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The Amish are best known for their simple living, plain dress, and resistance to technology. This describes the Old Order Amish, but it could also describe other Mennonite groups. The Amish are named for Jakob Ammann, who split from the Mennonites in 1693, largely over church discipline. Most of the Amish emigrated to Pennsylvania from Germany in the early 18th century. The bulk of the Amish are in the United States and Canada. Currently, the majority of the U.S. Amish population are in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Most Canadian Amish are in Ontario. The Amish hold to traditional Anabaptist principles, including believer's baptism, humility, non-resistance, and separation from the world. The Amish also practice shunning of members who refuse to repent of sin, but members who are banned are welcomed back upon repentance. Although they live in proximity to one another and believe in sharing generously, the Amish do not hold property in common. Each Amish district is independent, so the rules will change from one to another. Most Old Order Amish groups use Pennsylvania Dutch for church services, although they generally speak English otherwise. Although outsiders have occasionally joined the Amish, the Old Order Amish are not evangelistic, although some communities hold Sunday services in English periodically for convenience of outsiders who wish to attend. The Beachy Amish Mennonites do not consider themselves to be either Amish or Mennonite, but Amish Mennonite, although they are comprised primarily of people who have left Old Order Amish churches. Less traditional than the Old Order Amish, they drive cars and have fewer restrictions on technology. Since the Amish do not use the Internet, there are no true Amish web sites. Many sites advertise Amish furniture and crafts, but these should be listed in the appropriate Shopping & eCommerce category unless they contain substantial information about the Amish. The same is true of sites promoting Amish tours.



Feature Article

Why the Amish Live Simply


For the past fourteen years, I have lived in Millinocket, Maine, which is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile hike from Georgia to Maine, through mostly mountainous terrain.

For one year, my wife and I operated an Internet cafe in Millinocket, which was a popular stop for those completing the hike. In talking to these men and women, I learned that they carried as little with them as possible, mostly trying to keep the total weight under twenty-five pounds. After beginning their hike, many found that they could make even further reductions. The point was to not carry anything more than was needed.

What has this to do with the Amish? Well, the Amish use similar illustrations to indicate why they have chosen to live simply. You see, they too are on a journey, one that takes them from birth to death and, from there, to eternity.

All Christians, at least those who know something of their faith, believe that their time on earth is temporary, and that they are traveling to eternity, yet most of them entangle themselves with the affairs of this life, and measure success by the amount of stuff they can accumulate during their life. Yet Jesus taught that a man's life does not consist of the abundance of thing he possesses.

The Amish tell a story of an Amish farmer who brought a casserole to welcome a new family moving into a neighboring farmhouse. He helped them to unpack one appliance after another -- washer, dryer, television, computers, coffee maker, dishwasher, hair dryer, and an abundance of electric tools.

"If any of these break down," the Amish man said to the newcomers, "please let me know, and I can help you."

Knowing something of the Amish, the family was surprised by that, and asked, "Do you know how to fix these things?"

"No," said the Amish man, "but I can teach you how to live without them."

The Old Order Amish don't drive cars; instead, they drive horses. They dress funny, as if they were living in the 1700s. They don't own computers, musical instruments, or electronic devices. If they have a telephone, it is used for business purposes only and, in most Amish colonies, it would be located outside of the house. Those of us who are not Amish often wonder how they can live like that, and why?

The simple answer is that they choose to live simply, doing without many of the things that other people in North America consider essential, believing that these things would only weigh them down during their journey toward eternity, and recognizing that none of these things would be necessary when their time on earth is over. The Amish believe that Satan is in control on earth, and that they are in enemy territory. Understanding this, they choose to travel lightly. When Jesus was on earth, he didn't own property, and carried only what he needed. So too, his disciples trusted that God would provide for their needs. There is no indication that fashion or material wealth had a place in their lives.

The Amish do not live communally. Many are quite wealthy, largely due to a combination of a good work ethic and frugal living. But, when another Amish family is in need, or even someone outside of the community, they will readily part with their money in order to come to the assistance of a neighbor. Other members of the same Amish community may not be so wealthy, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference.

An Amish acquaintance once told me that he needed a new coat. He could easily afford to buy a new coat, he said, but he was afraid that other members of the community would wonder who he thought he was, buying a new coat. On the other hand, he was afraid to continue wearing his old, frayed coat to church on Sundays, as it might be considered disrespectful of the Sabbath. Sometimes, things aren't so simple after all.

The Amish do not buy things just because they can afford to, which stands in contrast to the rest of us, who often spend much of our lives buying things that we can't afford and, in many cases, don't need.

The Amish are not afraid to be different from the rest of the world. Jesus spoke of his people as a people who were to be set apart from the world, and the Amish take this as a command. They reject many things that the rest of American society accepts as fact. One of these is the idea that you cannot turn back the clock, which is a phrase often used by those who disagree with Amish practices. To be sure, the Amish don't believe that the clock can be turned back so as to undo something that has already been done, but they do believe that they can do something about the present and the future, rather than simply living with the mistakes of the past. They realize, for example, that they cannot undo the public school movement that gave the responsibility of educating children over to the government, but that they can do something about it for themselves and their children, in recognition of the fact that God intended that parents were to be responsible for their children.

They also reject the idea that the world is no more wicked today than it has always been, viewing this as a lie of Satan that has been mixed with a portion of truth. Since the day that God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the world has indeed been wicked, but the Amish believe that the wickedness in the world has increased many times over, to a point where sins that were once universally recognized as being evil are now commonplace, even within many of the Christian churches. This was predicted by Jesus, and many of the prophets before him, who said that there would be deceit and tribulation in the last days such as have not been seen since the days of Noah, and in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus also said that there would be false prophets who would leave many astray, and that lawlessness would abound.

In contrast with the evil in the world, Jesus called Christians to be set apart from the world and to live holy lives. For this reason, the Amish live in the world insofar as they must, but set themselves and their families apart from it as much as they are able. The Amish do not believe that it is sinful to own a car or to live in a home wired for electricity, but they have seen how these things have come to control many people. When a person has too many things, they get the best of him, and they eventually come to affect his thinking and the decisions that he makes, effectively becoming his master. Television and the Internet, in particular, have passively brought sins into the home that people once had to actively seek after.

They do not believe that modern inventions are evil in and of themselves. A car, a television set, and a computer, is a material thing, made of metal or plastic; it is the misuse of it that is wrong. This is why they will pay to be driven to places too far away for a horse and buggy, but will not own a car themselves. When a car is necessary, they will make use of it, but they don't want it to become a convenience or a distraction from more important things.

Interestingly, although it is one of the ways in which many people recognize the Amish, most Amish don't know much of the history behind the reason they dress the way they do. For them, plain clothing is simply their way of doing things. They believe that clothing is intended to cover the body, not display it, and that men and women should wear different types of clothing. The Bible has something to say about the way that people dress, as well. Biblically, women should not have their hair cut, and men are not to wear their hair long. To avoid vanity, and because the use of jewelry was often seen in reference to harlots in the Bible, the Amish do not wear jewelry. There are many reasons why the Amish dress as they do. The primary reason is that of modesty, and because they do not want to be led by the fashions and styles of the world. Another is that they desire to be identified with the children of God rather than the children of the world.

The reasoning behind their choice of clothing are the same that the Amish use in their rejection of modern technology -- they will use that which serves a good purpose, but will reject that which serves as a mere convenience or as a source of vanity. Simplicity, for the Amish, is a way of life.

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