January 11, 2005

Amish Society

John A. Hostetler | Fourth Edition 1993 | Amazon

I've always been interested in the Amish, and my developing interest in Quakerism led me to take a closer look at some of the other peace churches. There are as many differences as similarities, but the Amish are also fascinating for their sheer perseverance. Most other sects have accepted modern ways, but they've taken a much slower path, picking and choosing along the way.

The entire book was interesting, but the opening and conclusion were particularly interesting for looking at how the Amish maintain their community, and how that community is different from those surrounding it. Sectarian foundations, taking the Sermon on the Mount and the New Testament as a guide for living, combine with a small scale, an insistence on being a distinctive community, and with an enormous set of traditions to keep the Amish going. Despite not evangelizing and losing about 22% of any given generation, the Old Order groups have grown substantially in size over the past century.

While many people seem to find the Amish strange, either weird throwbacks to an earlier age or angelic exiles in a world that lost their values, Hostetler does an excellent job of looking at the Amish from a perspective that takes their community seriously. Hostetler also looks seriously at the mechanisms they use to maintain their community, notably excommunication and shunning. He periodically notes his own youth among the Amish:

The difference in these two views [of how shunning applies] can become very important in case of excommunication. Social avoidance is implied in the former but not in the latter. As a young man considering baptism in the Amish church, I remember the above two opposing views being expressed by two ministers. I did not want to take a vow I could not keep, nor take a vow that implied social avoidance in case I could not live by Amish standards. Consequently, on the day my chums began their instruction for baptism, I drove my horse and buggy to the nearby Mennonite church.

I expect I'll keep this book on my shelf for ready reference for years to come, and I'm also interested in another Hostetler book on the Anabaptists, Hutterite Society.

Posted by simonstl at January 11, 2005 08:16 PM