No joy is complete unless it is shared. ~ Amish proverb
The Amish began with the Swiss Anabaptists who emerged in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. In the years following Martin Luther’s protest, some Zurich reformers called for a sharper break with the Catholic Church. They were nicknamed Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”) because they insisted on baptizing only those adults who were willing to live a life of obedience to biblical doctrine.
Anabaptists were persecuted by Swiss civil authorities for refusing to take up arms, swear oaths of allegiance, or acknowledge infant baptism, which, not coincidentally, was used to confer citizenship, determine taxation, and demand conscription for war.
Over the next century and a half, the Swiss Anabaptist movement spread into northern Europe. A serious breach occurred in 1693. Jakob Ammann, a recent but fervent convert, proposed measures to tighten church discipline.
The Amish in the United States are a sect that broke away from the Swiss German Mennonite church at that time and settled in Pennsylvania around 1727. A 2nd, larger wave of Amish immigrants arrived in the early to mid-1800s.
Curiously, the Amish dissolved in Europe. Those who remained ended up joining other denominations.
Numbering ~250,000 as of 2015, the American Amish are concentrated in 3 states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. (There is also a significant community of Amish in Ontario, Canada, now numbering ~5,000.) Spurning birth control, their population had doubled since 1995.
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Amish sociality emphasizes face-to-face conversation. Apart from the extended family, the church district is the dominant social institution. Each church district comprises 25 to 40 families who live in proximity and attend the same church services, which are held in family homes rather than a separate meetinghouse.
Each church district is governed by an Ordnung, which serves as the blueprint for expected behavior. Containing both prescriptions and proscriptions, the Ordnung is handed down generationally in an oral tradition. Its provisos are reviewed and subject to revision twice a year.
Because each church district has flexibility to construct its own Ordnung, interesting discrepancies arise between congregations. A cluster of districts that share similar Ordnung are said to be “in fellowship,” and are called an affiliation. Affiliated districts may exchange ministers, and members may take communion at another’s church. Amish communion services include foot-washing as a symbol of commitment to interdependence.
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Nearly all Amish marry. The church makes no exceptions in disallowing marriage to outsiders. Further, parents not only want their children to remain Amish, but to stay faithful to their existing affiliation. It makes for a small mating pool.
The Amish commonly marry young. By age 25, over 80% of Amish men and women are married. The percentage of unmarried Amish drops into the single digits by age 30 for both sexes.
As a higher percentage of young men than women choose not to be baptized and live the Amish life, there are more single Amish women than men.
Despite marrying young, Amish partnerships are characterized by respect and mutuality rather than the romantic notions of love that are common among “the English” (non-Amish).
Divorce is essentially forbidden; if accomplished practically it carries a strong stigma. Widowhood and remarriage much less so. Remarriage between Amish in their 70s and 80s is not unusual.
Unsurprisingly, widowers are prone to marry younger women who have never been married, so as to breed some more and avoid getting involved with someone else’s children.
The family – with offspring – is the cornerstone of Amish society.
The more a child is valued, the better his values will be. ~ Amish proverb
As in other cultures, marriage creates alliances of kin networks, and the family is the primary context for the socialization of offspring; though for the Amish, it is an extended family.
Attitudes are caught, not taught. ~ Amish proverb
Connectedness and service to others is emphasized. Socialization to gender-specific roles are engendered in the Amish as they are generally throughout the world.
Practically every Amish woman, regardless of age or affiliation, describes the ideal wife and mother as one who is a “keeper at home,” taking care of her husband and family. The ideal Amish husband complements his wife in being patient and supportive.
Whereas an Amish family may look patriarchal from the outside, the reality is a strong maternal presence. While church leaders are all male, in the informal world of everyday life women share power with men.
With rare exception (unbecoming incompetence by church leaders), there is scant tolerance for spousal abuse. The Amish are appalled by domestic violence.
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Amish life is based on separation from the more secular world; a directive derived from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5–7].
Ideally, the Amish try to live their faith, including belief in Gelassenheit, which is a spirit of selflessness and humility (demut, as contrasted to high-mindedness (hochmut)); hence the plain dress, head coverings, and rejection of ostentation, such as owning automobiles.
All Amish affiliations place a cap on formal schooling at 8th grade. This is designed to combat the sin of pride.
We pass our convictions to our children by the things we tolerate. ~ Amish proverb
Amish moral values and mores are stringent. Those who do not conform are shunned: limited social contact. Those who do not repent are excommunicated.
A degree of nonconformity is tolerated in adolescents. ~90% of young adults choose to remain in the church and community.
The best things in life are not things. ~ Amish proverb
The Amish are not only non-materialists, they are also non-egoists. Pride is a cardinal and all-inclusive sin.
The Amish work ethic is superlative. Their adoption of modern technologies has been limited, by choice, as superfluous. Doing so to a finite degree, such as phone or computer use, has not changed their way of living or value system.
Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. ~ Amish proverb
Because they reject force and competition in social relations, the Amish do not file lawsuits, hold political offices, nor serve on juries or as police or in the military.
As devout pacifists, the Amish eschew violence in all its forms. When a non-Amish madman shot to death several Amish girls at a school in 2006, the Amish community established charitable funds – not only for the families of the dead children, but also for the murderer’s family. The killer fatally shot himself after his heinous act.
To return good for good is human, to return good for evil is divine. ~ Amish proverb
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The individual submits to society and this submission is the condition of his liberation. For man, freedom consists in deliverance from blind, unthinking physical forces; he achieves this by opposing against them the great and intelligent force of society, under whose protection he shelters. ~ Émile Durkheim
The technologies of the outside world have been a continuing temptation to the Amish. It has been one wedge issue in the social schisms that have developed in the Amish community.
While each affiliation considers it Ordnung to be faithful to Anabaptist ideals, those ideals have been defined in distinctive ways. This has evolved into a divergence of cultural and religious practices within settlements.
Let’s face it, when a church splits, there’s bound to be hard feelings. ~ Amish bishop
For all the talk of aversion to pride, the schisms have resulted in status groups. The more conservative affiliations adhere to stricter discipline and separation from the world at large. More progressive church districts emphasize a more personal religious experience, and have a greater tolerance to adopting new, useful technologies.
There has also been a mixture in some districts. One affiliation is technologically progressive but doctrinally conservative. Such schisms are nothing new. They have been a recurrent feature of Amish settlements since their founding. Consensus and compromise are difficult for the strong willed, even those sharing the same belief system and brought up to be conformist.
In contrast to mechanical solidarity, organic (contractual) solidarity is the means of societal adhesion among peoples with differentiated lives. Division of labor begets economic interdependence. While individuals do not rely upon each other to have shared folkways or even values, their material reliance creates a facile unity.
With industrialization arose societies held together solely by contractual solidarity. Earlier task and class-differentiated societies, such as those during the age of European manorialism, retained some sense of mechanical solidarity, as their mores were shared.
Ferdinand Tönnies analyzed the fundamental historical shifts in societal adhesion. He termed village life, where everyone knows everyone else: gemeinshaft (intimate community). Contrastingly, the society that was emerging in Tönnies’ time was of short-term relationships, individualism, and self-interest: gesellschaft (impersonal association). This is one effect that industrialization has on society.
As societies change, so do people’s orientations to life. ~ James Henslin