Pride or Humility?

Amish have received many exemptions for their religious beliefs over the years — from compulsory education, from child labor laws, from installing fire alarm in their homes, and from paying social security taxes and health insurance to name a few.  They have been granted these and other exemptions partly because their culture is perceived by many to be a model of a good society. They claim to be “defenseless Christians” who forgive wrongs, even when lives are lost. The rest of the world struggled to understand — with a mixture of awe and disbelief — when Amish family members of the victims from the school shooting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, publicly announced their forgiveness to the shooter’s family in 2006.

There are times when I struggle to understand why Amish people ask for some of the exemptions they do. The mostly-positive perception of them in the mainstream culture can change and I would assert will change if they squander the public goodwill by asking for exemptions for frivolous things, such as wearing red instead of orange hunting vests.

I am not kidding. The Amish in the state of Maine asked for an exemption from wearing orange vests while hunting. They offered to wear red instead. They claimed that orange was too bright and symbolized pride.

The legislators in Maine granted them the exemption. 

I scratched my head on this one. Red is okay. But orange is not. For hunting deer. Huh? There are times when I believe some Amish people expect special treatment, just because they are Amish. Where is the humility in that? Isn't it less prideful to wear the required orange vests for hunting (or not go hunting at all) than it is to ask that laws be changed to accommodate their wishes? Having been raised in the Amish culture that teaches the importance of being humble (sometimes to the point of competitive humility), there is no way I can twist this one into any concept of humility.

What am I missing here? If you understand the Amish point of view here, will you kindly explain?


Photo by Saloma Furlong

Taken near Cashton, Wisconsin


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32 thoughts on “Pride or Humility?”

  1. Hi Saloma.
    I don’t understand the difference between red or orange, maybe the deer see orange better than red.. What I can’t figure out is why Amish can’t have a motorized lawn mower for the little boys to use, but the father can have a chainsaw or a weed eater. It just seems odd.

    1. Hi Steve. There are a lot of rules like that. Lawn mowers came into existence before weed whackers. The politics in your area was different back when they had to make a decision about power lawn mowers than it was when they decided on weed whackers. Once a decision is made in a given community, it is like an act of Congress to get that community to change.

      About the red versus orange… I should have mentioned that the Amish in Maine claimed that orange was too bright, and it was a symbol of pride. (I will go back and insert this.) Which is why I find this very odd.

  2. I know what and how I used to think about us Amish people and the laws of the land. My eyes were opened to our mindset when I told an Englisher taxi driver that we the Amish are special in the eyes of the government. I still remember with horror the look on his face. He turned beet red, pinched his mouth shut and the look in his eyes said it all. Ever after I was uncomfortable in his presence and never again did I utter the words, “We the Amish are special”.

  3. Hallo Saloma,
    Thank you for your post. The distinction between red and orange is assinine in this case of course. I agree with you absolutely that the Amish will have to be careful not to squander the goodwill the public has towards them at the present time. This they will do eventually if they continue to ask for foolish exemptions. I believe that things such as the septic tank issue is also foolish. People know that this is an important public health issue and something the Amish should be able to live with. Similarly the refusal to use safety triangles on the back of vehicles is s after issue that can affect others adversely. We are sympathetic to the Amish and their religious beliefs but have little patience with refusal to follow basic public safety requirements, particularly when they can affect others. With thanks, Dutch and Tootsie.

    1. Hello Dutch and Tootsie. You make good points. The Amish who refuse to comply with septic tank requirements and displaying orange triangles on their buggies are of the ultra-conservative groups. I wrote about the triangles on the buggy issue in upstate New York earlier this year:—at-the-intersection-of-two-cultures-resolving-the-amish-buggy-problem-20150422.

      I agree with you about when it affects others. I feel very differently about the Amish refusing to comply with rules around smoke detectors (I’d like to opt out of that one myself!) and their refusal to make their buggies visible, especially at night.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  4. Why don’t the cell phones have to be left in the phone shanty ? Thought the rationale given for not having phones in houses was that people would spend too much time on the phone rather than face-to-face communication.

    1. Carol, the difference is that cell phones can be hidden, and land line phones cannot. Many Amish will hide things they can get away with, and the cell phone is impossible for church elders to “govern.” It will be interesting as to whether the cell phone is the tool that will lead the Amish to eventually assimilate. I believe it is eroding their way of life.

