Earlier I promised you a list of things that I believe are universal among all Amish. I could be surprised on any of these, as I was when I made discoveries while interning with Donald Kraybill. However, as far as I know, the following things are still true.
Technology: All Amish have to decide how much technology they will accept. They don’t automatically shun all technology, but they discern what they believe will bring the community together as opposed to pulling it apart. This varies a great deal from one community to the next. For example, in Holmes County, the Amish use gas-powered lawn mowers, while in my home community they still use push mowers, even though they are allowed to use weed-whackers. (I once had an occasion while I was visiting my parents when I saw a niece and nephew out mowing and weed-whacking the lawn — he was using the weed-whacker while she was pushing a hand mower. I wished I could get out my camera for a quick shot.) Some communities allow propane tanks outside their homes, while others do not. There are numerous other examples, but all Amish use less technology than does the “outside world.” For further information about this subject, please see the Amish Studies website: http://www2.etown.edu/amishstudies/Technology.asp
Use of Electricity: As far as I know all Amish still forbid the use of electricity in their homes. Some communities allow their members to use electricity in their homes, so long as they don’t own it. Other Amish also allow business owners to use electricity in their shops, but I don’t think that has been extended to their homes. They know that once they allow the use of it in the home, then they can no longer control who buys televisions, radios, and other technologies they view as isolating people from one another, as opposed to bringing them together.
Ownership of cars: In all the Amish communities I know of, the ownership of cars is forbidden. When I was growing up, there used to be a community of Amish called the “car Amish,” but I don’t believe that community exists any longer. Contrary to popular opinion, the Amish do ride in other people’s cars, and in some cases they will pay van drivers to take them places. These drivers are called “taxi drivers.” The Amish also accept free rides from “English” friends.
Plain dress: All Amish believe in distinguishing themselves from the outside world with their plain dress. Just how plain and in what “style” is determined by each community’s “Ordnung” or set of rules. The men normally have untrimmed beards, but no mustaches. The women wear long, plain dresses and some style of head coverings.
Expectations for church membership: I have mentioned this in several other posts, and I will again here, because as far as I know, no Amish community (or family) gives the message to their young people that they have a conscious choice about joining the church — rather there is an expectation that all young people will “settle down” and become a member of the church. Parents often feel like they have failed their job as a parent if they lose one or more of their children to the outside world.
Gender roles: The Amish have well-defined gender roles — traditionally the women’s domain is the household, while the men normally earn a living for the family. The women defer major decisions to their husbands and they usually have a voice in the church only through their husbands. Only men can be ordained as ministers of the church. Amish women are normally subservient to their husbands in most matters. This usually works so long as the husbands don’t meddle in household matters, which the women consider their domain.
Education: As far as I know, there is no Amish community that has a policy that their children may attend school as long as they want to. Nearly all communities cut off their children’s education after the eighth grade, though some allow their sons and daughters to continue on until they are sixteen years old. This is true for both boys and girls.
I would be very interested in your perceptions or questions about what it means to be Amish. Do any of the items on the above list surprise you? What is missing here that you might think is universal among the Amish?
I look forward to your comments and questions.