4 Things to Consider Before You Try to Join the Amish

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

I know, I know. The recession blows. The job you may soon lose* is stressful and unpleasant. And beards are more popular these days. But before you abandon your fast-paced lifestyle for a quieter, more-cow-filled one, I recommend consulting my book, Be Amazing. There are a few things you need to think about.

1) Can You Tell the Difference Between Amish and Mennonite?
You're never going to endear yourself to your new neighbors if you can't tell 'em apart from their theological cousins down the road. Historically the older of the two sects, Mennonites believed in plain, unadorned living and adult baptism, making them not all that different from the other Christian groups that popped up in Germany and Switzerland in the 17th century. But, around 1693, one of their members, a guy named Jakob Amman, started to get a little rowdy. Amman traveled around the countryside preaching a more hard-line version of Mennonism that called for, among other things, a return to traditional clothing, avoidance of worldly grooming trends like moustaches, mandatory un-cut beards, and the public shunning of excommunicated church members. Taking their name from Amman's, his new followers called themselves "Amish."

Over the next few hundred years, both groups did their fair share of theological off-shooting. Today, there are numerous sub-groups of both Mennonite and Amish, making it difficult to pin them down with generalities. However, in most cases, the easiest way to tell the two apart is to look for a family car--most Mennonites drive them, most Amish don't. But, just because they enjoy a faster mode of travel doesn't mean the Mennonites are ostentatious about their automobiles. In fact, it's common practice to cover any Detroit-installed chrome with black paint, just to let the world know they aren't trying to be flashy.

2) Do You Know the Best Place to Move?
Obviously, your city digs will have to go, but contrary to popular belief, the geographic epicenter of Amish life is not Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Turns out, several counties in east-central Ohio are actually home to the largest Amish community in the world--population 29,000, and growing. Each Amish family has an average of 7 children, so their numbers have seemingly doubled every 20 years since outsiders started keeping records in the 1940s.

3) Can You Find Where the In-Crowd Hangs Out?
Earn your dirt-road cred by taking a shopping trip to Spector's. This department store in Middlefield, Ohio caters to Amish customers. Since 1937, they've dealt in things like quilting supplies, fabric, and the other necessities of Amish life that can't be easily made on the farm. And with several locations around the state, it may well be the world's first Amish-centric chain store.

4) Will You Be Able to Buy a Farm?
It's harder than it sounds. There are two things working against you. First, that whole population growth issue means that every generation sees even more young men in need of a farm of their own. The other problem, however, comes from the outside. Across the country, the rural areas the Amish inhabit are rapidly becoming exurbs, and what was once farmland is being sold to make way for subdivisions and Wal-Marts--making raw land, even when it is available, prohibitively expensive. In Lancaster County, for instance, 100 acres cost as much as $1 million in 2007. Things may be a bit easier now, though, what with the bursting of the real-estate bubble. So, if you can get your hands on some good farmland, do be ready to build a lot of barns. You probably already know that Amish construct their own, and their neighbors', in massive 24-hour barn raising parties. But, because many Amish groups don't believe in using "worldly" devices like lightning rods, those hand-built barns often end up having to be re-hand-built.

The Electric Amish really are a band, and you should listen to their music.

*ETA: Thanks for the heads-up on my grammar brain-fart. It's Saturday. My brain takes the day off today.


  1. You’re never going to endear yourself to your new neighbors if you can’t tell ’em apart from their theological cousins down the road.

    I thought that Kelly McGillis pretty much nailed that one for all eternity.

  2. You should probably also consider whether you like child abuse or not.

    The Amish may be quaint and picturesque, but they are also highly patriarchal religious fundamentalists, with a society structured more around theocracy than around rule of law, with all that that usually implies.

  3. Worldly devices like, oh, BARNS are ok, but not lightning rods. Hmm.

    You don’t have to become Amish or Mennonite, even a little bit, to do some urban farming and simplify your life. This was kind of silly.

  4. I don’t think car driving is a very reliable indication. There are plenty of Mennonites near me and they’re strictly horse and buggy. There are some that drive, but those ones don’t follow many of the other traditions either and you wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a crowd as Mennonites.

  5. @ #4 phisrow

    You should probably also consider whether you like child abuse or not.

    Or whether you like abusing women. Forced non-consensual sex in the Amish population is supposed to be rather high.

    People look at them as wonderful examples of a disciplined, calm, rustic lifestyle, but the truth is that they are nothing more than an uncivilized, abusive culture full of bigots that’s masochistic and dogmatic at best.

  6. I lived near Middlefield OH for while. The Amish are the most hypocritical group EVER. I would always see them in the Middlefield Walmart. There is nothing more opposite of Amish ideals than the Walmart.

    Also, those buggy’s are crazy dangerous. I’ve seen them with just little candle lights for reflectors. You’re going 55 on a foggy early morning around a corner…there is no way to see them until it’s too late. A friend of a friend of mine killed an entire Amish family this way.

    Phisrow and Metlin summed up a lot of the abuse issues. I’d also like to add that they get their kids stuck in the Amish lifestyle as they often stop educating them after 8th grade. What options do they are if they leave considering they only ever finished 8th grade.

