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What can we learn from the Amish and the conservative Mennonites?

Many of you know the Amish do not drive cars. Recently I found the same is true of conservative Mennonites in various places, including Belize! What can be learned from these existing, successful, and growing communities of carfree people? What follows are some notes and links for consideration/discussion.

Added by colin #442 on 2003-06-02. Last modified 2003-06-02 23:41. Originally created 2003-06-02. F0 License: Public Domain
Location: World
Topics: ecovillages

What can we learn from the Amish and conservative Mennonites (plain people)?

Some important points:

  • New communities of the carfree could benefit from living near carfree plain people because:

    1. There may be more carfree people in the area.

    2. Obtaining and maintaining equipment useful in living carfree may be easier (e.g. buggies for transportation)

    3. I am also interested in non-motorized living--so I would benefit from being near others who farm without tractors. (though I note that plain people often use generators & other motors)

  • The Amish split from the Mennonites because the Amish believe church members who break the tenets of their religion should be totally shunned. The Mennonites are more lenient. This relates directly to what I have seen proposed in two places as a possible approach to ending the inherent destructiveness of civilization:

We need to create a culture where those whose actions benefit themselves at the expense of the group are extinguished, banished from participation in the group. (p 364 A language older than words by Derrick Jensen). --where the group is all living and non-living non-human made things-- And where those whose actions benefit the entire group are respected the most.

Brian Czech's book http://www.steadystate.org suggests much the same thing

  • A lot can be learned from the Amish effort to live in a way that is different from the rest of the world, including the challenges they have faced in maintaining a strong and growing community, and in what they have had to do to maintain the technology they choose to use. (They were forced into starting businesses when horse-drawn equipment ceased to be used by the rest of the US!)

  • The Amish approach to technology is exactly how the rest of the world (and the carfree community) needs to treat technology: they ask "is this use of technology in the best interest of our community?"

  • There were many "alternative" communities in Pennsylvania around the time of the early Amish (the Brethren, the Dunkards, the Eprata monastics, Quakers). Why do some still exist while others do not?


Below are notes, links, and excerpts from my web research on the Amish. The numbers preceding each entry are the times on 2003-06-01 that I made each entry.

1359 war tax resistance during the revolutionary war;


In Pennsylvania the Mennonites were fervent supporters of the Quakers, especially in the Quaker opposition to war. Like the Quakers, most of the Mennonites were separated from the Indians by a broad band of churchmen, Lutheran, Reformed, Moravian, and Presbyterian. Yet even in the Revolution most of the Mennonites were treated leniently. The authorities in general recognized that their opposition was to war rather than to the American cause. True, they found themselves in difficulty when they refused to pay the special war tax of £3 10S. that Congress levied. This attitude was roundly condemned by one of their ministers, Christian Funk: "Were Christ here, He would say, Give to Congress that which belongs to Congress and to God that which belongs to God." For this Funk was excommunicated, where-upon he organized several Mennonite congregations loyal to theAmerican cause. It was only in communities where the Mennonites were few in number that they were mistreated. In Bcrks County several Mennonites were put in Reading jail, and in Northampton County they were classcd as Tories by the court. At Saucon in Northampton County all their possessions were confiscated: furniture, stoves, bedding, household utensils, dishes, food, even their very Bibles. The men were ordered to leave the province within thirty days; the women and children, having been made destitute, were permitted to remain. Though such persecution was rare, the Mennonites through much of Pennsylvania were looked upon with suspicion and often with contempt as men who refused to fight for their country.

1405 on devel of pacifism:

Anabaptism from the start had its strength among the peasants. The terrible slaughter that marked the Peasants' Revolt in 1524: and 1525 only tightened the hold of the Anabaptists on the peasants, for it was then that Luther, in a shocking pamphlet, urged the nobles to have no scruples in putting the rebels to death. By aligning his church on the side of the princes, Luther lost his hold on the peasants. The nobles took his advice seriously enough to kill off at least fifty thousand peasants. As the more militant of their leaders were killed, the Anabaptists turned more and more toward pacifism. With persecution their lot, they stressed humility. Put up with the sufferings of this world, they preached; only make certain your life is as pure and Christlike as possible. Thus the Anabaptists became increasingly unworldly. At the same time persecution and death taught them to look upon the state with fear and suspicion, a lesson all too well learned and never forgotten to this day. In Germany the ruthless suppression of the Peasants' Revolt encouraged the common man to put up with whatever rulers happened to be in power.


Even more significant to the history of America was the Mennonite insistence on liberty of conscience; this doctrine, too, the Baptists borrowed. It was this principle that Roger Williams established in the Providence Plantations: complete religious freedom for all for the first time in the history of the world. This is one of the brightest pages in the story of mankind.


In a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" the of mennonites have ignored the second of these three phrases and put too littIe emphasis on the first. Except for the most advanced groups, among them, such as the New Mennonites, they refuse to take their rightful share in democratic government. The church permits its members to hold only such minor public offices as school director and road overseer. Yet little by little the Mennonites are coming to recognize that whether they like it or not they are a part of the world and that it is neccssary to combat rather than withdraw from "the world, the flesh, and the devil." But with evil so strong and flourishing, any compromise with their ancient belief in the wisdom of withdrawing from the world is bound to be beset with difficulties. Expediency is all too often a sweet-smelling name for surrender.


