The Amish are the old traditionalist deeply religious group of Christians. By their historical origin, the Amish people are Protestants who escaped persecution in Europe and came to the United States of America to build a new community based on following old traditions and mutual help. Due to fact that their own system of beliefs differed from the official church on the issues like pacifism and being baptized in the adulthood, the Amish people faced disagreement with Catholics and Protestants. Searching for own religious freedom the Amish people migrated to the USA. Even though the Amish are of the same origin as the Mennonites, one should not confuse them. Historically, the Amish and Mennonites had the same Anabaptist origin in the 16th century on the Europe territory (Kraybill, 2010). Today, these two groups differ in basic lifestyle rules. Unlike present Mennonites, the Amish people continue to lead a plain life, use a plain dress style, and avoid using most kinds of technology.
Since the Amish culture is of a closed type, it is obvious that these people isolated themselves from the outside world. Today, everything the Amish people possess is different from the modern world in general. Clothes, daily routine and work, education, and even language are rather different from what people in the outside world have. Due to the centuries of separation, this culture has unique features in almost all aspects of life.
The Amish culture is an excellent example of a modern closed subculture type with unique way of living, but very strong beliefs and the system of values.
Basic Lifestyle Principles of the Amish Culture
The primary mode of the vast majority among all the Amish communities is farming, which makes them Horticulturalists. Annually, the Amish people plant some agricultural crops (the type of it depends on the season), and all family members help with tending, cultivation, and harvesting. Also, some Amish families carry some small amount of livestock for providing themselves with milk, eggs, meat etc. Farming is meant not only for feeding own family members, but also for making some profit with selling goods on farmers markets. Therefore, participation in markets makes them not completely closed from the outside world.
The gender roles in the Amish society also follow old tradition rules. Moreover, this society type is patriarchal and all leading roles, especially in churches, are occupied only by men. Also, men are the main family providers and householders. Women very rarely become bread winners in this type of society. Usually, they do all housework, cook meals, and look after children. At the same time, men spend all working days on farm, providing their family members with food. Many tasks that need mutual collaboration, like gardening or helping in the barn, may be done by both man and his wife. The husband holds authority in his family but, at the same time, wife has freedom with choices and actions in some aspects of life. Today, such level of patriarchal type is rather unique, because women do not have the same rights and benefits as men in all communities.
In general, the Amish lifestyle is fully based on old-fashioned traditions, and rejection of technical progress is one of the most famous Amish features. Since the whole culture is based on the plain style of living and strict sticking to religious rules, a lot of things modern people take for granted are forbidden or disapproved in the community. All kinds of convenience given us by the technological progress, such as electricity, cars, phones, new synthetic kinds of textile are completely denied by the Amish people.
Technically, the Amish people do not reject technology achievements. They try to be very cautious dealing with some new technologies, because, according to their beliefs, using such non-natural novelties may have a serious negative impact on the whole community life. Every new device is examined and analyzed carefully by the whole commune to be sure that this item would not cause any conflict situations or tension between family members or community mates. On the other hand, the Amish culture does not stay absolutely closed for some new technologies. Some communities had accepted using roller-skates or chain saws, since these items were created only for people’s benefits and they do not contain any controversial issues.
Currently, one can list two groups of the Amish referring to following basic rules: the Old Order Amish and the New Order Amish. The New Order Amish are considered being more progressive and conservative at the same time than ones from the Old Order. Universal features for both orders are plain dressing, home worshipping and speaking common Pennsylvania German dialect language. Nevertheless, one can name several differences between them as well. The main distinguishing features of the New Order Amish are more loyal attitude to the various technologies (for example telephones, planes, and electricity), alcohol and tobacco prohibition, and lower retention rate. Also, the New Order Amish have more mission-oriented position and provide Sunday school studies (Kraybill, 2010).
In many ways, the Amish people are absolutely correct with refusal to use a lot of new technological achievements. Cars, factories, and simple hairsprays are the cause for present global warming end extremely bad ecology condition all over the world. Using new technologies, helpful but not absolutely necessary for life, for example computers and television often weakens relationships between family members. The Amish people will always remain close to each other as long as they stay far enough from many modern technologies.