    This woman has a lot of information about her escape from the Amish- it’s a good read.



  7. The description of Mennonites in this article really only refers to Old Order Mennonites which is a relatively tiny minority. The vast majority of the 1.5 million people who call themselves Mennonite (me included) in the US and worldwide have no such “paint the bumpers” issues with cars or electricity or any other (unfortunately very common) misconceptions. Even though you mention not painting generalities, you go right ahead and do it and do it incorrectly.

    I invite you to do more research about Mennonite Church USA at http://mennoniteusa.org or Mennonite World Conference at http://www.mwc-cmm.org/ or even the wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonites before attempting again to sound authoritative about our Church.

  8. I’d like it We clarified what we’re talking about when we say Mennonite. The truth is, you wouldn’t recognize most of the Mennonites you see on the street, because only Old Mennonites adhere to horse-and-buggy lifestyles. General Conference Mennonites are no different from the rest of us (except that they can burst out spontaneously in four-part harmony and some of them know where to get decent weed). Even the Mennonite Brethren, who tend to be more rural and conservative than the General Conference bunch, are not readily distinguishable from your average suburbanite.

    Before anyone wants to take the time to dispute me (because this is, after all, the internet), my wife is Mennonite. People still seriously ask her why she doesn’t wear the little hat.

    There’s also Hutterites. They’re Amish wannabes.

  9. I live very close to a growing population of former Lancaster County Amish. They’re moving away from Lancaster and Lebanon Counties for cheaper land and less “worldly” distractions. There are some great Amish run shops that I frequent for some really fantastic deals. Just as with the English (as us non-Amish are called) there are good and bad seeds — there’s plenty of inbreeding among the Amish and among some of the non-Amish locals in a neighboring town. There are some disorders and diseases that are isolated among the Amish only, it’s interesting stuff. Not a lifestyle for me though.

  10. People look at them as wonderful examples of a disciplined, calm, rustic lifestyle, but the truth is that they are nothing more than an uncivilized, abusive culture full of bigots that’s masochistic and dogmatic at best.

    I have to take strong exception to this. You have slandered a lot of fine people. My great grandfather was born on an Amish farm in Ohio in 1885. I had the privilege to know him through my college years. Most Amish are people of strong faith and convictions. They walk the walk while the rest of the world talks. Unfortunately they’re easy targets for abuse from know it alls because they don’t happen to spend a lot of time lounging around blogs taking cheap shots at other people. And good for them.

  11. I can attest to the whole “Mennonites drive cars” thing without getting huffy and offended. The building next door used to be a Mennonite meetinghouse, and said Mennonites were more than happy to park their chrome-covered minivans in my clearly-marked parking lot. Not a horse or buggy in the lot.

  12. I grew up in an area with Old Order Mennonite and Church (vs House) Amish, which means that in my area, the horse-and-buggies were usually Mennonite, and the Amish drove cars.

    I grew up Quaker, and am accustomed to having people ask me if I am allowed to ride in cars.

  13. They also subscribe to a belief system that allows them to horrifically abuse animals. Since God supposedly gave us the animals to use as we see fit, obviously He intended us to breed dogs in horrible conditions without medical care (just shoot ’em when they’re sick).

    Hard to believe there’s so much money in that but there’s apparently enough. Pennsylvania’s Amish are particularly infamous for puppy mills.

  14. “specific conduct aside, they subscribe to a belief system that hates women.

    If only it were so simple…

    Anyway, Maggie has, once more, given us a nice post with a smile at the corners of her fingers so, do we really have to take it so far off?

    Re-anayway, the wife is making supper tonight, for a change, and it smells gooooood. That looks delicious, woman, and… a-a-aaaaah… it really doesn’t feel Amish going down my pants!

  15. I can attest to the Amish puppy mills, but to be fair, there are plenty of non-Amish who do the same thing.

    They’re all scumbags in my book.

  16. oft I despair, but I do try to cling to some slight thread of hope that humans might one day prove themselves the moral equals of dogs.

  17. For the record, I’m a Mennonite software developer and actor in San Francisco. I drive a Scion xA, and have yet to paint it black. Although that would actually look pretty bad-ass.

  18. @19: I was surprised to see Santorum fighting the puppy-mills. Sort of warmed my heart. I guess everyone’s good for something.

    Also, didn’t we have this “Are the Amish regressive scumbags?” discussion here a few months ago?

  19. “For the record, I’m a Mennonite software developer and actor in San Francisco. I drive a Scion xA, and have yet to paint it black. Although that would actually look pretty bad-ass.”

    Yes but how many puppies are there inside you tubeless tires to make it run? ;)

  20. Best thing (or possibly only good thing?) about being Amish: the bureaucrats don’t force “Social Security” taxes out of you.

  21. I live about an hour away from Lancaster, PA, and every time I visit I am tempted to become Amish simply for their seeming abundance of attractive women (well, that and the delicious food). Plus their acceptance of beards which I find lacking among the English.

  22. If you want Amish and a tan – go to Sarasota, Fl.

    Eat at Yoders or Yoders II.

