Little-Known Amish Facts
The Amish evoke lots of pleasant associations. Quiet, austere lives spent in close relationship with the land. Simple aesthetics. Family values and unostentatious piety. But, like any culture, the Amish are more complicated than their stereotype. There is a lot about the Amish you probably don’t know.
Were you aware that marriage is mandatory in Amish communities? Or that they refuse to pay into social security?
These facts about the Amish might revise some of the assumptions you had about what life in their world actually looks like. Some of their cultural practices are charming, and some are downright bizarre.
The Amish Were Originally Mennonites
The Amish were originally named after Jakob Ammann, a Swiss Anabaptist who belonged to the Mennonite Church. Ammann was a biblical literalist whose views alienated many of his Mennonite peers.
Ammann was the head of a religious sect within the Mennonite Church that eventually broke away and formed its own community. That community is what we now refer to as the Amish.
The Amish Aren’t Baptized Until They’re 16
In order to be confirmed as an adult member of the Amish community, you must first be baptized. The Amish baptism is different than the Catholic baptism, primarily in that it occurs between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five.
Until they are baptized, young Amish are not permitted to marry. Once they are baptized, they are allowed to marry only within their own community.
The Amish Practice Nonresistance
The Amish, like many other Christian sects such as the Quakers, are nonviolent. Their spiritual views are incompatible with violence and nonviolence is a policy strictly adhered to.
Amish men and women do not and cannot volunteer for the military. This did not stop the US government from drafting Amish men during World War II.
During WWII, the Amish experienced persecution for not participating in the War willingly.
Amish Dolls Are Faceless
The Amish believe that vanity is a sin. In order to discourage too much concern over appearance, they give their children faceless dolls to play with.
The belief is that the faceless dolls will draw the child’s attention away from superficial appearances.
Perhaps the most famous cultural tradition, Rumspringa is a brief period of time during a young Amish person’s transition to adulthood when they are permitted to experience life among the “English,” the Amish term for non-Amish people.
The rules of Rumspringa vary from community to community, but the general idea is that an Amish child who is about to become an adult is sent out into the world to experience a different way of life. They must then make a decision whether or not to be confirmed as Amish. If they decide to sever ties with their birth community, they are often shunned for the rest of their lives.
Rumspringa is typically associated with excess. Whether or not the real, lived Rumspringa is a booze-fueled party is less clear.
The Amish Don’t Play Instruments
Have you ever heard Amish music? Probably not. If you have, there were probably no instruments backing the vocals.
This is because the Amish believe musical instruments encourage pride and vanity. A reasonable point, perhaps.
All Amish music is performed a capella.
The Amish Are Growing
Humans Are Free
The Amish constitute a very small proportion of the American population. However, the Amish are growing in number.
Between 2000 and 2017, the Amish population swelled from about 175,000 individuals to 300,000.
A typical Amish family will have about six to seven children.
They follow strict gender roles
Amish gender relations are very much not in keeping with the English sensibility. Gender roles are strictly adhered to, with women performing most or all of the housekeeping duties.
Amish women are expected to be wives and mothers, while Amish men perform farming labor.
In the Amish world, women are also expected to defer to their husbands’ wishes.
The Amish Do Shun
The Amish are famous for their policy of “shunning” wayward members of their flock, who transgress against an Amish ethical standard.
When someone is shunned, the blackout is less complete than sometimes portrayed. It is erroneously believed that nobody is allowed to speak to the shunned, but this is not always true. What is true is that the shunned person experiences various kinds of social stigma, like a ban on doing business with them, or being forced to eat all meals at a table by themselves.
Shunning is meant to punish, and to draw the shunned person back into the values of the church.
When someone in the Amish community commits a transgression that is severe enough, they may be excommunicated entirely.
They are banned from any form of communication with members of their Amish community, including family. They are also cast out of the village.
Anyone who is caught having any dealings with the excommunicated will also be excommunicated themselves.
They Drive Horses And Buggies
The Amish are not permitted to use any modern machinery that requires electricity. There are allegedly people who break this rule in secret.
One of the banned technologies is the automobile. The Amish use horses and buggies for transportation. Young Amish also commonly use roller skates.
The Amish believe that having a car reduces that member’s reliance on the rest of the community for assistance, a bad thing.
They Do Actually Raise Barns
Along with the horse and buggy, the beard, and Rumspringa, perhaps the most famous Amish trope is the barn raising. Barn raising ceremonies do happen, and are culturally important.
