Some Amish questions

Why did the Amish/Menonities/Pennsylvania Dutch/etc. decide that late 18th century technology was as far as they were willing to go? Was it some sort of backlash against the industrial revolution, like the Luddites? Since their concerns with technology are religious, why not go all the way back to Jesus’ era, and only use Imperial Roman technology? In the past, have their been other groups that held on to archaic ways of life on religious grounds? Perhaps enclaves of people in the Reniasance who felt closer to God through a more medieval lifestyle.

I don’t know much about the Menonites, but the Amish don’t reject technology per se. They use gas power and modern refrigeration machinery. The reason they don’t use electricity is more subtle than rejection of technology.

Romans 12:22 states “And be not conformed to this world”, which the Amish interprets as not connecting with the world. Connection to power lines would be such a connection. This was decided at a meeting in 1919. Electricity was thought to bring temptations, which is undesirable, and was banned.


Here’s another cite. An article tha appeared in Wired magazine about Amish use of telephones and eventually cell phones. I remember watching a PBS special about it some years back and they rationalized the cell phone by saying that it helped keep families together. I guess by allowing contact with family in the home with family in the field.

Anyway a good paragraph to read would be the one right below the Amish lady using the computer. But the whole article also addresses your question.

The Amish do not reject modernity, per se. As noted, above, their motive is to keep themselves free of an excessive entanglement with the world. A second motivation is to avoid things that inculcate pride. So they tend to avoid flashy colors. Sometimes those two conditions intermix in ways that outsiders do not immediately recognize. Thus, they avoid tying into the electric power grid. They also have appealed to the U.S. government to be exempted from Social Security taxes on the (legitimate) grounds that they, as a community, always take care of their own and will never become a burden on the local communities.

In areas where “yankee” life has intruded into their world, they accept jobs in that world when there is not enough farmland to support themselves. When they do this, they use the power machinery that is provided for those jobs. I suspect that their choice to avoid tractors, reapers, automobiles, etc., has something to do with decisions they made regarding that equipment when it first appeared. It may have been considered hoch (German, “high”) and not sufficiently modest. In the intervening years, they have made quite a few accommodations to technology–on a community by community basis.

Each community decides its own rules, so that in some places, they will buy a community tractor to use the PTO to drive threshers or other stationary field equipment, while in other communities, they will refrain even from that.

In NE Ohio (where they are liable to be smashed on the typically crappy roads by drivers paying too little attention), they have begun rigging lights on their buggies and putting up lots of reflector tape on the back. In Minnesota (I believe) they fought the state’s simple orange “slow vehicle” triangle as too showy, until the state finally approved a silver/gray alternative.

I just wanted to add that beliefs and practices among the Amish and Mennonites are fairly diverse. There are still Amish who do not use electricity or motorized vehicles (including tractors). At the other end, there are Mennonites who you might not know are Mennonites from their appearance.

The Amish and the Mennonites share a lot of beliefs and come from essentially the same strain of the Protestant belief system (which includes a number of other, less well-known, groups). Overall, Amish tend to be more conversative in religious beliefs than Mennonites, though you can find some Amish who are more “modern” than some Mennonites.

I have toured Amish country in Pennsylvania, and it was explained to me that their rejection of electricity has little to do with an overall rejection of technology. Rather, they realize that the maintenance of the electric grid requires constant human attention to it, thereby requiring people to work on the sabbath. Were they to hook into the grid, they would be party to forcing someone to do this work. There are those Amish who feel that this is just as well, and frown on those who use their own generators. Most of them do use propane tanks, because you can arrange to get them refilled on any weekday.

For a truly shocking look into Amish culture, run, don’t walk, to find a documentary called “The Devil’s Playground”. The Amish believe that those who commit to their religion should do so through an informed conscious decision. At around age fifteen, Amish children are allowed a period called Rummspringa (“running around”), usually lasting about two years, where they leave the community and live on their own. They tend to get so intoxicated by their new freedom that their days and nights are filled with alcohol and drug soaked orgies, underage driving, and as much Playstation as they can handle. They have been so well indoctrinated, however, that 90% begin to fear punishment in hell for their behavior, and return to the church. Those who don’t are cut off from their families. The film handles this very sensitively, and there are few more poignant moments than when a middle-age man, wearing the traditional hat and chin-beard, declares wistfully that the only thing he really misses about that period of his life is his car…