    Best meatloaf and biscuits that money can buy…

  23. The electric Amish! I spent a good portion of my growing-up years in central Indiana, and loved their parodies.

  24. As a Mennonite video editor and home brewer living in the city, whose grandparents left the Amish church when my mom was young, I find it half comical and half offensive to see the misconceptions and bad facts here. General Conference? That was dissolved several years ago as the General Conference and the Mennonite Conference united to become Mennonite Church USA.

    Big thing I think is that Mennonites and Amish run the gamut- there are good eggs and bad eggs, people who drive cars and some who choose not to, people who run puppy mills, people who molest children, cult-like elements, etc. But that description can also be applied against any group in any society. Shriners? Sure. Twitters? Sure. Community Organizers? Sure. Lexicographers? Well…

    My entire life has been as a Mennonite. I even did Mennonite high school and college. And all I’ve learned about Mennonites is that there isn’t 1 culture, there isn’t 1 theology… it’s a total mish mash of unique people with unique ideas. So it’s interesting to see people who have read a blog claiming to know what Mennonites or Amish are like.

  25. santa’s knee, i’ve been in sarasota nearly 30 years, and find the pies at yoder’s to be of a quality found nowhere else! just drive real carefully going thru pinecraft( the amish/mennonite section of town), u dont wanna hit any on the three-wheeled bikes or the inline skates!

  26. @16
    specific conduct aside, they subscribe to a belief system that hates women.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find any belief system that wasn’t open to that accusation.

  27. Oh, Maggie, this is a really sad posting. Having a go at the Amish, how easy. What’s next? Muslims? Jews? Handicapped people?

    I expect better from BB.

  28. I know, I know I comment too much on this thread but I’m stuck at home so… and also, Koeneman, from where do you take that it is Maggie’s doing? I see no ill intent, no disrespect, no characterization in anything she wrote.
    Some of the comments were much about bashing on an easily identifiable group (although Maggie makes it clear that there is no such thing and that the Amish or the Mennonites are mostly atypical.)
    Some other comments were just plain fun.

  29. Don’t forget, you’ll need to learn to speak low German, as well. That is some seriously weird stuff to hear spoken (at least to my ears).

    I met a rather nice man in upstate New York who runs a dairy farm with his son. The father was raised in Pennsylvania by Mennonite parents, and while he’s as conventional as the rest of the country, he still had that strong Pennsylvania Dutch accent that I always find amusing to hear. Of course, being a southerner, I probably sound a bit foolish to them.

  30. I have to take strong exception to this. You have slandered a lot of fine people. My great grandfather was born on an Amish farm in Ohio in 1885. I had the privilege to know him through my college years. Most Amish are people of strong faith and convictions. They walk the walk while the rest of the world talks. Unfortunately they’re easy targets for abuse from know it alls because they don’t happen to spend a lot of time lounging around blogs taking cheap shots at other people. And good for them.

    You can take all the strong exceptions that you want, but it does not change the fact that there are enough and more stories of Amish abuse of animals, women, children and forced “belief” (which is a very euphemistic way say dogma). I live in Ohio, which is home to several Amish communities, and I’ve heard several first hand stories of such abuses. It’s disgusting that there isn’t anything done to prevent them.

    As for walking the walk, there are also enough people in Islamic countries that think stoning people, forcing girls at very young ages to have sex and chopping off arms are “walking the walk” as their “faith” dictates. Doesn’t make it any less uncivilized or barbaric.

    On some level, it is disturbing at best that such a group is allowed to exist in the US without some oversight of their practices. People in the US make fun of crazy religious fundamentalists in other countries, but they allow several such on their own soil.

  31. mmm like that Hostile Omish!

    and Koeneman; once I found out they were puppy-stabbers they became fair game.

  32. I second the notion with some of the car-related comments.

    My maternal grandmother’s second husband was from a Mennonite community in Kansas. Whenever we went back there to visit, I didn’t see any special modifications on the cars (black paint, etc.), although I remember that whitewall tires were supposed to be a frowned-upon addition.

    The cars themselves tended to be big, sturdy GM models — mostly Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and, I think, some Chevies (but no Cadillacs).

  33. Oh how Born and raised just outside Middlefield, how I miss the winkies on a summer weekend evening! Those are the Amish girls that would sneak out with their Levis and makeup. As for those that seem to think the Amish are abusive to their woman, have you ever actually known an Amish family? Apparently not.

  34. As long as I can still smoke weed, swear, listen to Floyd, surf the net, drive my Charger, use soft toilet paper, drink my mash, get with some young ladies, and shoot my guns.. then hell ya, I’ll join them Amish folks, sounds like they got it nice.

  35. @Metlin,
    We have a country that is based on religious freedom here. While I don’t defend abuse, rape, violent jihad, or other illegal activities, I’ll stop you when you say we shouldn’t allow “crazy” fundamentalist religions on our soil. Who decides what is crazy? You?

  36. I remember once while I was working on Wall Street taking a lunchtime stroll down Broadway on a nice summer day.

    Passing a McDonalds, I saw two Amish dudes stroll out with milkshakes, and they then leaned up against the McDonalds like it was a country store, slurping down their milkshakes.