The Common System of the Amish Beliefs and Values
Due to their strong system of values and beliefs the Amish culture retains a high level of cohesiveness. Community, family and strict following of order rules are the main values among all Amish people.
The main outstanding feature is non-individualism system. The community is believed to be the central point of the whole culture and the Amish people lead their lives in accordance with this belief. In many ways, such culture organization is a good one, because every Amish person is always sure that the whole community will do everything to help solve his or her problem once it appears. With such a mindset, the Amish people do not need any help from the government or any kind of insurance in cases of injuries or accidents. The community always provides all its members with a high quality support. Living in non-individual community type has both positive and negative sides. With any possible problem appearing in life of one particular Amish person, his or her community mates will propose their help immediately. In this case, every Amish person in trouble never stays alone with it. On the other hand, knowing that you are always in sight of the whole commune may bring some disturbing situations and feelings. Moreover, every person needs to possess some private space and personal secrets, and, therefore, being constantly in the public eye may cause some psychological stress. However, the Amish people live this way from the very moment of birth and constant remaining in the mates’ view eventually becomes the normal state of things.
As stated above, all Amish people value community’s needs and desires above those of an individual. Also, a big, strong, and happy family is considered to be the biggest blessing from God, and every single Amish person is taught about it from the very childhood. For the last several decades, the total amount of the Amish people had increased almost twice in number, mostly because of rather high amount of children in one family. The average Amish family has not less than five children in it (Rowthorn, 2011).
The next integral part of this culture is respect. Almost all relationships between the Amish people rest on the basic principles of mutual respect. Young people are taught to honor the elder ones and each other. Compassion is also one of the essential parts of the Amish culture. Every person in the community is considered to be a valuable part of the system, and when one of them suffers physically or mentally, in some way, it makes suffer all other mates. Therefore, compassion and respect are the main keys to a “healthy” society. Of course, all people are different in their mental state, and some exceptions may happen. From this point of view, one cannot say for sure that every single person among the Amish people behave under their standard rules. However, when you are surrounded by loving and caring people it is rather hard to act otherwise.
Talking about the main system of beliefs in this particular culture, one can name several basic issues that include leading a sinless life, being baptized in the adulthood, believing in Trinity, and believing in life after death. The whole life of a particular Amish person is based on belief that “a sinful person will be severely punished after death”. Building the whole life on this belief every Amish person and community in general tries to do everything to avoid any kind of sin. Using electricity is considered to be a direct issue leading to temptation, and therefore, it is the main reason for refusing to use electricity. The same reason can be named for plain dress style. The vast majority of the body surface must be covered with clothes; arms, legs, and hair should be under cover as well. These rules are especially referred to females.
Telling lies is also the biggest sin, and the Amish are considered to always tell the truth. On the other hand, the human nature shows that it is impossible not tell any insignificant lie for the whole life period. Falsehood has various faces, it can have the shape of a white lie, but it will always remain to be a lie. From this point of view, in spite of all efforts, every Amish person cannot protect oneself from all kinds of sin.
Also, one of the main outstanding features of this culture is committing to the church and baptizing in the adulthood, but not in the childhood as most official churches require. According to the Amish beliefs, commitment to the church must be provided consciously and only by a person’s own will. Thus, every child and young person has a chance to decide if he or she wants to go into the outside world or stay with the family and community. To some extent, increase the amount of the Amish people is due to a rather high percentage of young people committing to the local church. Such way of thinking only has positive sides, since young people feel their own freedom of choice. Some pressure from family members or community mates may occur in a case of making the final decision. However, no one can be forced to join the church against their own will and such cases of violation against human’s rights cannot take place in such society.
The holistic system of the Amish beliefs and values assigns the whole plan of life for all community members. Non-individual type of this society has insignificant negative aspects like having no completely personal space in general meaning, but at the same time it has plenty of advantages. Most people need to be the valuable part of the some particular social system. The Amish communities provide its people with knowing that they all are very important part of it. Also, knowing that you would not be left alone with your problems always has a positive effect.
