The Amish are a religious people that have existed in America for hundreds of years. Their communities can be found throughout the United States, particularly in Pennsylvania and Ohio rural areas. While they make their living as farmers and tradespeople, they are often most famous for their unique existence, which eschews much of the modern world and its trappings.
Confusing the Amish with ethnicities is easy, but they’re pretty different. But many still have the question: is Amish an ethnicity? To answer this, we need to first understand what race is. Ethnicity refers to the shared culture and ancestry of a group of people. Therefore, if you are an ethnic group, you have a distinct culture and origin.
Amish Define an Ethnic Group
The Swiss-German heritage, language, and tradition of the Amish bind them together, and they only wed other Amish people. The Amish do fit the definition of an ethnic group. Nevertheless, the Amish typically only use the term to refer to acknowledged members of their church community and do not use it as an ethnic identifier.
Both individuals who prefer to live a simple life but are not baptized into the Amish Church and those who do not wish to live an Amish lifestyle are no longer regarded as Amish. Some Amish congregations have since become Mennonite churches. Even though more Amish moved to America in the 19th century than in the 18th, most Amish in America today are derived from 18th-century immigration.
The rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, and haughtiness) and the high regard they have for Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (often translated as “submission” or “letting-be,” but perhaps best understood as an unwillingness to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way) are two critical concepts for understanding Amish practices. The individuality ingrained in the larger American culture is at odds with the readiness to surrender to God’s will as represented through communal standards.
The Amish anti-individualist perspective is the driving force behind their rejection of labor-saving technology that could reduce one’s reliance on the community, create a status-goods competition like electricity, or foster individual or family vanity like photos. It is also the root of disdain for post-eighth-grade schooling, particularly speculative coursework that has little application to farm life but may arouse narcissistic and materialistic goals. Core Amish beliefs directly conflict with the emphasis on competition and the unquestioning belief that self-reliance is a good thing, both promoted as an American ideal and fostered in American high schools.
Detachment From the Outside
The Amish prefer to interact with non-Amish people infrequently. However, rising farmland costs and falling profits from low-tech farming have led many Amish to work outside of the farm, particularly in construction and manufacturing jobs and locations with a sizable tourist industry, to engage in profitable crafts. The Amish have mixed feelings regarding the effects of this contact and the commercialization of their way of life. The decorative arts are viewed with skepticism since they are a sector where egotism and a display of vanity may quickly grow, even though valued Amish quilts are a true cultural inheritance in contrast to hex signs.
The Amish way of life varies between villages (and occasionally even within them). These variations range from significant to minute. While conservative fellowships may differ over the number of suspenders men should wear (just one is needed. Thus, two could be considered as vanity) or how many wrinkles there should be in a bonnet, beachy Amish drive chromeless cars and are dismissed as non-Amish by most other groups.
Similar policy groups are regarded as “in fellowship” and belonging to the same Christian church. These communities can interact through travel and marriage, which is crucial for preventing inbreeding issues. As a result, petty conflicts within communities over items like dairy equipment or telephones in workshops can split up churches and separate several villages.
Some societies forbid buttons, allowing only hooks and eyes to close clothes, while others allow sewn buttons. Some groups allow controls, while others don’t. Controllers are restricted because of their link with military uniforms and their potential for vanity. Straight pins are used to secure garments. The aesthetic worth of everything is “plainness”: clothing shouldn’t draw attention to the wearer by cut, color, or other features. Florals, stripes, polka-dots, etc., aren’t encouraged in Amish attire, but Mennonites have adopted them.
Women wear long blue dresses. White or black aprons are worn at home and to church. A triangular cape is worn starting in the teenage years and pinned onto the apron. During the winter, a wool shroud is stapled together. Amish ladies wear heavy bonnets over prayer shawls in chilly weather. Men wear dark pants, a vest or coat, suspenders, and straw or felt hats in the warmer months.
Married Amish men grow beards. Single men are clean-shaven. After baptism, men in some communities grow beards. Mustaches are generally not allowed because they are symbols of pride and the military, a custom that dates to 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Noblemen and upper-class officers wore mustaches but not beards. Hasidic Jews and conservative Muslims don’t shave their beards because of their beliefs against shaving.
In some times and locations, the father of a husband-high daughter would paint a door or gate blue to proclaim that she was open for courtship. Weddings are usually placed on Thursdays after the harvest. Brides wear blue. She’ll wear her wedding dress to other formal events and never wear makeup. The Ordnung prohibits engagement rings and wedding rings. After the wedding ceremony, the community celebrates with food, drink, stories, and laughter. The bride’s mother usually hosts the wedding night.
Avoidance of Certain Modern Technologies
Most people don’t understand why certain things, like electricity and cars, should be avoided. Technology isn’t seen as evil by the Amish. A particular technology may be accepted in the community via petition from individuals. The church’s senior officials may gather yearly in some localities to discuss such recommendations. Other cultures carry it out as needed. As a result of the Amish’s lack of a hierarchical governing system, and unlike the Catholic or Anglican Churches, various communities frequently have varied views on what kinds of technological advancements are acceptable.
The Amish are different from other groups in America, but their goal is not to be different. Instead, it is to maintain a peaceful communal community of the faithful, to give themselves to God first and then to their family and friends. Their faith is followed by a simple lifestyle that removes all that could distract from this goal.