    No one seemed to notice them, though.

    1. Keeper of the Lantern • #48 • 3:28 AM Sunday, Apr 26, 2009 • Reply

      > I remember once while I was working on Wall Street … Passing a McDonalds, I saw two Amish dudes stroll out with milkshakes,

      Those were Hassidic (Orthodox) Jews, NOT Amish!

  37. I grew up in Holmes County Ohio which is loaded with Amish. Overall, I’ve found them to be pleasant as well as standoffish, which is understandable. I can’t imagine what it’s like having people taking your photo all the time while you’re just trying to mow your grass or whatever. It’s always odd to see Amish kids rollerblading or jumping on a trampoline b/c you forget they can have current stuff.

    But yes, the females in families can suffer abuse b/c they refuse to get the police involved and their religion forces the girl and the rest to forgive the sinner. And many do see animals as products to be used til they drop dead and don’t see a problem in beating an overworked animal. Plus, unfortunately, there have been several recent cases of Amish getting into the puppy mill business. But like others said, there are good people and bad people the world over.

  38. About 10 years ago my cousin had an epiphany, bailed on modern life, and went to live with the Amish out in Lancaster. It was great going to visit him, we’d park the car at the end of the driveway and walk a half mile in and hang out with the family he was living with. He got pretty close to owning his own horse and buggy, but then transferred to living with a Mennonite family where he still is today. He bought a 17 passenger van, and now makes money driving Amish families from Lancaster to other Amish enclaves around the country so they can visit their relatives. Nice work if you can get it!

    And he’s very happy living the simple life. That’s really the only generalization you can make about the Amish – they’d prefer not to live a life that is needlessly complicated.

  39. With a few notable exceptions, this has got to be one of the most ethnocentric discussions I’ve ever seen on this site – a site that normally includes some tolerance or even promotion of other cultures. You cannot accurately judge a culture by your own standards – You believe it is wrong, they believe it is right – how can you assume that you are more correct than they? Moreover, Amish have specific optional exit points, unlike many others. (The middle east countries mentioned above, for example.) Yes, they are patriarchal. Yes, their children are not necessarily given an incredible amount of coddling or the latest playskool monstrosity. However, and this is the important bit – it works for them, and we have to respect that. Should a baptized individual not want to continue in Amish society, they are, according to most groups’ beliefs, welcome to leave. (They will be Shunned, but they will not, say, be lit on fire, or stoned to death, for example.) Should an individual leave during Rumspringa, they will not face even that. I’m sure there are cases where individuals are manipulated or abused by their family into staying. But the same thing happens in any strongly religious society – can anyone say catholic guilt?

    With respect to the original article, even the most paltry research will tell you that it is difficult or impossible to “become” Amish – they aren’t very welcoming to incomers, being a closed society and all, thus pretty much negating the point of the article. It’s hard to “become” Amish even by marriage. While we may see a change in this due to genetic diseases (such as the charmingly named “maple syrup urine disease”) that are disproportionately present in Amish societies, the case remains that plain living and refusal to use electricity does not necessarily mean you’re Amish.

    re: cars – In addition to what others have mentioned here, during Rumspringa, teens are usually allowed to own or drive cars if they wish.

    re: animal / people abuse. These things happen in a great many societies, and judging a whole society simply for a few individuals’ actions is ludicrous. I’m sure, for example, many other groups are horrified by the way we treat cattle – would you prefer that our *entire society* be judged as wrong and evil because some teenagers got pregnant and some beef farmers are less than perfectly humane? The vast majority of amish treat animals as animals – even dogs – something that numerous cultures around the world do.

    Finally, this is a group which by its very nature is unlikely to fight back against such allegations, especially online, allowing pretty much anything to be said against them. How is this different from the late nineteenth century descriptions of “primitive” cultures?

  40. I live next to the Mennonite church and purchase items at the local Amish farms and house stores. My experience is the Mennonites proselytize, the Amish don’t. Amish men speak, the women not so much, unless not in the company of men. Amish animal training techniques mirror Amish child-raising techniques, in the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school. Mennonites are into working for the local and worldwide charities. The Amish are more insular, and involved with caring for their own community. These are my observations, of the local people. I have learned not to judge anyone by the religion they belong to, but rather by how they act as individuals. Some are people you want to know better, some are not.

    Amish can be very unworldly, sometimes to their detriment. A very young Amish man brought his wife into the hospital after she cut her finger off in a kitchen accident (I was there and talked with him). He didn’t know that it would have been possible to save the finger and have it reattached – and he didn’t of course call 911 – the operator could have told him to put it on ice and bring it along. So, his simplicity means his wife will be getting along with one less finger. That is tragic.

  41. Don’t forget: you and your daughter(s) can get shunned if pregnant due to your fellow farmer’s rape.

    Your bloated belly get’s tossed out of the community with your ankle-length dress and a pinafore … and penniless.

    At least my Amish pregnant grandmother had her head filled with recipes which caught her a man – eventually.

