The Amish: Practical or Philosophical?

Shirley wrote:

Enjoyed this conversation very much. It leads me to another question. Do you recall conversations that you would call “theological” in nature such as free will, eternal salvation, etc.? Or was most of the conversation among the Amish about practical matters–weather, crops, family, church issues? Were men or women more likely to engage in philosophical musings–or was this practice actively discouraged by community norms?

Shirley, the answer to the first question is, no, I don’t recall any conversations that were theological in nature. These subjects were reserved for the preachers in a church service, so it was not a dialog, but rather an interpretation. Even still, such things as free will were never mentioned. Eternal salvation (or its opposite) were very much stressed by the preachers. 

Yes, most conversations were about practical matters, but there was also a lot of joking and “joshing” when people got together in the community. The Amish have their own brand of humor, which is actually of a very funny, earthy variety. It can also be cruel when it is at the expense of someone.

If men were more likely to engage in philosophical discussions than women, they must have done it all on their own, and I wouldn’t have known about it. And it’s not that philosophical musings are even actively discouraged — they just don’t happen. It’s much like hugging, kissing, or showing of affection — nobody says you can’t, but nobody does it, either.

So, the Amish I know can be serious or humorous, depending on the situation. I would describe Amish as a people as being practical, but not philosophical. The young people are taught to follow the Amish ways without question, which is the antithesis of philosophy — to engage in philosophical discussions, we need to be able to both examine our lives and to contemplate the mysteries of the universe.

I will close this post with a quote that really resonated with me that I recently read, which was attributed to Nicolaus Steno:

“Beautiful is what we see. More beautiful is what we understand. Most beautiful is what we do not comprehend.” 

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4 thoughts on “The Amish: Practical or Philosophical?”

  1. It just occured to me how philosophical you really are and am wondering when this actually happened to you! It must have been awkward at first to realize you could think for yourself about life and make decisons both good and bad and get away with it; Decisions with consequences based on YOUR own rules of life, friends, job and God’s Word and not someone else’s rules. I suppose it was something that grew slowly; with out any fanfare, but when did it occur to you that you, indeed, had the beginnings of your “very own” philosophy?

    You’ve been keeping a very busy schedule. It’s good to see you have some space now, between your appearances; But really just gearing up for that crazy week in May? I LOVE spring time in NJ and PA! Enjoy your travels!

  2. Dear Peggy,

    Thank you very much for your compliments. This “happened” to me when I was still Amish, and it’s one of the reasons I had to leave. I didn’t find it it the least bit awkward to think for myself and take the consequences of my own decisions — rather it was exhilarating and freeing.

    Yes, I do have a bit of breathing space in April, and then you’re right, May will be very busy!

    Happy Spring!


  3. That makes sense. Rumspringa takes on a new face!

    I was in college when my own philosophy took root and I was able to share my thoughts with other people. I just have to feel sorry for others who just flounder around in someone else’s .. not finding their own place in this world; Amish or otherwise! There are a lot of people ‘out there’ with no thoughts on life except maybe “live and let live” but that’s not really philosophy!

    Thank you again for sharing your story with all of us … we never know when we will come in contact with someone who needs a gentle (or not so gentle) tug or push of courage in the right direction and your story is so encouraging in that way.

  4. Thanks for answering this question, Saloma. And if you have not done so already, I’d love to hear about the theology of salvation preached from the pulpit.

    I was on the train to Philadelphia from Lancaster, PA, recently. Two young Amish men were “joshing” each other in PA Dutch in front of me. To my left was another bearded fellow–must have been Eastern Orthodox with a large cross around his neck and a long, black robe. He was reading out of a text in some other language with an alphabet I didn’t recognize. The varieties of religious experiences and traditions seemed very present to me in that moment.

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