From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
An Amish community in New York state.
Christ died for
our articles about

Icon christianity.svg
Devil's in the details
I'm a man of the land, I'm into discipline
Got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin
But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine
Then tonight we're gonna party like it's 1699
—Al Yankovic[1]

The Amish, are an Anabaptist Christian denomination mostly based in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario, and are luddite fundamentalists. They originated in Switzerland and Germany among followers of Jacob Amman (born 1644), who led them to split from the Mennonites[2] in 1693 over a perceived lack of separatism from the world among the latter, and over Amman's insistence on strict shunning of non-believers. The Amish take the name of their group from Amman. Like the Mennonites from which they split, they practice Christian pacifism within the context of a broader emphasis on complete separatism from the world and not "being unequally yoked with unbelievers".

They have become something of a tourist attraction ("how can you live like that?!"), but are also known for their independence and lack of central orthodoxy. As such, the decision whether or not to attach "slow vehicle" reflective triangles to their horse-drawn buggies is up to individual parishes or districts.

Contrary to common belief, their reluctance to adopt modern technology stems not from an instinctual mistrust of technology, but from a desire to maintain a "simple", family- and God-centered life which they believe technology will distract from (and potentially tempt members with sin). In other words, they are like Independent Baptist but more extreme. Many families now have a cellphone; a landline phone, on the other hand, they regard as too much of an intrusion into the family home. Television is right out. On the other hand, the cynic might note that many of the banned modern conveniences exemplify ones that would let individuals lead a life independent of their communities[3] should they wish to do so...

The Amish are, worryingly, a growing religion - not because they proselytize or have much success in attracting new converts, but because they tend to have large families. They aren't growing in numbers as fast as the Mormons, who have large families and also proselytize a lot, but they won't be going the way of the Shakers anytime soon either.

During Rumspringa,[4] some Amish youth experiment with not being Amish from the ages of 14 to 16, when they must decide if they want to be baptized. During this time they are allowed to break many taboos - such as those on using technology, trendy machined clothes, and drugs. More than 80 percent of Amish youth return to the church after their exposure to the "evils" of the world.[5]


An Amish family in Ohio.

Like IFBs, Amish believe in the Trinity and "Believer's Baptism." Amish do not carry weapons or serve in the military, law enforcement, the court system, or political office due to a belief in non-resistance.[6] This is ironic considering the Amish's refusal to send their children to public school. Amish are homophobic and believe in reparative therapy.[7] Like many other fundies, Amish do not believe in sex education or birth control, and they believe any extramarital sexual activity is a horrible sin.[8] Amish who deviate from the rules are shunned by their communities, including their own families.[9] Many Amish are anti-vaxxers, and they do not believe in health insurance.[10] The reason Amish do not seek new converts is because they have more or less given up hope in the outside world.[11] Basically, they think everybody else is a bunch of nasty whores for not wanting to live like it is the 1500s.

New Order Amish[edit]

Amish and Mennonites welcome a visit from George W. Bush.

The New Order Amish are an Amish group that splintered off in the 1960s. They are a large proportion of the Holmes County Amish settlement in Ohio and, to a lesser extent, are represented in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The New Order Amish have adopted aspects of modern American Christianity that do not exist in other Old Order groups, such as assurance of salvation (the belief that you can know that you are saved) and the importance given to a "conversion experience," i.e., adoption of the modern American view of being "born again" (as opposed to seeing the Christian life as a walk following the teachings of Christ). In Lancaster County, the New Order allow indoor electricity and tractors. In Ohio, however, the New Order Amish are, as a general rule, technologically more conservative than are the New Order in Lancaster. The New Order are just one of many Amish groups, and even within one settlement, different New Order Amish districts would have slight variations in regards to their customs or Ordnung. This is an example of why it is almost impossible to generalize about the Amish.

Amish Mennonites[edit]

Some groups of Amish abandoned the Amish rejection of modern technology and moved back in the direction of (and in some cases reunited with) the Mennonites. They are known as Amish Mennonites, although some of them dropped the Amish name completely. This includes most of the Amish in Europe, who eventually abandoned the stereotypical Amish separateness and re-joined the Mennonites. Old Order Amish who continue to eschew much technology are mostly found in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States and Canada.

Legal struggles and persecution[edit]

Infant baptism and persecution[edit]

Burning of Dutch Anabaptist Anneken Hendriks in 1571.

During their early years, the Amish were persecuted throughout Europe and were especially heavily persecuted in Switzerland. After the Protestant Reformation had swept Europe, the initial result was not the religious pluralism common today but rather the official state church in any given place becoming whatever denomination that nation's rulers proclaimed. Thus the Catholic Church was the official state church in southern Europe, the Lutheran church in northern Europe, the Anglican church in England, the Reformed church in parts of Switzerland and the Netherlands, etc. All citizens were expected to be members of the state church. Universal infant baptism served the purpose of ensuring all citizens were also members of the state church, thus the church became merely an adjunct of the state and the Reformation failed to eliminate theocracy. Nonconformist groups like the Amish rejected infant baptism in part for this reason, and in part because they believed baptism should be something done freely only after making a decision, as an adult, to follow Christ. Their refusal to allow their infants to be baptized into the state church led to persecution in Lutheran Germany and Reformed Switzerland, and often Amish families would frequently move from one location to another until they were hounded out by authorities several years later and moved again if they weren't imprisoned. This perhaps strengthened their resolve to practice the separatism they are known for today, and is one reason why they migrated in large numbers to Pennsylvania, which Quaker leader William Penn founded based on the promise of freedom of religion and conscience.