  42. Blimey! As a long-time reader and rare poster on this site, I’m amazed that the normal rules of tolerance, and abhorrence of racism don’t seem to apply here.

    Perhaps the gradual squeezing of everyone’s comfort zones is bringing out some nasty underlying traits…

  43. With a few exceptions, this entire post from the original article to nearly all the commentors is one of the most ignorant, prejudiced, illinformed I have ever seen on the net. I have lived in close contact with the Amish for nearly sixty years of my life and have observed none of those things which are cited here. Yes, they are a peculiar people and thank God for it.

    In Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri (my current home) they have been the very best of neighbors. As a nationwide Greyhound driver I have transported them from communities in PA, MN, IL, IN, and near London, Ontario without a second’s trouble. There presence has been near constant in my life.

    Yes, they only require eighth grade education for their kids. I would match any one of those graduates against a public high school grad any day. They have universally treated me with deference and respect far beyond my earned right.

    Within their closed community I am curious how so many have learned so much about the alleged abuse of animals, kids, and women. I believe this criticism comes from those who can’t stand the thought of self-reliance and individualism on the part of any of their fellow citizens. If one confuses the exercise of necessary strict disipline within a family unit with abuse then it would be possible to get confused.

    With warning signs posted on some local roads, I never overtake or meet a horse drawn buggy at a speed in excess of twenty miles an hour. They appreciate it and I feel much more in control to react to an inadvertant occurance. They are taxed for the road just as I am.

    I suppose it is easier to strike out at believers than it is to investigate for yourself. What a sorry bunch of fools!

    Cecil Moon

    1. cecmoon,

      You are male, adult and presumably not a farm animal. How does their treatment of you in any way impact what’s been said about treatment of women, children and animals? I’m not saying that it’s correct, merely that your statement really doesn’t have anything to do with other commenters’ criticisms.

  44. “the exercise of necessary strict disipline within a family unit”

    Ja, ve must haff DISCIPLINE!

  45. “History of the Amish in America

    All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which outlines the basics of the Amish faith and helps to define what it means to be Amish. For an Amish person, the Ordnung may dictate almost every aspect of one’s lifestyle, from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques. The Ordnung varies from community to community and order to order, which explains why you will see some Amish riding in automobiles, while others don’t even accept the use of battery-powered lights.

    Amish Dress
    Symbolic of their faith, Amish clothing styles encourage humility and separation from the world. The Amish dress in a very simple style, avoiding all but the most basic ornamentation. Clothing is made at home of plain fabrics and is primarily dark in color. Amish men in general wear straight-cut suits and coats without collars, lapels or pockets. Trousers never have creases or cuffs and are worn with suspenders. Belts are forbidden, as are sweaters, neckties and gloves. Men’s shirts fasten with traditional buttons in most orders, while suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. Young men are clean shaven prior to marriage, while married men are required to let their beards grow. Mustaches are forbidden. Amish women typically wear solid-color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, covered with a cape and an apron. They never cut their hair, and wear it in a braid or bun on the back of the head concealed with a small white cap or black bonnet. Clothing is fastened with straight pins or snaps, stockings are black cotton and shoes are also black. Amish women are not permitted to wear patterned clothing or jewelry. The Ordnung of the specific Amish order may dictate matters of dress as explicit as the length of a skirt or the width of a seam.

    Technology & the Amish
    The Amish are averse to any technology which they feel weakens the family structure. The conveniences that the rest of us take for granted such as electricity, television, automobiles, telephones and tractors are considered to be a temptation that could cause vanity, create inequality, or lead the Amish away from their close-knit community and, as such, are not encouraged or accepted in most orders. Most Amish cultivate their fields with horse-drawn machinery, live in houses without electricity, and get around in horse-drawn buggies. It is common for Amish communities to allow the use of telephones, but not in the home. Instead, several Amish families will share a telephone in a wooden shanty between farms. Electricity is sometimes used in certain situations, such as electric fences for cattle, flashing electric lights on buggies, and heating homes. Windmills are often used as a source of naturally generated electric power in such instances. It is also not unusual to see Amish using such 20th-century technologies as inline skates, disposable diapers and gas barbecue grills, because they are not specifically prohibited by the Ordnung.

    Technology is generally where you will see the greatest differences between Amish orders. The Swartzentruber and Andy Weaver Amish are ultraconservative in their use of technology – the Swartzentruber, for example, do not even allow the use of battery lights. Old Order Amish have little use for modern technology, but are allowed to ride in motorized vehicles including planes and automobiles, though they are not allowed to own them. The New Order Amish permit the use of electricity, ownership of automobiles, modern farming machines, and telephones in the home.

    Amish Schools & Education
    The Amish believe strongly in education, but only provide formal education through the eighth grade and only in their own private schools. The Amish are exempt from state compulsory attendance beyond the eighth grade based on religious principles, the result of a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. One-room Amish schools are private institutions, operated by Amish parents. Schooling concentrates on the basic reading, writing, math and geography, along with vocational training and socialization in Amish history and values. Education is also a big part of home life, with farming and homemaking skills considered an important part of an Amish child’s upbringing.

