both men and women) on their hips like most people do. I live life trying not to make judgment but this is plain to see. It is also interesting that the Amish pay no taxes on their land, services, etc. Not sure how the Amish fulfill their beliefs elsewhere but in this city I know what I see and it is not what they "decree".

By malena — On Jan 24, 2008

Grannypam45 - As Christians, the Amish believe in Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus to be son of God and they believe that He died on the cross for the sins of man. Perhaps you don't hear too much about that because there are other aspects of the religion and lifestyle that seem more unique and therefore get more attention.

By grannypam45 — On Dec 01, 2007

I don't ever see Jesus Christ mentioned. Do the Amish believe him to be the son of God or just a prophet? Do they believe he even exists?

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