Living Simple in a Modern World
The greatest problem faced by the Amish throughout history has been, and still is, the constant intrusion of the outside world. Tourism has placed them in a spotlight that they would just as soon avoid. There are often strangers waiting to snap pictures of them as they go about their daily activities. On the other hand, tourism has made outsiders aware of the problems that the Amish face from government laws and mandates, giving them a voice in government even though they do not vote.
It should be pointed out that while the Amish have their own community laws, they accept outside government as necessary and willingly pay all taxes. They do not accept welfare, social security, Medicare, or other government assistance. Problems arise when a government law is in direct contradiction to the Ordnung. Disagreements over compulsory education have been largely resolved: The Amish operate their own schools, and education is not required beyond the eighth grade. The Amish feel that excessive book learning is undesirable, believing that everyone needs to learn a trade or vocation.
Ongoing issues today revolve around health and safety. As an example, the Amish accept that a dark colored buggy can be hard to see and that driving a buggy on the highway under low-visibility conditions has proven dangerous, so most buggies now sport orange hazard triangles, and flashers are used when it is dark. These devices are distinctly non-Amish, but they do protect families, which is good. The debate becomes one of how much and of what type of safety equipment is necessary. To learn more, see Amish Buggy Safety.
Modern medicine is not addressed by the Ordnung and is a matter of personal choice. Victims of accidents or medical emergencies on public or non-Amish property are routinely transported to modern hospitals by ambulances.
The Amish do not accept military service, as they believe that it is wrong to take a human life for any reason, even self defense. They believe that all people live or die as God wills. In times of an active draft, Amish men have accepted alternate service. These positions have been very difficult for them, as they have to live outside of the community for extended periods of time.
Changes in the economy have been a source of pressure on the Amish. The higher cost of everything, especially farmland, has caused the Amish to look for other sources of income that will allow them to maintain their separateness. Many have adapted by growing high-demand crops such as hot peppers, by breeding dogs, and through sales of crafts such as quilts, furniture and utility sheds. The Amish still do not deal directly with the world at large, preferring instead to deal with a limited number of trusted outsiders.
The fact that the Amish have endured as a distinct people for over 300 years is convincing evidence that they are here to stay. In fact, their numbers have grown prodigiously, tripling in the last 50 years alone. As we have seen, the Amish are not really stuck in time. They evaluate the potential negative effects of technology on their faith and family life and embrace only those technologies that maintain an acceptable quality of life. In spite of the fact that the Amish avoid conflict to the greatest possible extent, there will always be some friction with the outside world. Increasing environmental regulation of agriculture and pressure from developers will likely be sources of future conflict.
For more information on the Amish, check out the links below.
More Great Links
- The Amish: Beliefs, practices & conflicts
- The Amish, the Mennonites, and the Plain People: Q&A
- Religious Movements: The Amish
- The Photographs of Bill Coleman: Amish Odyssey