The History of Amish and Mennonite Cultures The Amish have long been a mystery to most of us including myself. I find them fascinating because personally, technology and the comforts of modern facilities make life easier for me so why would a group of people resist technology and not enjoy the same technology that makes life easier for us all? Being religious never meant doing without so why does this particular religious group feel the need to suffer in the eyes of mainstream society?
The article “The History of Amish and Mennonite Cultures” helped me to understand the whys we all ask about the Amish. The origin of the Amish date back to the early 1600s. They are a group of Swiss Anabaptist who left Switzerland due to differences in beliefs of doctrinal baptisms. In Switzerland, the state/church required infant baptisms however this was not the practice of the Anabaptist, (aka Mennonites) who practiced adult baptisms. They were of the belief that one must make a conscious decision to be baptized and that only adults can make those types of decisions, not infants.
In reading the article it stated that the Anabaptist actually performed two baptisms, once as an infant and then again as an adult when he or she made the decision to do so. As a result of religious differences between the state and the Anabaptist and the martyring of the group, this brought about the push-pull factors causing them to migrate to North America. By leaving Switzerland they were able to avoid blatant discrimination and being martyred for their religious practices. The persecution must have been intense as there are no Amish living in Europe today. The Amish live primarily in three states- Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
They live isolated from mainstream society in small communities and each group functions independently from one another, as there are four different orders of Amish doctrine with four different variations of practice. There are conservative groups, moderate conservatives and a more progressive conservative group. Since each community functions independently from each other there are differences in how they practice their religion and how they react in society. The common thread of practice amongst the Amish is their explicit submission to God and obedience. They strive for submission, umility, thrift and simplicity in their lives. This alone empowers the group to isolate themselves from the dominant society whose values tend to be opposite of their own such as excessiveness and haughtiness. By resisting assimilation the Amish have been able to provide themselves with a strong sense of self and identity. This is a religious community that has been able to maintain loyalty amongst the members by resisting the culture of technology or by only using selected items so that they can continue to separate themselves. Technology means worldliness to them and that goes against the very fiber of who they are.
They are however often accused of being clannish. The article discussed in length how the church operates. It is different from what the dominant society holds traditional. The Amish congregation is actually 25 to 35 families in a region known as districts. In each district there is a head of the church known as the bishop. The bishop has a group of several ministers and deacons to assist him in monitoring and interpreting doctrine. Another interesting concept of Amish culture is how the ministers and deacons assist in the solving disputes, much like policing themselves.
Church is not held in a building but held in the homes of the families of the district. They are held every other Sunday in a home of one of their members and it is a big day for the Amish. They have their service, a big meal and then fellowship afterwards. The article stated that the Amish look forward to the Sunday service with great anticipation and excitement. On the opposite Sunday the families of that particular district might stay home and rest or they may leave their district and attend a service in another district.
Another interesting concept of the Amish practice is that on Sundays, only chores that must be performed are done, nothing else. To be a member of the Amish church one must receive instruction and then be baptized into the church. No one outside the Amish faith can marry an Amish without being baptized into the faith. Once you join the church you must totally commit to the church, the community and all of its practices. Those who do not follow church doctrine or leave the church are shunned. Shunning is extremely serious; it is literally expulsion from the group. When hunning occurs the person leaves the church, family and friends to never be in contact with them again. It really is a last resort and used to encourage the group members from straying too far from the church. This fear of shunning keeps the community together. The Amish teach their children the role of the family and obedience at very young age and to work for the good of the group. Homes consist of large families including many children, the parents and grandparents. Children are taught about personal responsibility, not individuality. There is no pride and personal accomplishment in the community.
Amish children are educated up until the eighth grade by an Amish teacher who has had only an eighth grade education too. They are taught basic reading, writing, math, the English and German language. Children learn German at home first then English once they enter school. Again this is to maintain their cultural identity and to keep themselves separated from the dominant group. However, it is interesting to note that the Amish allow their young adults to leave the community to go out and “sow some wild oats”. This practice is so that the young person can see how the “English” live.
This way they can come back to their community and submit wholly to their community values and lead a good Amish life. The Amish have a patriarchal society but women are respected, for their opinions matter and many times issues are diverted to women for decision-making. Again their community is about cooperation and the good of the whole. Boys are taught to follow in the footsteps of men in their family. For instances, the grandfather, father and uncles may all be farmers, so the expectation is that the male children will be farmers as well.
Women teach the young girls general homemaking skills and to manage the family business. If older children work and earn income, they give their checks to their father to use for the family or to save for marriage. The elderly are important as the Amish place value on the elderly for the advice that they can give. The elderly are the ones who keep the Amish traditions, rituals and practices alive. I found this article helpful in understanding the Amish and find their way of life, though not one that I would enjoy, admirable.
The Amish are given the opportunity to decide if this way of life is right for them during their wild oat sowing excursion, fully aware of the consequences should they decide to leave the community by shunning. It is amazing how they have been able to maintain their identity for all these years by not indulging in technology. This is their way of remaining separate from the dominant society. Hoorman, James H. (2006, March 29). Amish and Mennonite Culture History. Retrieved November 24, 2007, from The History of Amish and Mennonite Cultures Web site: http://www. clark-cty-wi. org/historya&m. htm