From living near them, working with them, descending from them (Brethren, the remaining group after Amish and Mennonite), I observe:
They practice isolatory rules, like not owning telephones or cars, but can use your telephone and ride in your car. What’s important is not to have the availability of these things establish ties with the English (the rest of us). So stopping for fast food doesn’t occur to them because they aren’t driving a car and aren’t going by the McDonalds. Goes double for ordering pizza delivery.
They use chemical insecticides frighteningly liberally, and alot of those clothes are polyester.
Rubber tires are a bigger deal than motors.

And if you ever wonder if it’s possible to live without getting mired in modern society, they’re proving it is, an hour outside of Philadelphia.

In parts of Pennsylvania, some Amish raise and use tobacco (cigars and pipes), while cigarettes are considered too worldly:

So I think there’s a lot of local variation, but the general principle seems to be that it’s de-sacralization behind the industrialized life that is objected to, not “modern stuff” in and of itself.

Gee, It’s been over eighteen hours now, and no Amish have chimed in.

Oh . . .

I suppose an “Ask the Amish guy” thread is out of the question.


Great question. This always bothered me too.

I thought I was the only one who noticed that it was not technology that they objected to, but rather, it was technology invented after a certain date in the 1800’s.

If you dont want technology, then you should live as “prehistoric men” did. Why accept the wheel and all the machines that were invented prior to 1888?

They dont seem to like “gasoline”, but do use kerocine.

They dont seem to like electricity, but do use wind power and hydropower.

What feminine products to the women use?

Dont get me wrong, I think the Amish are cool, and I loved Witness, that bowling movie with the one handed guy, and that other Amish movie where they try to make dresses with different colors.

How are we going to hear from any Amish on the internet to answer these questions?

Susanann, the questions you’re asking have essentially been answered, and a few links have been provided. Follow the one I posted, for example.

I’m not Amish but hopefully Mennonite close enough…

tomndebb does a good job of laying out the rationale used by Amish and more conservative Mennonites on what technology is used and what is not. It is not simply rejecting technology for the sake of rejecting technology but on what its larger impact on the family and Amish community would be. Not that this necessarily always makes sense from a strictly rational point of view, there are some Amish who will use tractors but will not use rubber tires instead using metal wheels. A lot of this gets decided by the local bishops and applies only to specific local communities.

Sometimes the traditions are simply tied to historical legacy. For example Amish men grow beards but shave their mustaches because at some point a couple of hundred years ago, mustaches were associated with the military. As a pacifist church, they wanted to disassociate themselves with that….and the practice stuck.

JeffB rightly notes the wide range of practices of Amish and Mennonites. Amish (particularly Old Order Amish) are the ones most people think of because of the movie Witness. Mennonites come in a lot more variations from those that are for most purposes indistinguishable from Amish to “mainstream” Mennonites. That’s my family background (for the most part, there a few Amish-like ones around) and one could not tell from simply looking that we are Mennonite.

Not the OP, but both groups stem from the Anabaptist movement that emerged in Switzerland about a decade after the reformation. The Anabaptists believed that only adults should be baptized (as opposed to infant baptism), advocated separation of church and state, and pacifism. Initially they were fairly evangelical and tried spread their beliefs and were basically persecuted and killed by the powers that were. (There is a huge book called Martyrs Mirror that is often in every Amish/Mennonite home that documents this period). As a result the Anabaptists decided that the world was too evil and that the best course was to retreat into their own communities and attempt to live as virtuous of a life as possible. This is helps explain the feelings towards which technologies get used. Later the Anabaptists split into the Mennonites and the Amish over a point of biblical doctrine and have remained separate but closely related churches ever since. A lot of Amish who decide to leave the Amish community often end up as Mennonites given the similarities.

It was also my understanding that part of the rationale for rejecting most modern technology is that people were supposed to work, as in Adam earning his living by the sweat of his brow, etc. The introduction of labor-saving devices such as internal cumbustion engines and electricity violated this commandment and led to idleness.

Payne, descended from the Pennsylvania Dutch of Franklin Co. PA

Since this is not a sex thread, please change the spelling of “combustion.” I gotta quit reading those threads…