    Amish Family Life
    The family is the most important social unit in the Amish culture. Large families with seven to ten children are common. Chores are clearly divided by sexual role in the Amish home – the man usually works on the farm, while the wife does the washing, cleaning, cooking, and other household chores. There are exceptions, but typically the father is considered the head of the Amish household. German is spoken in the home, though English is also taught in school. Amish marry Amish – no intermarriage is allowed. Divorce is not permitted and separation is very rare.

    Next > Shunning & Other Religious Beliefs

    * 1

  46. Bigoted, not racist save that the majority of Amish are considered “white”, but the topic relates to their beliefs, not their skin colour. Racism is a subset of bigotry.

  47. Antinous (#63):

    I’m a male, an adult, and not a farm animal. But I am an adult male in Pennsylvania who has worked with plain people–be they Mennonite or Amish–for years; I have worked with many animals bought from the Amish, and presently drive horse, cart, and harness purchased from Amish and Mennonite families in Lancaster County, Pa.

    Which is to say, I–like Mr. Moon–am speaking from actual experience with plain people, rather than innuendo, conjecture, rumor, and sheer fantasy that seems to pervade much of the comments on this thread.

    Several people have commented on the “plain” practice of forgiveness–focusing on rape. You might, instead, focus on this:


    These people are far more gentle, and forgiving, than anyone you have ever known. Hours after an outsider killed three of their little girls, an Amish elder held the killer’s father in his arms, consoling *him*. Walking the walk, indeed.

    Animals: they regard horses as livestock. Not pets. An “up in the lines boy’s horse” has been trained to move at two speeds: stop, and GO. Pulling the family five or six miles to town a couple of times a week puts a lot of miles on that horse–Amish horses break down all the time. Horses that have not broken down are frequently sold on to “English” folks. Horses that have been broken down go to the weekly auction in New Holland, Pa., where the horses are usually bought for slaughterhouses in Canada.

    Some city dweller in Manhattan might think of that as cruel–but they’re just doing what everybody else in the world did as little as a hundred years ago. They just didn’t make the change to Chevrolets.

    They’re different people. It’s a different culture. I’ve seen lots of different cultures in North America and in Asia, and theirs is one (or perhaps better, theirs are several) that I respect highly.

  48. I live near a group of Amish.
    Many have the surname of Yoder.

    Since they don’t own cars, they rely on others to give them rides in their cars.

    Around here those people are known as “Yoder Toters”.

    I also can’t believe the ignorance of the poster above that thinks it disturbing that this group is allowed to exist without oversight of their practices.

    How about Methodists or Baptists? Wanna regulate them too? How about a Federal Commission of Religious Practices?

    We still have a 1st amendment here, unless BHO wants to whittle that down.

  49. Ok, I’ll offend everyone equally I guess.

    In this discussion we have the fools (I exagerate but not so much) who say that all Amish people are evil, that their values and behavior are mostly if not completely wrong and that, for the rest, they are just hypocrites. Then we have those other fools who come here and say that they are angels walking on Earth (I’m still caricaturing coz I’m pissed and my poor humor is my safety valve…).

    Could it be, dam it, that they are just humans like we all are? Could it be that they do not share all of our individual values? Could it be that they do not share all the values of even their own group? Could it be that some of our values pale in comparison to theirs and vice versa?

    To conclude, attacking every individuals of a group, any group, simply because they belong to that group is stupid and stubborn attacks are simply vile. I am not above reproach myself on that account.


  50. Why are you forgetting the traditions China or India? What do you prefer the killing of baby girls or the tradition of Sati?

  51. They do. Now, can you honestly say that the Amish woman did not have any chance to choose? You know that they are offered that chance don’t you?

  52. I have an Amish buddy. He says white gas fuel for lighting is wasteful. He has two solar panels on his roof to power his home lighting and washing machine and fans. I commented that I never noticed them on his roof. He said they are on the other side (south) away form the road. What he didn’t say was the bishop wouldn’t see them there. But, they are battery power.
    His next door Amish neighbor raises deer. He stuns them with a tranquilizer dart and sells them for $15,000 each. He gets up to $60,000 for a breeding pair.
    I am a smart and sophisticated Yankee and I have neither a solar panel or a tranquilizer gun.

  53. As a Mennonite pastor’s daughter, who’s worked with Amish women and lived in PA and IN, I am heartened by the Mennos who have already posted to correct things and dismayed by the bad information still floating around. Sigh.

  54. BTW, during Rumspringa, the teens are absolutely free to do whatever they want even go to school. Rumspringa can be extended the necessary time for the person to be sure or his/her decision. Since it starts at age 16 usually that means that it can be extended into adulthood. Chances are there to make an enlightened decision.

  55. “This leads to Shachtman detailing the Amish adherence to a unique educational system, which sees kids only educated up to the 8th grade. This style of educating, he explains, is group oriented instead of individual oriented, which further strenghtens the Amish “retention rate” post-Rumspringa.

