“He who has no money is poor; he who has nothing but money is even poorer.”
– Amish proverb
The Amish are a Christian religious group descended from the Anabaptists. The Anabaptist movement developed in 16th century Europe, and followers believed in, among other things, nonviolence and adult-only baptism.
A group led by Jakob Amman separated from the Swiss Brethren Anabaptist group in 1693 after disagreements over various practices, including shunning.
The Amish began moving to North America in the 1700s. It’s estimated that there are more than 250,000 adherents in the U.S. today, with numbers continuing to grow.
“Practice modesty in the wearing of clothes, and have nothing to do with pomp and luxury in raiment.”
– Rules of a Godly Life
There’s a lot of diversity in how different subgroups of Amish live, but they all believe God wants his followers to separate themselves from “the world” and its materialistic ways.
Although each community creates its own set of rules (Ordnung) on things ranging from marriage to buggy accessories, the groups share a focus on community, simple living, cooperation, humility and, of course, religion.
They live frugally and at a slower pace, wear plain clothing and use technology selectively. They try to be content with what they have, appreciating the blessings of family and friends.
While most Americans value independence, the Amish value interdependence and community. Barn raising comes to mind, but this is only one of many examples. In general, the Amish are there to help each other when needed.
“Is it going to bolster our life together, as a community, or is it going to somehow tear it down?”
Despite what many think, the Amish are suspicious of technology, not against it. Each community carefully considers new technologies before deciding which technology it believes is beneficial. Even if it thinks a technology is good, it may limit use of that technology to achieve the best balance.
For instance, the community may choose to allow public telephones, but no private phones. In that way, phones are available for emergencies, but are much less likely than private phones to tempt people to call each other instead of visiting face-to-face.
Homes and factories often have sophisticated modern tools, equipment and appliances, though they’re run on generators, batteries, propane and pneumatic power instead of electricity from the grid. This allows many of the benefits of modern technology while limiting the number of electronics used.
While we may picture horse-drawn buggies when we think of the Amish, all but the most conservative groups allow riding in motorized vehicles. Automobile ownership and driving are, however, banned.
This allows for traveling longer distances away from home, but makes such travel less frequent than it tends to be for people with their own cars. The more people stay in their own community, the more they rely on and help each other.
“The Amish don’t automatically embrace what’s new, they evaluate it and decide if it’s a good fit for the lives they want to lead.”
Most, if not all, Amish communities allow “outsiders” to join, but to do so you’d have to strictly follow all the church’s rules.
While we may admire the simple and interdependent lifestyles of the Amish, most of us wouldn’t be so happy with the patriarchal culture or the practice of shunning.
However, even when we don’t agree with all of a group’s practices, we can learn from its experiences.
Unlike most of us, the Amish take time to think about their values and how to make sure they stay front and center in their lives. I think this, even more so than the benefit of simple living, is the lesson we should take from the Amish.