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The Amish seem to believe that it is somehow wrong to utilize technological advances, such as the automobile, electricity, etc. What is the basis for this belief (among those that do this for spiritual reasons)? Put another way, what is the problem or danger with technological advances? How does avoiding them make someone more spiritual.

I guess I should not expect an answer from a member of the Amish, but perhaps someone who is familiar with that teaching can answer.

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This is actually a broad question; the Amish as a culture (the term "Amish culture" is in fact about as nonspecific as "Christian culture") is distinct from Amish as religion. There are atheist/agnostic Amish that have no "moral" problem with technology, they just choose to reject it. I think a good answer is possible, but not a great one without scoping it further. –  Ryan Frame Jun 27 '13 at 12:50
    
Some Amish communities are more strict than others; around here, they can drive a vehicle as long as they don't own it, so some of them will borrow a neighbor's tractor for farming. In other areas, they do not do that. –  Ryan Frame Jun 27 '13 at 12:53
    
@RyanFrame Won't the basic reasoning behind both the extreme cases and moderated positions be roughly the same? And I think it's safe to say we can focus on the religious angle here :) –  Caleb Jun 27 '13 at 13:09
    
@RyanFrame I added a little restriction. I hope that's better. –  Narnian Jun 27 '13 at 13:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This answer will focus on the religious aspects of the Amish rather than the cultural aspects, as far as differentiation is possible. Even then, there are four major orders and each community is self-governing; therefore, all statements made will be generalizations, and will naturally have exceptions.


The Amish find their roots in the Swiss Anabaptists (most still consider themselves to be Anabaptists), and their culture and traditions have been shaped by the persecutions suffered by the Anabaptists in the 1600s.

The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania does an excellent job of summing up the Amish way of life:

The persecution reinforced the biblical teaching of a cleavage between the church and the larger society. In Amish eyes, the kingdoms of this world, which use coercion, differ from the peaceable kingdom of God. Many Amish practices are based on the religious principle of separation from the world--that the practices of the church should be separate from the larger society.

Scripture such as Romans 12:1-2 are sometimes used to affirm their decision to step back from the world:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Also note Matthew 13:22, Matthew 16:26, and John 15:18.

The Amish seek to follow Scripture in all they do, even casting lots to select their ministers; and they tend to emphasize practicing their faith more than determining and teaching specific doctrines. They often emphasize the teachings given in the "Sermon on the Mount" and believe the community as a whole is responsible for taking care of each member, to the point where they consider insurance systems to be wrong -- it shows a lack of faith in God and subverts their responsibilities toward each other.

Contrary to popular "knowledge," the Amish do not try to completely ignore the modern world; they only wish to preserve their community-oriented way of life against the highly individualistic cultures around them.

As Peter Seibert, president of the Heritage Centre of Lancaster County puts it*:

It is easy to get it wrong about the Amish. They are not about putting up walls to block out the modern world. What they are about is adapting their community to modernity in order to preserve its essential being as a simple agrarian society.
They will pick and choose what they want from our world.

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How does the use of compressed air vs. electricity fit highly valuing community? If the power source (diesel or natural gas) must be brought in from outside, how is this different from electrical wiring? Using electricity might make the community more dependent on the outside world (fuels storage could provide a buffer for adjustment to an ending of supply), but the principle seems similar. Could an Amish community set up its own electrical utility? –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 27 '13 at 18:24
    
They choose to be different so they don't end up being assimilated into the rest of the world. And (false generalization coming) they're not concerned so much with "worldly" aspects such as building up a thriving economy so much as actually being a single community. They, for the most part, are happy with the way things are and see little purpose in chasing "progress" (it is, after all, a rather slippery word). –  Ryan Frame Jun 27 '13 at 18:42
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Thanks for the further clarification. (The temptation to become chatty on this is great.) –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 27 '13 at 18:53

For Mennonites and Amish, the issue is not about the technology itself, but about community. Community is of paramount importance, and a technology is accepted or not depending on its effect on the community. So, for example, cars are bad because they permit people to travel long distances on a regular basis, reducing the connection to the local community. Similarly for telephones and the internet. This also means that Amish will use technology when it is necessary and not disruptive to the community. Most Mennonites will have no problem with using a bus or plane, or even renting a car (if that is possible) if they absolutely need to travel somewhere, say to visit a sick relative. Many allow the use of the internet for business purposes, but not for personal purposes. Bicycles, which they frequently own, can be modern design and use the latest materials and technologies, since a better bike doesn't disrupt the community. I know a Mennonite family that owns a highly complex welding robot for their business but doesn't allow personal computer use.

The other main consideration is the concept of being "plain", which means not ostentatious and is a virtue. That is the explanation for the distinctive dress, and the reason behind the absence of modern fabrics, zippers and such like.

As has been mentioned, Amish and Mennonites vary widely in what technology is permitted. Some permit the use of cars; some permit only black cars with no chrome ('plain'); some permit internal combustion on the farm or business; some forbid rubber tyres on their horse buggies. A lot of Mennonites (myself included) fully embrace technology. But for those that don't, in the end, community is the driving force.

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Most Mennonites (myself included) use the Internet regularly. Most Mennonites are visually indistinguishable from anyone else. There are a small minority of highly-visible Mennonites who "dress funny" or reject certain technologies. There are probably even fewer Mennonites who reject technology than there are Amish, though. –  Flimzy Jun 27 '13 at 16:34
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@Flimzy This comment isn't appropriate to the question or answer, but I just wanted to say: "I had no idea that you were mennonite and I've been reading your posts for over a year. Apparently not the ones that mention this fact. I have generally found your answers informative and sometimes worldly. I would have not expected that from a Mennonite as stereo typically they are viewed as introverts and closed." –  The Freemason Jun 27 '13 at 17:01
    
@Flimzy Yes, I know. I am one. –  DJClayworth Jun 27 '13 at 23:20

My stepfather's parents are Amish. I grew up being babysat some by my stepfathers mother who was a member of an Amish community in Arthur, Illinois and some by a friends family who happened to be Amish and went to school with me. As Flimzy points out in one of his comments Amish communities are more restricted than Mennonites. Amish people are not introverts they just want more than anything to be unlike what someone outside their group represents. My grandmother's house and farm did have running water in the kitchen but as far as I remember not in the bathrooms. She had a refrigerator and for a while a television but however in her community the television was considered a sin and later it was removed because of social pressures. If I remember correctly a minister drove by at night and happened to see the artificial light of the television changing color in the window. The reasons they are like they are are not just cultural but also because they choose to interpret the Bibles orthopraxic commands to the best of their ability. The head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:6), the plainness of everything about them and their things (1 Peter 3:3,1 Timothy 2:9), their interest in agriculture (Mark 4:14), thier love of people (Mark 12:30), their practice of shunning unrepentant saints who sin (1 Corinthians 5:11). I agree in principle with what Ryan said but I think these verses needs to be added as well.

1Pe 1:17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:

2Ti 2:4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

2Th 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

Some of the reasons why Amish people do not do things involving some technologies is that they are just passing time till heaven as the scriptures require us to do. In this manner they justify their lack of certain things as unnecessary to life on the earth, materialistic and something which might cause them to become entangled.

Also in a way similar to the way in which Catholics defend their traditions an Amish person would defend theirs as well. If the common tradition held by a group is not against the word or sinful it is continued.

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