Misperceptions abound about the Amish out here in the “English” world. From tantalizing “reality” TV to the tourist industry in Amish country, many people have views of the Amish that just aren’t quite the full picture.
The Amish often hide their private life and practices away from those who live outside their culture. The only view most “English” people have of the Amish is on the outside looking in. Having misunderstandings about the Amish is no wrong- an inside view can be hard to find!
Until I met a young ex-Amish woman (who introduced me to my future husband), I knew very little about the Amish! All I knew were anecdotes learned here and there over the years.
If you’re like I was, I want to give you a glimpse beneath the surface of what we outsiders see when we look at the Amish. I’ll give some examples of misconceptions we generally have, and try to illuminate the reality.
1. The Amish have a level of perfection in their lifestyle we cannot achieve in the modern world.
While many “English” people find an escape in Amish country from the cares and burdens of modern life, it may not be the most complete representation of Amish life. There are Amish who have taken part in the tourist industry as a way to make a living. Kind, friendly people, they make visiting very pleasant, showing the best of their lifestyle.
Many of us, including myself, admire their close communities, connection to the land through agriculture and gardening, almost non-existent divorce rates, the care taken of their elderly, among other things.
We can learn from the Amish. But they are still just people. Their churches split over disagreements and break up communities, people are shunned for choosing a different way of life, there are broken marriages, rebellious children…
Being born and raised Amish can’t make a person better or happier than those outside their culture. Like everything else in life, happiness and holiness are not from the outside, the externals. It’s about what is inside, in the heart. That can be found anywhere, from a plain Amish house in rural Holmes County to a skyscraper in the heart of New York City.
2. TV and novels are the best way to learn about the Amish.
Amish culture is protected from outsiders by the privacy which surrounds Amish life and religious practices. The higher Amish churches are far more accessible and open to “English” people’s questions and close involvement in life. The lower Amish churches, however, are much more reclusive and resistant to outside influences. (If you don’t know what the terms “high” and “low” mean, click here.) This makes it difficult to present the complete picture when telling stories involving the Amish.
TV shows about the Amish tend towards sensationalism, appealing to our human desire for drama. While they are interesting, the tendency to be shocking leads to exaggeration and even falsehood.
Many excellent fictional stories have been published that are set in the Amish culture. They are innocent, family-friendly, entertaining reads. I enjoy reading them myself! While these books have insights into Amish life, the only complete picture can come from someone who was raised Amish or learned from former Amish. I discovered this after meeting my husband and our many ex-Amish friends.
If you have a desire attain a deep understanding of the Amish, the best way to learn is to talk with someone who is former Amish. Biographies written by former Amish are also available. Most ex-Amish I know miss many of the beautiful things about Amish life, while they are also aware of the difficulties. They can describe many facets of Amish life and give a greater insight.
3. All Amish believe in salvation through Jesus Christ.
While all Amish churches teach Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins, many of the conservative Amish churches do not accept salvation through belief in Jesus alone.
Baptism into the church is required, then subsequent obedience to the church’s Ordnung as perfectly as possible. (More about the Ordnung here.) Only then, through baptism and obedience, can an Amish person hope for salvation after death. It is not a guarantee for them, they can only hope they are good enough.
Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Many of the higher Amish believe and teach in salvation by grace alone. But just as many Amish people, maybe more, believe they must add their good works on top of Jesus’ atonement for sin. That God requires their obedience for their salvation.
Beliefs about salvation among the Amish comes down to different church teachings, as well as individual hearts.
4. Amish people love being Amish.
The answer to this is as varied as individual people. Some Amish do enjoy their way of life, especially among the higher Amish. More liberal Amish churches give their members more freedoms, and the people generally have a better understanding of the Bible. Members of higher churches have less pressure on them.
Particularly in the lower, more strict churches, it isn’t so much they have joy and peace in their religion, as it is they believe being Amish the only way for them. The humility, and even suffering, inherent to their lifestyle is a penance they must pay to God to merit His favor.
Many Amish suffer from forms of depression. Living under so many rules and the stress of trying to be good enough can make happiness elusive. Some do find happiness where they are. But for many, it is a difficult road to walk.
How To View the Amish
This has been a different perspective than may be found on reality TV or in Amish country. I love the Amish people- they became family when I married my husband. Sometimes the “English” view them just as picturesque images for a tourist’s snapshots, a cheese label or a novel cover.
But they’re more than a horse and buggy, more than a straw hat and a bonnet. They are real people. With real problems and triumphs, real fears and joys. Beneath the exterior, beneath the religion, the Amish are people just like you and me.
Where have you learned insight into the Amish culture and religion? Please share in the comments below.