Amish and other nonconformist Christians view this persecution as part of a line of underground believers going back to the time of Christ who were persecuted by the state or by the official state church, largely because of their rejection of infant baptism. Stories of persecution of nonconformist Christians from the first through the 16th century are collected in the 1512 page tome Martyrs Mirror, which remains a staple for reading in Amish homes.


The Amish have been persecuted during wartime for their refusal to fight, along with others who believe it is morally wrong to go to war (such as the Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.) During World War I the persecution was so bad once the wartime patriotism propaganda cranked up that at the behest of Amish and other peace-church leaders a system of alternative service for Amish and other objectors was set up before World War II got underway. This however proved to also be a problem for Amish, eventually; during the war many were sent to rural camps, often former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps, to do much the same kind of work the CCC had done, such as forestry, firefighting, and agricultural work. This fit right in with the lifestyle the Amish, as an almost entirely agricultural people, were familiar with. During the 1950s and 1960s however it was common for alternative service for those Amish who were drafted to be in big city hospitals. This often led to young Amish finding themselves in a place like New York City, lonely and out of place with their distinctive clothing and practices. Forcibly taken from their familiar culture and thrown into a modern city, the majority of them left the Amish faith and lifestyle, while a few refused to be so conscripted and were imprisoned for their stance. Finally during the Vietnam War the Amish leadership had enough and convinced the government to grant young Amish draftees farm deferments to work on farms rather than city hospitals. Since the end of conscription in the United States in 1973 this has not been an issue, but conceivably could become one again if conscription were ever revived in the U.S. as a few increasingly loudmouthed social engineers want to do.

Social Security[edit]

The Amish do not believe in being dependent on government services, believing instead that Christian separatism from the world mandates mutual aid being practiced within their own communities. The Amish mutually support each other into old age and do not participate in the United States' Social Security or Canada's Social Insurance programs. In 1955, the U.S. Congress expanded Social Security to include self-employed farmers, which made it mandatory for everybody. For several years many Amish refused to pay Social Security taxes and had several farms seized and foreclosed by the IRS or livestock seized and sold for back taxes due. Other Amish had their taxes involuntarily deduced from their bank accounts by the IRS, to which they responded by closing their bank accounts and doing without a bank. This came to a head with the high profile arrest of Valentine Byler in 1961, which became a celebrated case for religious freedom and civil liberties activists. Finally in 1965 Congress passed the Medicare bill which included an exemption for self-employed Amish from both Medicare and Social Security.

Public schools[edit]

An Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania.

The Amish typically operate their own private schools or homeschool their children, although in some areas they send their children to public elementary school and withdraw them after 6th or 8th grade. The laws regarding this vary by state but in some cases the Amish have stood up to attempts by the state to close their private schools and forcibly take their children to public school. The most celebrated cases were Buchanan County, Iowa and Green County, Wisconsin, the latter resulting in a precedent-setting Supreme Court decision.

A 1961 consolidation of Buchanan County schools into two large school districts meant the separate Amish schools would be closed and their kids bused to public school. In 1962 Amish leaders kept their own schools open in defiance of the new law. This standoff continued a few years until November 1965 when state and county officials attempted to forcibly take Amish schoolchildren from their own schools and bus them to the county school. A photo of Amish schoolchildren scurrying away from angry officials and police chasing them went out over the wire services and turned public sympathy in favor of the Amish. After a repeated attempt a few days later with similarly chaotic results, and public donations flowing in to pay Amish fines, Iowa's governor Harold Hughes declared a moratorium on further harassment and appealed to the Iowa legislature to correct the situation, which they did in 1967 by passing a law enabling state education officials to exempt Amish from public education standards.

The Iowa standoff led to some conservatives of the day forming a National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom (NCARF). They would soon help take a similar case in Wisconsin all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1968 three Amish were arrested in Green County, Wisconsin for failing to send their children to public high school. After losing their case in Green County court, NCARF appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court who overturned the conviction and ruled in favor of the Amish. The Wisconsin state government then appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, who again ruled in favor of the Amish. Wisconsin v. Yoder in 1972 was a milestone Supreme Court ruling finding that the government did not have the right to deny the Amish their right to teach their own children or otherwise practice their faith.[12]

Abuse among the Amish[edit]

Amish is a sexist society dominated by adult men, so women and children who are abused may be unable or unwilling to speak up or protect themselves. A Wisconsin Amish woman named Mary Byler came forward with her own experience of sex abuse and rape, and the similar abuse of her sister. Unfortunately (but typically for such isolated religious groups), her community was more angry with her than those who raped her. There have been other victims and in some areas abuse is suspected to be rampant.[13][14]

See also[edit]