      You are absolutely right. The thinking behind not adopting phones was to encourage in-person communication and interaction.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Pingback: Pride or Humility? | Former Amish News

  6. For better or worse, I decided some issues for myself. For instance: If something is both convenient and popular, the Amish are against it. If, later on, the gadget or whatever becomes inconvenient, outmoded and no one buys it any more, the gadget may become acceptable to the Amish.

    In other words, the Amish can use small, fast tractors on the road- because the Englischer don’t. A phone shack for the Amish is acceptable to the Amish because it is not convenient, i.e. not ready to hand. A winter coat or jacket for girls and women is OK as long as a shawl is worn over it. Wearing a kerchief on the head instead of a kapp when engaged in outdoor work that was dirty was OK. Bicycles for either sex was OK because it was not the primary mode of transport for the Englischer. Although I will never understand why Amish women don’t wear men’s pants when working on a ladder or riding bikes or on horseback. They could have been worn under a dress, for pity’s sake; it would have been much more modest. I remember my cold, red, chapped, bare legs shining to the skies when my dress and apron were flying in the wind. But no. Pants were never allowed.

    When I was growing up, the question would sometimes come up as to whether using tractors in the field instead of horses was all right. Our church decided that tractors were OK as long as they were not rubber tired; they had to have steel lugs.

    Skateboards, inline skates, scooters, cell phones – none of those were around when I was Amish. It would be interesting to hear what preachers say about them. Our church in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, regulated the thickness of women’s stockings. They didn’t want any skin tones coming through. Men are too easily tempted, it appears. :(

    1. Elva, you were in Stuarts Draft, Virginia? I had no idea. I think that group considers themselves Mennonite now, but they are almost as conservative as the Old Order Amish.

      Perhaps you were allowed to ride bikes, but we were not. Bikes are not allowed in Lancaster, either. But converting bikes to scooters are. I am convinced it has to do with the people making decisions when these things come into existence. My maternal grandfather was instrumental in getting the Amish in Geauga County to accept chain saws, back in the day when that question came up.

      None of the above were allowed in my home community either. Except for scooters. Did you know that scooters were invented by an Amish person? At least that is what I heard. Perhaps I should find evidence of that.

      Oh yes! Those bare, chapped red legs. I remember that! The women had no way of keeping their legs warm in winter.

      Thanks for your reflective comments.

  7. Red verses orange? I don’t get it. Unless it’s just about being different.
    The Old Order Mennonites in Canada think it’s plain to sew a thin strip of lace around the edge of their prayer coverings (not ruffled lace). I never got that either.
    I did understand the why about most of our rules. Small covers are worldly. Big coverings are plain, etc.

  8. Not getting the red verses the orange, seems kind of silly. Well, silly to me, though obviously not to them. All religions have their “man made” rules. Some more than others. Do those of the Amish faith ever feel the weight of so many rules? Does God and His rules begin to take a back seat to the ones made by man? It is not easy in today’s society to be “of the world, but not in it”. We all struggle with that one regardless of which sect of the christian faith we belong to. In the big scheme of things wanting a ruling of a red vest over an orange one simply because orange is brighter seems more of the world and less of God.

  9. Saloma, I am not commenting on the orange or red issue, but on the picture you sent from Cashton, Wisconsin. We live in Iowa and have good friends who have a bakery and bulk store in Northern Iowa. I went with my friend, Mattie, for the 1st time to Cashton a few weeks ago while we were camping in Northern Iowa. She needed to pick up some supplies from another bulk store and I was so excited to take her. What a beautiful area!!!!!! I was impressed with the trees, and the beautiful Amish homes.
    Just read about the orange and red—–why? Guess I am not sure either. My husband and sons all hunt, guess I will have to ask how/what the think about it. Sincerely, Pat (love to keep up with you!)

    1. Pat, I know, right? I think Cashton is one of the most beautiful Amish areas I’ve seen yet. My uncle (Gid A. Miller) knew what he was doing when he chose that area. He was one of the founders of the community back in the 1960s. He joined with a group from Iowa to start the Cashton community.

      Orange has been the most hated color in Amish circles. Funny thing is, I don’t like it to this day. But that still doesn’t answer the question about why the Amish would go through the trouble of getting an exemption to hunt in Maine.

