Perhaps best known for their plain clothes and horse-drawn carriages, the Amish have roots in 16th century Europe. The church was founded during the Protestant Reformation. Its members migrated to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, and today about 270,000 Amish live in 30 states and Ontario, Canada, according to The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Many people are curious about Amish culture because of their unique dress, practices and beliefs.
The Amish follow basic Christian beliefs, but rather than focusing on doctrine, they emphasize practicing faith. The Amish strive to emulate Jesus Christ, and follow his teachings by loving their enemies and practicing forgiveness. Another large part of Amish religious beliefs is mutual aid, or helping neighbors in times of need. This is one reason why the Amish refuse to take advantage of government aid programs; doing so would undermine their faith. An Anabaptist religion, Amish are generally baptized voluntarily into the church as adults, usually between ages 18 and 22. This binding commitment to the church and submission to its authority is vowed before the congregation. Church services are held in the homes of members, alternated weekly.
The Amish are perhaps most associated with their mode of transportation: a horse and buggy. The use of technology in the Amish culture varies by community. This belief stems from the fact when used in excess, technology would bring in opposing beliefs or pull the community apart, since horse and buggies keep people closer to home. In general, though, televisions, computers and radios are prohibited. However, other technologies could be used selectively or modified to fit their needs. Because most Amish forbid use of electricity from public utility lines, batteries are used instead.
Today, most Amish children attend classes at one- or two-room schoolhouses until eighth grade. A 1972 Supreme Court case ruled that Amish children could end formal schooling at age 14. Teachers are usually self-trained Amish women who were graduates of Amish schools themselves. While students pray and read scriptures daily, religion is not usually part of the curriculum; neither is science or sex education. Students learn grammar, arithmetic, handwriting, history, reading and geography. Amish education is meant to prepare students for life in the Amish community, so the school plays a part in educating students on Amish culture and values.
Healthcare practices vary among Amish communities. Some groups have adopted modern medicine services, while others rely on alternative medicine and folk remedies. The Amish generally believe that God is the ultimate healer, and therefore many are more likely to not seek treatment and instead await divine intervention.
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