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How the Amish Work

        Culture | Subcultures

The Ordnung
The buggy has become one of the identifying marks of the Amish.
The buggy has become one of the identifying marks of the Amish.

Amish faith and life is governed by a (largely unwritten) set of rules known as the Ordnung (order). Since the Amish lack the central governing authority present in the many other Christian sects, all governance is local, as is the Ordnung.

The Amish believe in literal interpretation of the Bible. The Ordnung is designed to ensure that all members of the church live life according to the scriptures. A member of the Amish Church must live a simple life devoted to God, family and community, in accordance with God's laws. Electricity, automobiles, television, clothing fashions and the like are considered to be distractions that promote pride, envy, vanity, sloth, dishonesty and other undesirable traits.

The mode of dress, the buggy and the lantern have become the identifying marks of the Amish and are not likely to change. The mode of dress emphasizes that the Amish person is separate from the non-Amish world, but also part of a community of equals. The buggy likewise promotes equality and limits travel, keeping communities together. The lantern, a non-electric light, does not require connections outside of the community.

The Amish are not really "stuck in time." Although home and social life has remained essentially unchanged, new technologies that have passed a rigorous examination have been accepted. The Ordnung is applied to any proposed use of new technology. A technology may be accepted for business or practical reasons, but never for indulgence, desire or entertainment. A technology is more likely to be accepted if it is a natural extension of an existing technology and will have a minimal social impact. Using a nylon rope in place of a hemp rope would be an example of a natural extension. A technology is likely to be rejected if it is radically different or could have social implications. Listening to a portable stereo while doing chores would be considered a needless distraction. Any technology that is seen as degrading family or spiritual life is rejected out of hand. Television is definitely out as it brings questionable values into the home.

Now, how would the Ordnung affect the purchase of something like a stove? If an Amish buyer wished to burn wood, he could buy any wood stove. It is not necessary that the stove be an antique or even a reproduction. A modern, efficient, airtight stove would not only be acceptable, but the improved economy would make a modern stove a thrifty choice.

An Amish Home

So what would you find in an Amish home? The home is one place that really hasn't changed much since the 18th century, but then it is, after all, a refuge from the world. There are not a lot "things" sitting around. Furnishing and decoration would fall under the classification of "primitives," that is, functional and simply styled. Some of the appliances, such as a stove, may be a little newer, but there is no electricity to operate modern appliances. All lighting is by candle or oil and gas lamp. Bottle-gas appliances are acceptable, although bottle gas can be expensive. If you think about it, little more is needed in a place where you will eat, sleep, read, study the Bible and socialize with the family.

If you were to visit the Amish at home, what would you expect to find in the dairy barn? Surprise -- a thoroughly modern, automated milking system complete with refrigerated tanks! The Amish are not totally self-sufficient. They must trade what they have for what they need just like the rest of us. When you choose to sell dairy products, you encounter organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and the three-legged stool and metal pail will not do. The Amish do not expect special treatment in these matters. Electricity is required to operate a modern dairy barn, so gas or diesel generators are employed. Generators are more expensive than the power company product, but generators have the virtues both of avoiding the intrusion of electric lines and of running on petrol fuel, a product that can be purchased and transported as needed.

The Amish require that all equipment use horses for locomotion.
The Amish require that all equipment use horses for locomotion.

"Real horsepower" is used whenever possible. Included would be the moving of buggies, wagons and farm equipment. It is permissible to use small gas engines on farm equipment, but all equipment must use horses for locomotion.

Amish horses are draft horses. Draft horses have thick legs and muscular shoulders and haunches. They have been bred to pull things. The Amish do not ride draft horses -- they ride in wagons or buggies. Draft horses are not fast, but they can pull a buggy uphill and downhill without breaking stride.

Wind, water and solar energy are also allowed as power sources because they promote separateness. Wind power has a long history in farming.

It is permissible for an Amish person to use modern transportation provided that he does not personally own or operate the equipment. Some travel has become a necessity as growing communities have had to move westward in order to acquire additional farmland for young couples. Some of the newest communities are in Utah.

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