    After that, we talk about the infamous form of discipline used by the Amish: shunning. He explains how the shunning works and that, contrary to popular belief, someone deciding, post-Rumspringa, to not become Amish is spared from the shunning while someone who is baptized, then leaves the sect, is shunned. Shachtman talks about the emotional toll it takes on a shunned member of the community after they have been “put in the ban” and the courage it takes for an Amish person to decide to leave and enter the “English world.” Shachtman notes the four big obstacles facing an Amish person when they enter the mainstream after a lifetime in the Amish community. Going from there, we segue into how these factors end up being key elements that lead kids during Rumspringa to ultimately decide to remain Amish.”

  56. Rhetoric question I hope.

    Further in the interview he also explain how the Ordnung varies and also how it has evolved and what he thinks the future of the Ordnung is.

    I don’t know how old you are Tak but for me, at 55, I’ve gone from ‘Father is Right’ to now. People can evolve, by themselves. Protestant women, Catholic women have freed themselves of quite a yoke that was weighting on them during this time. Something similar will happen to Amish women as well (and Chinese, and Indian, and…) pretty much the same way, in the long run.

    To finish the day, Takuan, I’d appreciate if you also condemned this pedozoophile abuse of the puppies as well.

  57. I think its funny that from the Simpsons to BoingBoing, Mennonites only get mentioned in popular culture in conjunction with our more glamorous cousins. We may have been here first, but their plain life style gets them all the fame and glory.

  58. It’s really discouraging to see blanket negative characterizations and generalizations from normally open minded people. The majority of Amish people are no more guilty of rape and animal abuse than my many Muslim neighbors are responsible for 9/11. Lets place the blame on guilty individuals and let peaceful people live in peace for goodness sake rather than demonizing a culture for well publicized acts of a few criminals.

  59. sigh… (re-shelves molotov cocktails, hangs up bull whip and puts away tar and feathers) Jeez Ross, first it was “no bayoneting the prisoners” and then “if you hang the priests their children will starve” and now this. Talk about a Buzz Killington.

  60. @83 – Iamaninnocent – quote me correctly, please. I stated that if an individual leaves during Rumspringa they *will not* be shunned in many cases. (R. Stevick 2007, P. Stevick 2006, Reiling 2002, as well as Shachtman 2006 and pretty much all of Kraybill). In many groups, shunning only occurs if an individual leaves *after* they have undergone rumspringa and gone through the baptismal ceremony. (I just had to write a 40 page paper on the topic a week or so ago.)

  61. Just because I might prefer to some day take up a simpler life doesn’t mean I need to undergo some theological shift in my basic beliefs.

    I’m also not naive enough to assume that just because there’s no electricity or phone line coming into your home that there’ll be no drama in your life. People can make plenty of trouble for themselves with our without the aid of electric appliances (reference : any literary work written before the invention of electricity).

    I also imagine that there are a lot of Amish assholes because there are a lot of Amish people. Any group of people of sufficient size will encompass all manner of personalities.

  62. @Anonymous (Anaximander I guess) sorry.
    My handle is ‘IamInnocent’, in negation of the doctrine of the Original Sin, not IamanInnocent.
    So everyone can make a mistake. The thing to remember: the renouncement has to occur before the baptism.

  63. There isn’t much to say here of value that hasn’t already been said by Takuan – well done mate!

    To all of the PC police and Amish apologists who want to immediately accuse others of “racism” and “intolerance” two things: 1) your willingness to sacrifice the rights of women and children in favour of insane religious beliefs is very telling about your character, and 2) don’t make the common mistake of equating religion with race – there is nothing racists about aggressively interrogating belief systems.

  64. I live about 5 miles outside an Amish community. From my own observations and the inside knowledge of several people who lived there, their beliefs can be twisted in all sorts of manners for their convenience, much like any other religion I guess. For example, they can’t drive cars but they can drive high-geared tractors, which they use to drive into town. This also allows them to circumvent local and state tax laws. Pretty smart on their part but shady nonetheless.

  65. “you’ll need to learn to speak low German”

    Mennonites speak Low German (Plattdeutsch). The Amish speak an archaic version of High Swiss German, only vaguely related to Plattdeutsch.

    And I suppose the Amish subscribe to a religious belief system that “hates women” if you define frowning upon women murdering their children just for the sake of their own selfish convenience as “hating women.”

  66. Hating women is a generalization, it may be true in some cases. The only Amish home I was ever in, was run by a widow. Her family had encouraged her to remarry, but as it was her choice, she chose to raise her children in her own home.
    The 2 eldest were just married last week, to another brother and sister. I assure you the new wives were in no way pressed into it, as I’ve been hearing the cute stories of their “dating”.

  67. I had the Carl Hopkins Amish Armada play at my wedding back in 2004. No joke. Good times had by all.

  68. Metlin, what the hell is your problem with the Amish? It would seem you have had some unfortunate exposure that has tainted your perceptions. Your posts repeatedly refer to having “heard firsthand”. First of all, if you “heard” it, it’s not “firsthand”. I would suggest that, before you spout ignorant generalizations on the internet, you first spend some time with the Amish, and get to know some of them, however, I would not wish such a disrespectful visitor upon them. I’m sure there are some cases of legitimate abuse as with any culture, but this is definatly not the norm. Also, much of the animal abuse you speak of is likely not abuse at all, but rather traditional training methods. They have some of the best trained horses and dogs in the world, and anyone who has trained animals knows, abuse just doesn’t get those kinds of results. I will qualify my comments by saying that I am not, nor have I ever been Amish. I have two very close friends that are former Amish, and are still close with the community. Through them I have had the priveledge of meeting and spending time with a host of wonderful Amish families, and I have developed nothing but the utmost respect for them.