Barn raisings occur when the Amish community combines their efforts to construct a barn for someone.
It is considered an important gesture of community solidarity.
Church Is Held In Living Rooms
Some Amish communities have designated church buildings in which religious services are held. However, they’re the exception to a rule.
Typically, Amish religious services are held on a rotating weekly basis in various community members’ homes.
This practice may be a holdover from the early days of Amish life, when they were still persecuted by the Mennonites.
Beards Have Symbolic Weight
As mentioned earlier, Amish men are famous for their long beards. Much like everything with the Amish, the beard has cultural significance.
An Amish man is only permitted to grow a beard once they marry. In fact, it is mandatory.
Amish men, however, are not allowed to grow mustaches.
The Meaning Of The Blue Dress
The Amish Clothesline
Women also have a system for signaling whether or not they are married. An Amish woman must sew herself a blue dress for their wedding day.
Married Amish women continue to wear the blue dress on Sundays, to religious services.
The Amish Are Conservative
As could be expected, the Amish have a complicated and ambiguous relationship with politics. Where they are politically engaged, they tend to vote Republican.
There are, of course, exceptions. There are also many Amish who believe that matters of public affairs should be kept entirely separate from religious life.
Regardless of political affiliation or lack thereof, the Amish still believe that Biblical law supersedes secular law.
Children Go To One-Room Schoolhouses
Amish children are usually educated in one-room schoolhouses. Classes are taught by a community member.
When the children grow to a certain age, they are required to undertake vocational training in the larger community.
Typically, this training is oriented towards farming, carpentry, weaving, or other skills that are useful in the Amish community.
The Amish subscribe to the belief that it is unlawful to voluntarily have one’s picture taken. Outside visitors to Amish communities are routinely issued strong warnings not to attempt to take photos of the Amish.
This belief stems from the fact that a fixed image is unnatural, and therefore a potential inroad for Satanic influence.
One of the reasons why the Amish community is growing is that it is exceptionally rare for members to eschew Amish life. An estimated eighty to ninety percent of young Amish who participate in Rumspringa choose to remain in their birth community.
When you weigh a year of binge drinking against never being able to see your family again, it’s understandable why they would make that choice. It may also be a testament to the strength of the Amish community, or a weakness in our own.
Public History Corner
Remarkably, some Amish sects do permit their members to use cell phones. Most, however, do not.
Many Amish communities maintain a “community phone,” a single phone used to contact the English world.
The police consider a horse and buggy to be a vehicle. When driving a horse and buggy, therefore, the Amish are still subject to intoxication laws.
Alcohol is generally not sanctioned among the Amish, but there have been DUI horse and buggy cases.
Unsurprisingly, it is much more common for a young Amish person to get a DUI than an older one.
It is forbidden for an Amish person to have a romantic relationship with anyone who is not a member of their community.
As a rule, Amish communities do not allow their members to court or marry the English. Some Amish sects are so strict that their members are not even permitted to have a relationship with an Amish person from a different community.
The Amish Have Less Cancer
Daily Health Post
The Amish sacrifice the majority of modern conveniences in order to pursue their way of life. One of the benefits is that the Amish have a lower incidence of cancers.
While we don’t know for certain exactly why this is the case, people have speculated that it may have something to do with their food.
Almost all of the food the Amish eat is cultivated from Amish land. The Amish are also heavily reliant on hard physical labor, keeping them in better shape for longer.
Some Amish Run Puppy Mills
If you’ve been on Facebook in the past five years, you’ve probably seen someone post about puppy mills. Puppy mills are dog breeding operations that sell puppies to chain pet stores. The puppies often live in squalid conditions before being shipped out.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania bears the dubious distinction of being the puppy mill capital of the country. Many of the Lancaster mills are run by the Amish.
There is a single documented case of homicide within an Amish community. A mentally ill man named Edward Gingerich killed his wife Katie.
Gingerich served five years in prison before killing himself by hanging in 2011.
Life inside the Amish communities may not be as rosy as we perceive it to be from the outside. Multiple people who grew up in Amish communities have come forward with frightening accounts of domestic abuse and rape.
The Amish, as mentioned earlier, do not participate in the military. They also do not participate in any government-run assistance or insurance programs.
Amish people do not have social security cards. When they do, it’s only in order to opt out of Social Security and Medicare tax.