  10. Difference between red and orange?? If you are hunting you have to wear orange. Or they have to wear bright red. Why not orange? if they believe in God they know that colors are create by God, right?
    I have seen it here by H.utterites. No picture on there drivers license. I came at Walmart and there were those ladies with a nice camera to print pictures. I was not able to think and didn’t get it. It are very nice people I love to go there, but every colony has his own rules, I guess.
    But I really don’t get it:orange or red. Then they have to make the choice:no hunting. Bright orange you can easily see, but not red.
    I can not understand the government either.
    They don’t have orange flowers either then??
    Love, Wilma

  11. Wow, not having a picture ID, yet having cameras… that is inconsistent! I had not heard of that, but I also do not know much about Hutterite colonies and their rules.

    Orange does appear in nature. But it is as if some Amish associate orange with evil.

    Thank you for your perspective, Wilma.

      1. Good questions! Yes, as far as I know, they do. But somehow they feel they cannot use anything orange created by people. It would be very interesting to try to trace that back to it’s source. Could be something like the woman who used to cut the ends off her roasts without knowing why, other than her mother did. Her mother was asked why she did it, and she said because her mother did it. When that person was asked why she did it, she said, “Why it was so it would fit into my roasting pan.”

        For cultures that adhere to traditions without knowing why, there is no rationale. I certainly cannot explain it.

  12. You’re not missing anything. The only thing more bizarre than them asking for the exemption is the Maine government actually granting their non-sense request. It’s almost as if they are humoring them by saying, “Makes no difference to us, we’re just glad you are here (in Maine)!”

    Surely, the Maine Amish could be saving their fights for something bigger than that. Maybe they figure that if they nickel and dime the government on smaller things, they will surely be granted major exemptions when one comes along.

    1. Hello Tom. I have been waiting for someone who can see the other side to post a comment. Thank you for having the courage to do so.

      While I respect your point of view, I would ask this question: “If your life is in God’s hands, whether you are wearing red or orange, why not accept that the law requires orange and wear it?” Or more to the point, why hunt if you cannot live with wearing orange? For most people hunting is a sport and not a necessity.

      Thank you again for your perspective.

      1. For the Amish men that I know hunting is not a sport, but rather an important means of feeding the family. Sure they enjoy the adventure that being among nature provides, but this isn’t sport as most of us view it. The important question is who’s law does one follow. Well I’m off to Conewango for the day.

        1. And does the Amish hunter who happens to have the red/green color blindness and shoots someone not wearing the “blaze orange” clothing just blow it off as “God’s will”?

        2. I knew plenty of men in my home community (my brother included) who claimed they were hunting deer for food. In fact, they will often shoot more deer than their share because they don’t think the authorities will come after them. In one of my mother’s letters in her later years, she bemoans the fact that my brother’s family has gotten sick of venison, but that wasn’t stopping him from hunting deer.

          That is not to say that there are not still some Amish men who truly do hunt for the meat for their families.

          I dare say you will be visiting with my cousins today. I have lots of them in Conewango. Have fun!

  13. I am completely throwing out a guess, but perhaps it has to do with orange being used by other professions? I have seen orange hunting vests and they’re pretty bright, plus the orange is similar to vests worn by highway crews, police, etc. for visibility. I’ve never seen red vests used for these other purposes. Again, this is a total guess.

  14. Saloma,

    It seems to me that silliness exists in all humans, whether they are Amish, Catholics, Protestants, or atheists. It beats me why some are so fussy about things like the missing Christmas themes from the Starbucks paper cups. I don’t ask why any more, it all just is.

  15. I think it’s similar to how the Plain folk around here have a health care exemption, yet any hospital fees they have are covered by subscription from the community (and everyone knows exactly how much they are expected to pay for any given expense). I’m really not sure how this isn’t insurance (same for the other functions the Mutual Aid societies fulfil so that insurance isn’t necessary when it normally would be.) But, unlike everyone else, they’re not using something called insurance, so it must be better.

  16. Hi Saloma, just wanted to pass this along to you. The Maine legislature did not approve the exemption in 2015…but the Amish are back at it again trying to get it passed. This time they are threatening the state with a lawsuit if they don’t get their way. Here is a link to an article about it. The committee was 9-7 in favor of the exemption but it is not finished yet!

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