Debunking Amish Myths

Myth: The Amish people are very plain and simple. They oppose progress and are paused in time. Their way of life has not changed since they were established.
Fact: Their lives are rich and complex. Highly important to them are their relationships to God and also to each other. They do not believe in depriving themselves, but readily enjoy rich food, social activities, and culture. They are selective in the societal advancements they accept, but are not opposed to evolution.

Myth: All Amish communities are identical in their traditions and ways of life.
Fact: Amish is an umbrella term for various religious “orders.” Individual communities and orders make executive decisions about what and who is allowed or banned. Old Order Amish can be more stringent, whereas New Order Amish tend to be more liberal in terms of technology and interaction with non-Amish culture.

Myth: All Amish people are farmers.
Fact: Many Amish people have farms, but that is not necessarily their only form of income. Many Amish people are artisans, craftspeople, or bakers.

Myth: The Amish people reject the outside world and isolate themselves; they do not interact with the “English” (their term for all non-Amish people) or concern themselves with what goes on in the rest of the world.
Fact: Most Amish communities rely on the English to purchase their farmed or crafted goods. Most communities allow tourism, and some even encourage it. There are Amish families who wish to spread awareness of their lifestyle, inviting the English into their home for meals and into their communities for tours. Some work for English families sewing, cleaning, cooking, or caregiving.
The Amish are American citizens. While most do not vote in national elections, they may vote in local elections that they feel affect their community more specifically.

Myth: The Amish do everything in the most basic, stripped down, by-hand way it can be done. They reject all technological advancement.
Fact: The Amish take the biblical tenet to work “by the sweat of your brow” (Genesis 3:19) very seriously. They earn their living and spend their days participating in physical labor such as farming and craftsmanship. However, some communities have allowed certain technological advancements throughout the years, such as natural gas- and oil-powered equipment. Amish women make all clothing themselves, but they often use treadle sewing machines and paper patterns. They also have allowed for the use of English products, especially for the sake of their English customers and patrons.

Myth: The Amish are very solitary people; they stick to their family unit.
Fact: The Amish highly value the biblical directive to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). In fact, every other Sunday is devoted to visiting neighbors, friends, and family members, while the Sundays in between are devoted to worship. Sabbath worship is conducted in the home of a community member; there are no churches or temples dedicated solely to religious services.

Myth: The Amish, like Quakers, do not have religious leaders but conduct worship on their own.
Fact: Each settlement is divided into church districts which have their own congregation (“Gemeinde”) of around 75 baptized adults and their families. Each congregation has usually one bishop, two or three preachers, and a deacon.

Myth: The Amish do not allow decoration or color in their lives.
Fact: While patterns are forbidden, the Amish often dye their hand-sewn dresses and shirts rich and vibrant colors, though their aprons and hats remain neutral. Lots of Amish women enjoy the hobby of quilting, and though they are not permitted to include representational designs, they may depict shapes. Women often create highly original geometric patterns in bright colors.

Myth: The Amish population is dwindling.
Fact: The Amish population is on the rise due to the emphasis on large families, and an excellent retention rate of their young people. There is a tradition known as “rumspringa” in which teenage boys may spruce up their horse-drawn buggies and get a taste of mainstream culture. After this time, they can decide whether to be baptized as Amish adults and stay with the community or not.

Myth: The Amish originate from Holland.
Fact: Their conversational language, which resembles Low German, is called Pennsylvania-Dutch, but this is a misnomer. It is actually Pennsylvania-Deutsch, Deutsch being the German word for German. The Amish faith originated in Germany and Switzerland, but none remain in Europe. The phrase Pennsylvania-Dutch is double misleading, as they do not live only in Pennsylvania either. Amish settlements exist in 31 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and 2 South American countries.

Myth: The Amish do not educate themselves or their children.
Fact: The Amish do not believe in formal education beyond the eighth grade. Instead they devote themselves to trade at that time. They stick to the tradition, long-gone from mainstream society, of one-room school houses where children of all ages are mixed, but children do go to school through the eighth grade.

Myth: Women are second-class citizens in Amish society.
Fact: While it is true that Amish society and the family unit is patriarchal, women are integral to Amish society. They are partners in running the family farm, often exercise equal or total control over the family finances, and often have their own manner of supplementing the family income, be it cleaning, baking, etc.

Myth: The Amish and the Mennonite people are the same.
Fact: This is a complicated question, as both the Amish faith and Mennonite faith are umbrellas over various sects and offshoots. They are both Anabaptist faiths, but the Amish faith split from the Mennonite in the 17th century. They share similarities in traditional dress (except for “Modern” Mennonites), pacifism, and adult baptism. Old Order Mennonite people share the most similarities with Amish people, including the Pennsylvania-Deutsch language. Many of the differences have to do with the technological advances permitted. Additionally, Mennonites are mission-oriented, which brings them all over the world, while Amish are tight-knit communities that focus on issues close to home.

Myth: The Amish take resources from the state.
Fact: For many years, Amish people paid into Social Security but refused to pull from it. They have since become exempt from participating in the program all together. They care for their elderly and mildly sick on their own, though they will take advantage public health facilities, law enforcement, and emergency responders when necessary. They do pay taxes, including sales tax.

Step into the one-room schoolhouse with little Velda Yoder and her big sister Anna as they—and five others—tell their courageous and compassionate tale in The Amish Project today.

Reprinted with permission from Chautauqua Theater Company. Sources: Amish Life by Raymond Bial; amishamerica.com