Though the Mennonite way of life may at first sight seem harsh and ascetic, neither of these adjectives is just. True, their family life is marked by a high moral standard seldom matched by other groups. Honesty, integrity, and simplicity have long been and remain Mennonite virtues. Yet there is an unusual gentleness and serenity among them, and among the other "plain people" as well, that sets them off from the Puritans. Their faces and their manner show that they have discovered at least one or two of the secrets of the good life. The fundamentals are theirs: they have clothes enough to keep them warm, tight roofs over their heads, and food in the larder. And possibly what is more important, they have stopped with the fundamentals. They have not asked for more. In abjuring luxury they have escaped many ills-above all the great sin of the century, materialism. Yet since they are their brother's keeper, old age, illness, and unemployment hold no terror for them. Hard work they accept cheerfully as the natural lot of man. Although they abstain from smoking and drinking, although 'they never go to the movies or listen to a soap opera or read a detective story, they have the cardinal pleasures of life. With an unusually fresh enjoyment of visiting, they make many friends. They partake freely of the bounties of the table. The pleasures of the marriage bed they view as natural and right. There is neither smut nor Victorian prudishness here; instead there is a pronounced earthy streak, which is not altogether unexpected in a farming people. Among themselves the young men are fairly frank about sex. They jest about it-sometimes in a fashion surprisingly broad, even Rabelaisian. It may be that their view of sex, which, I venture to say, most doctors and psychologists would judge eminently sound, is the secret of their vitality. Few Mennonite couples produce one child only. Many of their families are large: five or six sturdy boys and girls are common; nine or ten are not unusual. Here, too, they may show more wisdom than more highly educated people.


The arresting differences of the three Mennonite cultures provides a nice problem for the sociologists. What was it that made the Mennonites of Holland intellectuals and leaders? Why did the Mennonites of Germany set their hearts on wealth? Why did the Mennonites of Pennsylvania eschew it?


Though Mennonite virtues are admirable and many, there has been no place in their world for the intellectual life; and without an intellectual life can a culture, extraordinarily flue though it may be in certain aspects, exist on a truly high level? ..


devil's playground documentary.

1518 http://www.amishnews.com/publishersmessages/wanttobeamish.htm

1527 The Budget newspaper was established in1890 and is published every Wednesday. The paper serves the Sugarcreek area and the Amish/Mennonite communities throughout the Americas. It is a very interesting paper and I highly recommend it. Please call or write for current subscription information.

Sugarcreek Budget Publishers, Inc.
PO Box 249
134 North Factory Street

Sugarcreek, OH 44681 Phone: 330-852-4634 Fax: 330-852-4421

1542 ice houses.

1550 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/amishinflorida.htm

1603 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/livingwiththeamish.htm

1609 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/chesapeakebay.htm

1625 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/amishss.htm

1717 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/amishtelephones.htm

As is typical of the Amish, when a new technology comes along, the Amish examine its effect on the church and community. The technology should not be an intrusion into the home, but rather serve the social purposes and goals of the group. In a sense, the Amish "re-organize" the technology.


1729 When we are gone, let us be remembered not by how broad were our noses, the height of our brows, or the angle of our cheekbones, but by what truly matters --- the lives we have lived and the examples we have left. Dust we are, to dust we shall return. Why frame and embellish and hang on the wall the pictures of this house of clay in which we live? Let us beware lest we permit Self to be exalted becoming unto us a graven image."

1802 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/plowstoprofits.htm

Taking a major turn, they also began buying implements designed for tractors and adapting them for use with horses. For example, they mounted engines on hay balers that were pulled by horses instead of tractors. Thus, somewhat ironically, the Amish were nudged into business in order to preserve their horse farming in the face of a booming agribusiness enamored with tractors.

1813 http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/amishspeak.htm#Part%20One:%20The%20Plain%20Way

Part One: The Plain Way

We dress differently and our lifestyle is different, but is that the only difference between the Amish and other churches?

Well, let me tell you a story. Some years ago a group of 52 people chartered a bus and came to Holmes County to see the Amish. They had arranged to have an Amishman meet them and answer some of their questions. The first question was, "What does it mean to be Amish?"

The Amishman thought a bit and then he asked a question of his own. "How many of you have TV in your homes" Fifty-two hands went up. "Now, how many of you feel that perhaps you would be better off without TV in your homes?" Again, fifty-two hands went up. "All right. Now, how many of you are going to go home and get rid of your TV?" Not one hand went up!

Now that is what it means to be Amish. As a church, if we see or experience something that is not good for us spiritually, we will discipline ourselves to do without. The world in general does not know what it is to do without!

(Monroe L. Beachy)

1816 Dust we are, to dust we shall return. Why frame and embellish and hang on the wall the pictures of this house of clay in which we live? Let us beware lest we permit Self to be exalted, becoming unto us a graven image.

