Monday, October 1, 2007

Amish Life: Living Plainly and Serving God

I recently borrowed this book from the library . . .

It is a collection of images of Amish life in Indiana. Looking at beautiful picture books like this one is a great way to relax for 20 minutes or so at the end of a long day of housework and study.

Over the years I have read many facts and impressions about Amish life and faith. These forays into a distant, very different culture have deepened my questions about our own culture as well as about theirs. How can we capture a life that consistently prioritises the best things, the most important things?

The Amish have chosen a plain life, devoid of many of the trappings “the English” (outsiders) hold dear. Yet they have kept important things that “the English” have lost. They grow much of their own food, care for their elderly and their poor, love and welcome many children, and work together as families.

As Christians looking into the lives of the Amish, we should be able to see much that is admirable and much to challenge us.

The Amish divorce rate is very low. Our churches have divorce rates that are similar to that of those who do not know Christ.

While the Amish live and work with the same community for a lifetime, Christians often see nothing wrong with moving from church to church. Even worse, some do not see the need for fellowship at all.

The Amish cultivate the ground that God has given them, and reduce their impact upon the environment. Christians consume resources at similar rates to the rest of society.

While Christians commonly echo the attitudes to birth control that eugenicists and secularists popularised in the early 1900s, and even choose abortion or abortive birth control, the Amish life reflects the Biblical vision of fruitfulness and fertility.

While the Amish keep their elderly parents close to home and involved in daily life, Christians commonly think that paying their taxes in order to contribute to the pension or occasional visits to an old people’s home is sufficient care.

The Amish reject individualism. Christians commonly deem it to be acceptable. Even worse, they unconsciously give it the status of a part of the Christian faith.

The Amish reject education that will lead them away from what they perceive to be their primary duties. Christians often pursue education for its own sake rather than with careful consideration of how it will enable them to serve God.

While Amish women are equipped to be mothers and homemakers, many Christian women express feelings of inadequacy and lack of preparation.

The Amish take the time to prepare food and sit around their dinner table. The lives of many Christians are so busy moving from activity to activity, or so consumed with technology such as TV, that they rarely sit together to eat, let alone exercise hospitality.

I am aware of some of the problems with Amish culture and religion, and plan to write about those in my next post. For a moment, though, please consider the distinctives of Amish culture and how these compare to the dominant Christian "English" culture.

How do the Amish better fulfill the Creation Mandate, to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth, which is God's first command to mankind? How do they better fulfill the Great Commandment to love one another? What would be worth giving up in order to obey God better in these areas?


  1. Hi Sherrin - thanks for the interesting post. It's no secret that I'm a bit of a history geek. I've often found learning about how people lived in the past to be an encouragement to live a simpler life.

    Some of the college housing up here is 1840s terraces. Affordable housing is hard to come by in Newtown, so the families who do get to live there are really grateful. But the places are tiny by modern standards. The families that are there don't complain - and I guess that if they find it difficult they would see it as part of the sacrifice that comes with being at college. But when you think about it, those sorts of places would have housed much larger families in the past!

    It's hard to complain about the housing crisis when you think about what things were like Russia in the mid 20th century.

    It's hard to complain about eating a simple dinner when you think about people gobbling down gruel in the industrial revolution.

    I guess history is good for having a sense of perspective hey.

    Pretty much all I know about the Amish comes from popular culture so it's probably not that accurate, however, the one thing I reckon is not so good is the aspect of withdrawal from the world.

    btw I was just wondering - you mentioned abortive birth control, would you include the combined pill in that category? I'm not asking to start a debate - I was just curious.

  2. *shutter* I'll take the "English" church over the Amish church any day.

    I know Amish look cute, but they are a cult.

    They do a lot of "acting" like Christians, but I never sensed any sincere joy when I was around them. There are some sub groups of Amish who will confirm this like the Mennonites and Beachy Amish. They have a HUGE pride issue too.

