Amish Culture in Lancaster County
There are many misconceptions about the Amish culture in Lancaster County. It is not true that the Amish are opposed to change and to new things. It is just that the Amish people are slow to accept new practices if they feel that that new practice might harm the community.
Most changes in the Pennsylvania Amish community are the result of economic forces. Pennsylvania Amish industries have dramatically increased productivity by using modern technology. For example, hand pumps and windmills have been replaced by hydraulic water pumps; cows are generally no longer milked by hand but by vacuum machines; bulk milk tanks and modern hay balers have improved the lives of the Amish farmer; farms now use chemical fertilizers, insecticide, hybrid seeds, and artificial insemination.
Besides economic reasons, Amish culture in Lancaster County, PA has changed simply because the Amish - just like anyone else- want a more convenient and comfortable lifestyle. Amish homes contain modern kitchens and bathrooms; bath water is no longer heated by large copper kettles but by modern gas heaters; washing is generally no longer done by hand operated washers but by gas or hydraulic machines; modern gas stoves and appliances have replaced wood stoves and ice boxes. Detergents, starch, and synthetic fabrics are now commonplace in Amish homes.
Having said that, prohibitions made in the early 20th century such as those against the use of telephones and electricity are still enforced today. Most Amish, though, tend not be tempted to use products such as video equipment and personal computers because such products go against the long established taboos such as those against photography and extensive interaction with the outside world.
How are Cultural Changes made in the Amish Community?
Although change does exist within the Amish culture, it often slow in coming. In fact, members who argue for too much change, too soon are often labeled as "fence jumpers." Such change is considered to be a sin and taboo. Violators are asked to confess their sins. If they refuse,
Questions regarding change in the Amish community are decided by Amish church and community leaders who base their decisions upon the Ordnung, which is the unwritten rules of the Amish church. Overall, innovations which strengthen long-held traditions such as the virtue of agriculture and work are accepted without much question. For example, the use of gas and hydraulic motors have been part of Amish farming for a long time.
On the other hand, new practices or products which threaten the Amish community or contradict Amish traditions are considered to be "worldly" and are shunned.
Community leaders often look to the long-term ramifications of introducing a new practice or product to their community. One of the most well-known prohibitions in the Amish lifestyle is the prohibition against electricity. Electricity, itself, is not considered a sin. However, community leaders believe that the use of electricity will inevitable lead to the use of television which is commonly felt to be a very dangerous practice to the community.
How then are cultural changes made in Amish life? Well, as with all societal change, the innovation originates from the fringes and margins of Amish society rather than from the central leadership.
When innovation is introduced to the local community, local ministers and bishops hold leaders' meetings which are held during the spring and fall of each year. At these all-day meetings, the long-term risks and ramifications of the innovations are debated. When major decisions are made, they are taken to the the local congregation for ratification.
The community leaders then monitor these cultural changes to make sure that there are no unexpected consequences which undermine the spiritual and social welfare of the community.
Cultural Symbols and Change
Amish identity is often connected with outward appearances which symbolize the core of the Amish culture. One example is the color and patterns of clothing worn by the men, women and children. Another outward sign of Amish identity is the horse and buggy.
These symbols are so deeply a part of the Amish lifestyle and traditions that they are highly resistant to change. Outwardly, that is. In other words, it is unlikely that the actual colors and patterns of
will change. However, out of the public eye, there have been changes in these symbols of Amish culture and identity. Although patterns and colors may not change, the fabric on which the patterns are printed have changed with the times. For instance, the clothing is often made now from modern synthetic materials which are easier to produce and maintain.
Likewise, the buggies that are used by the people retain the same external shape, color, and style. However, modern materials such as thermopane and fiberglass are now used to manufacture the buggies.
Furthermore, Amish shops and industries utilize modern manufacturing equipment while outside horses are still often used to plow the fields.
Another example of the resistance of symbolic change but acceptance of practical change can be seen in the Amish view towards the automobile. In short, the Amish forbid the ownership of automobiles and drivers' licenses but the use of automobiles is generally accepted such as the use of public transportation, Amish taxis, and the use of vans and trucks for business purposes.
Summary of the Amish Culture in Lancaster County
Although the Amish in Lancaster County are open to new ideas and innovation, this cultural change is often slow in coming and faced with community resistance.
Essentially, innovations that the church leaders believe will threaten traditional Amish values and spirituality are forbidden. Most conspicuously is the use of electricity, telephones, cameras, televisions, personal computers, and the ownership of automobiles. These products of modern life are felt to endanger the culture by exposing the Amish people to too much contact with the outside world and thereby introducing such "worldly" vices as vanity, competition, and envy.
On the other hand, cultural innovations which encourage the traditional values of work and agriculture are generally accepted as can be seen by the use of modern farming equipment and technology. However, there is even a limit to these advances.
Hard work is thought to be a virtue. If change and technology occurs too rapidly, there is the risk that the amount of available work would decrease and the level of leisure would increase. Too much leisure might lead to discontent.
Likewise, it is believed that too much technology would centralize power in the hands of a few people which would threaten the traditional Amish value of community equality.
As a result, change within the Amish culture is often slow and monitored by church and community leaders.
If you enjoyed reading about the Amish culture and would like to learn more about the Amish people in Lancaster County, please take a look at the following pages:
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