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Amish Life and Culture

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Amish Life

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Amish Harvest Corn In Maryland
Mark Wilson / Staff / Getty Images

Amish life is fascinating to outsiders, but much of the information we have about the Amish faith and culture is inaccurate. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about Amish life, taken from reliable sources.

Why do the Amish keep to themselves and not associate with the rest of us?

If you keep in mind that the practice of humility is the main motivation for almost everything the Amish do, Amish life becomes more understandable. They believe outside culture has a morally polluting effect. They think it promotes pride, greed, immorality and materialism. Amish beliefs include the concept that God will judge them on how well they obeyed the church rules during their lifetime, and contact with the outside world makes it harder to obey their rules. The Amish point to this Bible verse as a reason for their isolation: "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord." (2 Corinthians 6:17, KJV)

Why do the Amish dress in old-fashioned clothes and dark colors?

Again, humility is the reason behind this. Amish value conformity, not individualism. They believe bright colors or patterns attract attention to a person. Some of their clothes are fastened with straight pins or hooks, to avoid buttons, which might be a source of pride. Their Ordnung, or rule for living, specifies everything from what type of shoes may be worn to the width of hat brims. Women wear a white prayer covering on their head if they are married, black if they are single. Married men wear beards, single men do not. Mustaches are prohibited because they are associated with the 19th century European military. The Amish are nonviolent and are conscientious objectors.

Why don't the Amish use electricity or cars and tractors?

In Amish life, isolation from the rest of society is viewed as a way to keep themselves from unnecessary temptation. They cite Romans 12:2 as their guide: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (KJV)

The Amish do not hook up to the electrical grid, which prevents the use of televisions, radios, computers, and modern appliances. No TVs means no advertising and no immoral messages. The Amish also believe in hard work and usefulness. They would consider watching TV or surfing the Internet a waste of time. Cars and mechanized farm machinery could lead to competition or pride of ownership. Old Order Amish do not allow a telephone in their homes, because it could lead to pride and gossip. The community may put a phone in a barn or outside phone booth, to deliberately make it inconvenient to use.

Is it true Amish schools end at eighth grade?

Yes. The Amish believe that education leads to worldliness. They educate their children to eighth grade in their own schools. A dialect of German is spoken in the home, so children learn English in school, as well as other basic skills they need to live in the Amish community.

Why don't the Amish want to be photographed?

The Amish believe photos can lead to pride and invade their privacy. They think photographs violate Exodus 20:4: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (KJV)

What is shunning?

Shunning is the practice of avoiding someone who has broken the rules. The Amish do it not as a matter of punishment, but to bring the person to repentance and back into the community. They point to 1 Corinthians 5:11 to validate shunning: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." (KJV)

Is it true that the Amish let their teenagers go into the outside world as a kind of test?

Rumspringa, which is Pennsylvania German for "running around," varies from community to community, but this aspect of Amish life has been greatly exaggerated by movies and TV shows. In general, youth at 16 are allowed freedom to go to Amish community sings and other events. Boys may be given a buggy for dating. Some of these teenagers are baptized members of the church while others are not. The purpose of Rumspringa is to find a spouse, not taste the outside world. In nearly all cases, it strengthens the Amish youths' desire to obey the rules and become a cooperative member of their community.

Can Amish people marry outside their community?

No. Amish cannot marry "the English," as they refer to non-Amish people. If they do, they are excommunicated from Amish life and shunned. The strictness of shunning varies by congregation. In some cases it involves not eating, doing business with, riding in a car with, or accepting gifts from shunned members. In more liberal communities the practice is less severe.

(Sources: ReligiousTolerance.org, 800padutch.com, holycrosslivonia.org, amishamerica.com, and aboutamish.blogspot.com.)

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