  69. Most of the people commenting on here know only from an outsider’s prospective and, as it seems most of you are MALE, for you to speak on behalf of what happens with Amish women is initself, quite ignorant.

    I am a female, currently in my late 30’s, who left my Amish community during Rumspringa and didn’t return. There are a lot of misconceptions that people see as “abuse” only because you have lived in a modern society and do not know what the world was like 100 years ago. If you did, much of how women live in the Amish communities is quite similar, and I don’t think most of you would think your ancestors are all abusers of their wives and children.

    Part of the issue of child abuse and wife abuse happens when you have an Amish man who wants to “show-off” in the community. Because Amish are not allowed to be boastful (thus the reasoning for our plain clothes and homes) some people who just can’t help themselves do so in other ways. Forcing their women to continue bearing children, even if they have medical complications in which they shouldn’t. Wanting their children to seem more hardworking and productive than a neighbors’ or family members’, thus abusing their children to force more work out of them (the same with animals). It is not accepted in the communities, but, just like in the rest of the world, many of the victims are afraid to speak out for various reasons.

    Girls are also NOT forced to marry. In fact, we are allowed to date whomever we wish. We don’t even have to tell our parents. Rumspringa is also a misconception. It does exist, and most teenagers do take advantage of it, but not all families allow their kids (especially girls) to do so. Would you allow your 16 year old girl to go off and live on her own in another town? There have been many instances where young Amish kids go off on their own, but with their lack of knowledge of the English world, they often get into trouble. This is usually when Amish girls get pregnant out of wedlock, the boys get involved with drugs and they don’t return back to Amish life because they are embarrassed, not because they were shunned.

    If it was so great, why did I choose to leave? During my Rumspringa, my friends and I were out “joy-riding” and got into a bad car accident. I had a severe injury to my leg and they thought they would have to amputate. However, the doctor (a woman) was incredible and saved my leg. It inspired me to want to work in the medical field. I am the Head Nurse for an ER now and I love it. I still visit my family (I was never shunned, contrary to popular belief) often and all of my other siblings have chosen to remain Amish. I have very few friends who left our community, so I still visit them as well. My husband is not Amish, although we still maintain a mostly simple lifestyle, just because it’s what I am used to (and so is he, since he came from an “English” farm). Our kids love to visit our relatives, but I don’t think any will want to join the community.

    There are a lot of things I miss, including the community closeness. The Amish do so many things together and for each other. If you are having problems financially, others will step in to help. If you have medical needs that can’t be met locally, the community will find a way to get you where you need to go.

    Also, to address someone’s post on here about the Amish being “dangerous” in buggies… Many people are killed in buggy accidents, just like people die in car accidents all the time. People also complain about children working on Amish farms. Go to the midwest to any family-run English farm and you will also find young kids driving huge tractors and machines, just as dangerous as driving a plow with horses.

    Just because we don’t live as everyone else does not mean we are horrible people and that crimes amongst our community are any worse. There are abusers, rapists, murderers, alcholics, drug users etc. on both sides of the fence, regardless of our beliefs and how we live our life.

  70. I think there are abusers and rapests every where you don’t have to be Amish to be a bad person. I was raised Pentecostal my dad was abusive to all of us including my Mother. To this day he still thinks he can control my Mother even though they are divoced. When I became an adult my dad wanted to talk to me about why I didn’t want to be around him. I told him how I felt and he told me he would never say he was sorry for the way he raised me because every child thinks their parents were wrong in the way the raised them. I will never stop feeling that he was wrong in what he did then and what he does now. I have my own children now and I do my best not to do the things he did and does. I do catch m self at times and ask my children to forgive me because what I did was not right. As for the Amish everyone should think of all religions and that there are those kind of people in every religion. I wanted to die at times and pryed that God would take me. I didn’t marry into my religion and it upset my dad but I am loved unconditionally and never once has my husband layed his hands on me. Stop picking on the Amish and look at everyone.

  71. I have read many comments here about abuse to women and children. I find it amazing that anytime a person or person decides to live life outside of what is consider socially correct, it is always because of some sort of abuse. You know…all of those kids are basically set free and sent out in the world before they join the church. If you read, 99% of them always return to the traditional ways….
    Is it hard to believe that there are people who enjoy having a set role in life? Is it really hard to believe some people really do enjoy life without television?
    I sometimes wonder about the people who see them as strange because they dont want to be the center of attention. They dont need what some consider the finest things in life to be happy. I can see how they find happiness in being simple…though it would be hard for me to be that way.

  72. you dont neccerely need to hang around with other amish people as you dont have to become fully amish you can still hang around with your usual people!

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