Who are The Amish?
The Amish are often perceived of as “frozen in time.” They are often seen as the modern -day embodiment of the Little House on the Prairie story where Pa and Ma Ingalls raise their small family in isolation, struggling with nature in a strange and foreign world. They are often seen as a sub-culture that is insulated and isolated from any connections to modernity. Many visitors to Amish country discover, when they really become acquainted with an Amish person or family, that the Amish are very much in touch with the realities of our world today.
Misconceptions about any group or culture is furthered when there is little understanding about such a group’s life, history, and place in the broader world. The Amish care deeply that people outside their world work at understanding them. Their wonderful furniture and crafts, good food, and beautiful houses and farmsteads are important and valuable contributions to our world. But they have an even greater contribution to offer if we are willing to hear their story.
The misconceptions about the Amish are primarily perpetuated by two “voices” that have often misrepresented the Amish. The first is the modern media’s attempts at sensationalism in their portrayal of the Amish. From romance novels (there are some good ones) to reality shows, the Amish are often portrayed in ways that in no way reflect their present world and beliefs. The Amish are susceptible to this perspective for two primary reasons; first, they do not engage with modern media or have access to the end result of that and therefore corrections to their portrayal is often post production. The second is that sensationalism sells ratings. Any subculture within a larger culture, because they are “different,” is susceptible to these kind of misconceptions.
The second factor, or voice, that is often maligned is the way the Amish make decisions as a sub-culture. Their teaching that humility and piety are the most important personal traits to foster, and that individuals bow to the group voice, is much opposed to the individualism and independence that is prominent in the western world.
They are taught, and most Amish feel deeply, that in yielding to the collective memories, beliefs, and ideals of the community, strength may be found. Therefore, discernment about how to live in the present world is found in the community. The goal is not some form of technological “purity,” rather it is the preservation of what is most important in community; faith and family.
In an increasingly secularized western world, this mindset sets them apart as different. Because of their own unwillingness to engage in the modern media, they are often never given a voice. To that end, myths and misconceptions are best defeated by a willingness to hear and understand someone. Many of the Amish are open to simple and basic questions that often arise. So, our suggestion is that you visit Amish Country and engage someone from within the community to hear a different perspective. If you do so we promise that you will enjoy and engage with these very-modern people in ways that will enrich your own life!