The Amish originated in Switzerland around 1525. They initially belonged to a religious group called Mennonites. The Mennonites believed that the church and state should be united. The Amish didn t agree with this view and broke away. They also did not agree on infant baptism. The Amish thought that people should only be baptized as adults around the age of 18. Adult baptism was a crime in the 16th century, so the Amish come from a long history of martyrs. They were put in sacks and thrown into rivers. There are no Amish left in Europe. William Penn, who offered a religious haven in America, saved the Amish from extinction. Since early colonial days the Amish have lived in the United States preserving their distinctive culture, dress, language and religion.
The Amish live in 19 states, Canada, and Central America. Eighty percent live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. They can also be found in Poland, the Ukraine, and other parts of Russia. The total Amish population is around 134,000, but only adults are considered full church members. They Amish are a conservative group and are traditionally homemakers, farmers, carpenters, and tradesmen. They have virtually no unemployment. The Amish society itself is a school. They train their children vocationally. They shun all technological things like automobiles, television, video games, movies and fashion. They do not use gasoline, electricity, or commercial chemicals all of which pollute the environment.
Amish are divided into several separate bodies, some of them more conservative and withdrawn than others. The Bible is the sacred text of the Amish religion. They interpret the Bible literally and directly. In addition to the Bible, the Amish have a set of unwritten rules called the Ordung. The Ordung are the bases for their morals and their way of life. These rules are not set in writing, but are known and strictly followed. During the 19th century the Amish experienced some internal divisions because of interpretations of the Ordung. While the Amish believe in the basic Christian beliefs, the Amish tradition is different from many modern religions in that their faith is combined with their entire culture. The Amish ideals are a direct contrast to the ideals of modern American culture. In today s American society, all emphasis is on personal achievement and success. However, in the Amish culture all emphasis is on the community. The community emphasis is on modesty in all aspects, including acting, talking, dressing, and walking. Also they structure their social life so that communities remain small and simple. Some of the most important beliefs held by the Amish are: separation from the outside world, vow of obedience, and closeness to nature.
The Amish struggle with the idea of social change. No matter how hard they try to avoid technology, it is slowly creeping into the Amish way of life. The Amish still do not permit electricity but most use mechanical or gas-powered machines. They continue to struggle where to draw the line so they distance themselves from the outside world and still allow modest amounts of social change within their own community. The commercialization of their culture has become a major source of income for them. By making and selling furniture, food and quilts, Amish culture has become a major commercial institution that has led to changes in their interactions with the outside world. Tourism seems to be beneficial to the Amish, bringing great economic advantages. In the long run commercialization has had little effect on the Amish way of looking at the world. They still hold true to their basic beliefs. Despite the increased interaction with the outside world, the Amish have managed to maintain their simple lifestyles.