Will the same trends and influences that have wrecked families and communities in the world around us also destroy us in time? If we follow the same route, travel in the same train, we cannot expect to arrive at a different destination. Trailing fifty years behind the world isn't going to get us where we want to be. Those who ride in the caboose are in reality going to the same place as the engineer.

(Elmo Stoll)

1821 the turning out of children who are rebellious / letting them stay.


"Why Do We Farm?"

Take a paper, pencil and calculator in hand, And first punch in the high cost of land. Add painting, repair bills and taxes, too, And sky-high interest that always seems due. Figure in the long hours that we have to work, At wages that would make a city guy smirk. But, oh no! Farming is much more than that! Farming is the smell of the soil being plowed in the spring, While the north-flying geese let their music ring. It's the wobbly-legged calf on a dewy summer morn; It's a good stand of alfalfa, a nice field of corn. It's the super-sweet smell of freshly stacked hay That fills the entire barn for many a day. It's being your own boss from day to day, Making your mistakes in your own special way. It's seeing the first corn sprouts pushing through, Realizing God's promise is still holding true.

( David Z. Esh, Jr.)

1825 We need to be careful to give all honor to whom it belongs. The world is desperate for something to satisfy its hunger, some answer to its search for meaning in life, wanting something external to base faith upon, something to see and touch and handle. While they focus upon our beards and buggies and bonnets, they miss entirely what our faith is all about.

(Elmo Stoll)

1827 "Just think how small and meager my little sprinkling can is compared to a shower like this."

My friend thought a moment, then said, "But your sprinkling can kept the plants alive until this shower came. They would have died if you hadn't watered them."

1833 Raberís Almanac

1841 http://www.amishnews.com/amishseries.htm

1853 http://www.amishnews.com/publishersmessages/carandbuggiescollide.htm

2023 http://www.amishnews.com/publishersmessages/23rd%20channel.htm The 23rd Channel

The TV is my shepherd, I shall not want.

It makes me to lie down on the sofa.

It leads me away from the faith.

It leads me in the paths of violence for the sponsorís sake.

Yea, though I walk in the shadow of Christian responsibilities,

There will be no interruption, for the TV is with me;

Its cable and its remote control, they comfort me.

It prepares a commercial before me in the presence of my worldliness.

It anoints my head with humanism and consumerism.

My coveting runneth over.

Surely laziness and ignorance shall follow me all the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house watching TV forever.

2107 entirely in italics, but good- copy elsewhere to read: http://www.horseshoe.cc/pennadutch/religion/amish/amishkle.htm

2127 The Amish insist on a rural way of life for all their people. Although a few of them may live in small villages, the church forbids them to live in towns and cities. Nor does a single Amish family live off by itself among more worldly people; they always settle in colonies. When a new settlement is made, enough families move to the new colony to form a religious unit and to a lesser degree a self-sustaining economic unit as well. In this way their ancient customs and beliefs are preserved.

2132 An intense love of the land distinguishes the Amish and Mennonites from other American farmers. Others may boast of the number of bushels of wheat they harvest, of the fertility of the soil; so do the Amish and Mennonites. Yet the Amish and Mennonites never dream of selling out and retiring to Los Angeles in their old age. They are wedded to their farms for life. One of the most valuable heritages that the Amish and the Mennonites brought with them to America was their method of farming. In their efforts to make a living on the poor soil of the Swiss mountain valleys in which they found refuge, they were the first people in central Europe to experiment with new crops, new feed for their cattle, new ways of fertilizing the land. When they moved down to the Rhineland, they were able to apply these new methods to rich soil. Different communities tried different experiments, of which they kept one another informed so that all might benefit from the success of one. This gave the early Amish and Mennonites a broader point of view than that of the ordinary farmer, whose horizon was bounded by the hills of his own parish. Such advances in farming as diversified farming, rotation of crops, and improving the soil by fertilizing it with barnyard manure and by growing red clover were first put into general use in America in southeastern Pennsylvania and were more widely practiced on Amish farms than on any others. Furthermore, their stock was well housed. In fact, to this day the stock is better housed on the farms of south- eastern Pennsylvania than anywhere else in America.

2135 With the Amish the land comes first and the tobacco crop second. An Amishman who does not give his land proper care is brought up before the church. He who robs the soil sins against both God and man. Impairing the fertility of the soil is as undoubtedly a sin as adultery or theft.

2142 This is clearly not the policy of rugged individualism, of each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. This is the kingdom of God on earth-or at least as close to it as the Amish have been able to come. Competition has not been ruled out: it has been combined with cooperation. To rugged individualism has been added brotherly love. As far as possible each Amishman supports himself, his wife, and his children.

2144 The Amish attitude toward the accumulation of wealth is in direct contrast to that held by most of their fellow Americans. In moderation wealth is good, but by moderation they really mean moderation.

2145 He is so extraordinarily fond of visiting his relatives and friends that church is held only every other Sunday.

2156 It is the dream of every Amish fanner to give each of his sons a farm.

2202 The Amish look around them and see the deserted Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, the abandoned Quaker meetinghouses-all of them belonging to people who believed in education. Once there were thriving communities supporting these churches; now the Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Quakers have vanished, and Amish and Mennonites farm the land these people once owned.

Colin Leath <>    

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