- Dec 5, 2007
05 December 2007
They are a little wierd, but maybe they have a good idea or two
The Amish, especially those of the Old Order, are probably best known for their avoidance of certain modern technologies. The avoidance of items such as automobiles and electricity is largely misunderstood. The Amish do not view technology as evil. Individuals may petition for acceptance of a particular technology in the local community. In some communities, the church leaders meet annually to review such proposals. In others, it is done whenever necessary. Because the Amish, like some Mennonite groups, and unlike the Catholic or Anglican Churches, do not have a hierarchical governing structure, differing communities often have different ideas as to which technological items are acceptable.
Electricity, for instance, is viewed as a connection to, and reliance on, "the World", the "English", or "Yankees" (the outside world), which is against their doctrine of separation. The use of electricity also could lead to the use of worldly household appliances such as televisions, which would complicate the Amish tradition of a simple life, and introduce individualist competition for worldly goods that would be destructive of community. In certain Amish groups, however, electricity can be used in very specific situations: for example, if electricity can be produced without access to outside power lines. Twelve-volt batteries, with their limited applications, are acceptable to these groups. Electric generators can be used for welding, recharging batteries, and powering milk stirrers. In certain situations, outdoor electrical appliances may be used: lawn mowers (riding and hand-pushed) and string trimmers, for example. Some Amish families have non-electric versions of vital appliances, such as kerosene-powered refrigerators.
Amish communities often adopt compromise solutions involving technology which may seem strange to outsiders. For example, many communities will allow gas-powered farm equipment such as tillers or mowers, but only if they are pushed by a human or pulled by a horse. The reasoning is that Amish farmers will not be tempted to purchase more land in order to outcompete other farmers in their community if they still have to move the equipment manually. Many Amish communities also accept the use of chemical pesticides and GM crops, forgoing more common Amish organic farming techniques.
The Ordnung is the guide to community standards, rather than doctrine that defines sin. For example, the four Old Order Amish communities of Allen County, Indiana, are more conservative than most; they use open buggies, even during the winter, and they wear black leather shoes even in the hot summer. The restrictions are not meant to impose suffering. In the 1970s, for example, a farmer near Milan Center, Indiana, was ordered by his bishop to buy a conventional tractor. He had severe progressive arthritis and, with no sons to harness the horses for him, the tractor was seen as a need, rather than a vanity. The rest of the community continued farming with horses.
The Amish will hire drivers and vans, for example, for visiting family, monthly grocery shopping, or commuting to the workplace off the farm — though this too is subject to local regulation and variation. The practice increases the geographic reach of the Amish, and decreases isolation: a horse can travel only about 25 miles and then must rest for a considerable period, restricting the Amish to a radius of 12.5 miles from home. Moreover, a horse and buggy can only sustain 10 MPH over an extended distance and so is impractical for emergencies. Regular bus service between Amish communities has been established in some areas. Hiring a taxi is forbidden on Sundays (as is any transfer of money).
The telephone is another technology whose avoidance is often misunderstood. The Amish dislike the telephone because it interferes with their separation from the world; it brings the outside world into the home; it is an intrusion into the privacy and sanctity of the family and interferes with social community by eliminating face-to-face communication. However, some Amish, such as many of those in Lancaster County, use the telephone primarily for out-going calls, but with the added restriction that the telephone not be inside the home, but rather in a phone "booth" or shanty (actually just a small out-building) placed far enough from the house as to make its use inconvenient. Commonly these private phone shanties are shared by more than one family, fostering a sense of community. This allows the Amish to control their communication and not have telephone calls invade their homes, but also conduct business as needed. In the past, the use of public pay phones in town for such calls was more common; today with dwindling availability of pay phones because of increased cellphone use by the non-Amish population, Amish communities are seeing an increase in the private phone shanties. Many Amish, particularly those who run businesses, use voice mail service. The Amish will also use trusted "English" neighbors as contact points for passing on family emergency messages. Some New Order Amish will use cellphones and pagers, but most Old Order Amish will not.
Dress code for some groups includes prohibitions against buttons, allowing only hooks and eyes to keep clothing closed; others may allow small undecorated buttons in a dark color. In some groups, certain articles can have buttons and others cannot. The restriction on buttons is attributed in part to their association with military uniforms, and also to their potential for serving as opportunities for vain display. Straight-pins are often used to hold articles of clothing together. In all things, the aesthetic value is "plainness": clothing should not call attention to the wearer by cut, color or any other feature. Prints such as florals, stripes, polka-dots, etc. are not allowed in Amish dress, although these styles have been adopted by fellow Mennonites.
Women wear calf-length plain-cut dresses in a solid color such as blue. Aprons are often worn, usually in white or black, at home and always worn when attending church. A cape, which consists of a triangular shape of cloth, is usually worn beginning around the teenage years and pinned into the apron. In the colder months, a long woollen cloak is sported. Heavy bonnets are worn over the prayer coverings when Amish women are out and about in cold weather, with the exception of the Nebraska Amish, who do not wear bonnets. When a girl becomes available to be courted, she wears a black bonnet. These unmarried women also wear a white cape.
Men typically wear dark-colored trousers and a dark vest or coat, suspenders (Brit. braces), broad-rimmed straw hats in the warmer months and black felt hats in the colder months. Single Amish men are clean-shaven; if they are available to court women, they will put a dent in their hat. Married men grow a beard. In some more traditional communities a man will grow a beard after he is baptized. Moustaches are not allowed, because they are associated with the military and because they give opportunity for vanity. The avoidance of military styles has origins in the religious and political persecution in 16th and 17th century Europe. Men of the nobility and upper classes, who often served as military officers, wore moustaches but not beards, and the pacifist Amish avoid moustaches because of this association. The wearing of beards, however, is largely based on the same beliefs against shaving that lead Hasidic Jews and conservative Muslims not to shave their beards. (Amish men who wear beards do not abhor shaving: some men grow a fringe of beard around the edge of the face while shaving the hair off the front of the face, including the moustache. These men refrain from shaving the throat)
During the summer months, the majority of Amish children go barefoot, including to school. The prevalence of the practice is attested in the Pennsylvania Deitsch saying, "Deel Leit laafe baarfiessich rum un die annre hen ken Schuh." (Some people walk around barefooted, and the rest have no shoes.) The amount of time spent barefoot varies, but most children and adults go barefoot whenever possible.