    They pride themselves on being plain. They also endanger their children by driving their horse and buggies in busy traffic which is extremely dangerous and they won't install fire alarms in their homes which has resulted in many burnt homes and dead children.

    Yes, there are some nice things about them like caring for their elderly, but so do the Japanese or Chinese. I know quite a few English who care for their parents.

    Sorry, not a big fan of Amish people. They are simply a big tourist attraction and profit off their weirdness.


  3. Hello Bron,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I love to hear from history geeks . . . I don't know if I have yet achieved history geek status, but it is one of my ambitions!

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on simple living. I often think the same thing about historical perspective - it is a wonderful thing that I need more of! My curiosity about the Russian housing crisis was aroused when I heard an interview with an author on classic fm. I know next to nothing about it yet though.

    The aspect of Amish culture you brought up is one that I will be covering in my next post.

    Yes, I would include the combined pill in the category of abortive birth control. My thoughts on this are based upon the well researched analysis available through these Eternal Perspective Ministry links and upon confirmation from a variety of other sources. These include secular books on birth control and personal conversations with professionals. Feel free to raise any questions/debate . . . although I would think the answers would be elsewhere on the Internet!

    Hello Zan!

    I am ignorant of what *shutter* means. Would you mind letting me know?!

    My thoughts on the Amish have nothing to do with the fact that they look cute, by the way!

    I agree that there is much to criticise about Amish life, as there is about "English" life. I still maintain my argument, however, that they show us up in many ways. The fact that you are opposed to many of their practices does not have to mean that you are unable to see the good in their culture.

    Perhaps you will have some further thoughts to offer when I do my follow up post. This post will focus criticisms of the Amish mainly upon their misunderstandings of the gospel and the human heart.

  4. LOL! Sherrrin, I keep forgetting that you are from Australia and you don't speak "American". Sorry.

    The *shutter* was just me shivering at the thought of being part of an Amish church or their life style.

    Amish are greatly admired in our culture and are held up like they never did a bad think in their entire lives (or history).

    I have a hard time even considering themselves part of the Christian community. I consider Roman Catholics living 100% more biblically then these people.

    When you write you next post, maybe I'l add some things.

    I do agree that some of their culture is nice. I grew up in a place where I grew my own veggies, harvested and lived off them all winter. We milked goats, too. Our family unit was very tight. We cared for our dying grandmother at home. All that is very nice, but it doesn't make me a better Christian than the single mom in the city who couldn't take care of her dying mom with dementia.

    I think caring for the poor and sick is something all Christians need to do more. It is something that I have been convicted of lately. I don't know to what extent the Amish care for the poor. They take care of their own, but I don't know how much they take care others.

  5. Actually, that should be "shudder." ;-)

  6. How is the Armish life connected to Christianity?

  7. WOW! My children, husband and I were able to vacation near "Amish country" in central PA this past spring (2007). it was WONDERFUL. They love the Lord, they preach from the Bible as well as their own tenets. We were able to have a "touristy" bugg ride with an Amish girl (we asked) and she told us many wonderful things about their culture. I also picked up a book called Amish Children and it was a wonderful read. They are not a cult. They just choose to live a simple lifestyle. They are very hard working. Yes, they tend, from my opinion and what i have read, to not shine the light of Jesus IN the world but...they do take a stand for the Lord. We can learn much from them. They also allow their older teens to have a time of "freedom" in which the teen experiences life as a more typical American teen. They must decide if they are going to join the church (the Amish one) or become an "outsider". We need to remember to extend grace and mercy on people who are different from us!

  8. Hi Sherrin!
    I am Not a Christian, I believe in Natural Polarization (God is Nature)
    But if i was a Christian, I would definatly be AMISH, as they adhere more closely to Nature and it's laws. I admire some aspects of the Islamic religion for the same reason. Tell me please, are Amish teenagers more or less segregated by gender?