The Kinship Issues among the Amish People
Since the Amish society is of a closed type, every community can be considered as a big whole family. Remaining today, the Amish people try to maintain relations mostly with the members of their group. Being the closed society type for centuries is the main cause for rather big amount of intermarriage cases. In general, the Amish society is a large group of people related by the bloodline. The Amish society type is not completely genetically closed, and most communities try to associate with each other. Thus, some amount from the total number of marriages is provided between the carriers of different bloodlines. However, marriages between second cousins also take place in various Amish communities. Most of young people get married at the age 22-25, only after their commitment to local church. Due to the specific religious system of beliefs, the divorce rate is extremely low in all communities (Hurst & McConnell, 2010).
Also, a high birth rate can be seen in all Amish communities. The average Amish family has more than five children in it. In some way, such high rate is determined by using any kind of birth control prohibition and leading a healthy lifestyle. Usually, the childbirth takes place in different ways. In some communities, women give birth to their children at home, under the control of professional midwives. At the same time, in other communities women are allowed to local hospitals or birthing centers.
Living in a closed society, where all mates are relatives to each other in some degree has both positive and negative sides. Feeling oneself as a part of a big loving family has an advantageous effect on mental state of people in the community. On the other hand, having the same bloodline as own husband or wife may have some negative impact on future generations. Also, such cases are controversial, since all official religions prohibit marriages of couples with the same bloodline.
Sickness and Specific Approaches to Healing
Since the Amish society is of a completely religious type, it is obvious that the Amish people have a complex opinion about the official medicine. In all Amish communities, God is considered as the essential healer, and recovering from illness or injury can be determined only by the God’s will. All highly religious people have a thought that everything (especially sickness) happens for a reason. From this point of view, sickness is considered to be the God’s punishing for some particular sin or some faith examination. Nevertheless, most of the Amish people also believe that God wants them to be healed as well.
According to the results of some researches, the Amish people are far healthier than the rest of the American habitants. The common Amish lifestyle is simple but healthier in many ways than the way of living in other modern societies. Most of the Amish people do not drink alcohol or smoke. Also, the overwhelming majority of the Amish mates have a big amount of physical labor daily. Constant physical work of various types helps to keep the Amish in good physical shape and assists in preserving good health. Moreover, they have complete nutrition and eat only healthy natural food from their own farms.
As aforesaid, the Amish lifestyle is completely different from that of an average modern American person. Eating synthetic and junk food, breathing the air full of poisonous fumes, sitting the whole days in front of a computer, and constant use of prescribed medicines became the essential part of the modern human being from any developed society. At the same time, everything from aforesaid list has nothing to do with the Amish people (Hairston et al., 2012).
Unfortunately, even leading a healthy life does not guarantee that people will always stay healthy. Usually, the Amish people turn for the professional help to the dentists, optometrists, and physicians. In most cases, they try to maintain health with vitamins and herbs, and refuse to seek professional medical advice (Nolt, 2011).
Due to the closed type of this culture, marriages between the carriers of the same bloodline occur from time to time. With rather often cases of a slight consanguinity, some kinds of genetic diseases take place. From one point of view, having such sickness issues in the community definitely has negative sides, but, at the same time, staying closed for the “new blood” appearing prevents the Amish people from getting more serious types of diseases, like HIV, and more severe genetic diseases, for example Huntington's chorea.
The Amish culture is a great example of leading life by the exclusive rules opposite to those from the whole world. Specific system of values and beliefs dictates the type of behavior in every aspect of the Amish life and determines lives of whole generations. Also, the unique opinion on using modern technology and medicine, leading a plain style of life, having personal thoughts on family issues become controversial, since rejecting the progress has some degree of advantages, like remaining healthy, and disadvantages, like restraining themselves from useful items or techniques.
To sum up all abovementioned, one can say that the Amish culture has developed into an extraordinary phenomenon of religious beliefs remaining committed to the old fashioned rules.
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