America is universally known as the land of diversity. So, it is only natural that besides racial diversity, there is a diversity in communities that live on its ground. One of the most famous religious groups that exists in America is the Amish community. The utter seclusion they live in makes them either invisible to the people around them, or they view them as an attraction. Their way of life was not so different from their neighbors when they arrived to America in the 17th century.
However, the lifestyle of today’s American society greatly differs from the lifestyle of Amish communities. With the development of technology, and the rise of the consumer society, the Amish stick out of the norm. The strong religious beliefs of the Amish hinder them from being fully integrated in today’s society and that is why there is a wide gap between them. Even though, the mainstream society of America does not understand or condone the Amish way of life, they still have something to offer to the society in the form of values.
However, some would beg to differ that the Amish ways are backwards and a regress of society, some of their beliefs and values still hold up a strong moral standpoint in the 21st century.
What is modernization? Kraybill claims that “While the definitions of modernization vary in focus and nuance, they typically underscore the role of technology in stimulating social change.” (23) Everyone is familiar with the fact that modernization, in fact, encompasses technological advancement which in turn leads to new ideas and the changes in habits of humans.
However, as Kraybill points out that “Modernity should not be equated with progress. Modern life in sociological perspective is not necessarily either better or worse than non-modern life.” (24). This means that even though we may think that some aspects of modernization aid our everyday lives, are they actually better in the long run. The first thing that comes to mind is the social media. Even though it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the Amish since they don’t engage with these innovations, it is a great example of controversial aspects of modernity. It brings people together, but it also aids and abets mental disorders in society. Of course there is the question of the degree of the Amish rejection of modernity. As Kraybill notes: “The Amish have made collective choices not to be modern. They have rejected higher education. But in many other cases they have surely conceded to modernity by accepting the use of modern forms of technology.” (31)
It is very hard to classify them as completely out of the loop from the modern world. They make collective decisions on new technological advancements as a community which makes them different from the mainstream society which is centered on individual choices. The Amish make choices which of the technological advances may be integrated in their community and which will most definitely harm their way of life. Olshan says that “To the extent that the Amish self-consciously manipulate their path of social development, selectively rejecting some technology and forms of social organization and accepting others, they manifest what Berger et al. (1973) identified as the essence of modernity.” (189) Olshan claims that one of the defining qualities of a modern society is the power of choice, and since the Amish have the ability to choose between the technologies they use, they cannot really be classified as a folk society completely out of the loop with modern goings on. (189)
Moreover, they choose to isolate themselves from the mainstream American society which in itself because their lives may have been simpler had they just conformed. This also proves the point that maybe taking the easier path is not always the best decision since the Amish are persevering in their lifestyle. Olshan gives a great example by saying “A prime instance of this selectivity born of awareness is the way in which tractors have been rejected while new generations of agricultural implements have been employed by Amish farmers, sometimes even before their acceptance by non-Amish neighbor.” (190) The aforementioned decision-making ability is best presented in the question of which technology is allowed to be used in farming. Tractors were a very controversial question in different counties. The reasons provided were valid and presented many of the fears of the community. Firstly, the cost to value ratio they of owning a tractor on a farm. Many of the communities agreed on the fact that it is more affordable to use horses instead of tractors because they are useful of cultivating the land as well.
Secondly, one of the biggest fears the Amish have, and have also worked hard on evading is the dependence on the rest of the society to procure gas for it. Thirdly, they are afraid that the use of tractors will prompt the use of automobiles which they absolutely oppose.
The Amish are regarded as a community of farmers. Of course this opinion is not created out of the blue because majority of the Amish are farmers. It is the occupation that is held in highest regard in their community and which is the most admirable. Of course, this stems from their religious beliefs since they are above all a society based on religious beliefs. Hostetler defines their relationship with land “Man has limited dominion. He has power over animals, vegetation, but land also must receive proper toil, nourishment, and rest. If treated violently or exploited selfishly, it will yield poorly, leaving mankind in poverty.
The Amish view contrasts sharply with the so-called western world view, which sees ma’s role as an exploiter of nature for personal advancement and offspring.” (114) Hostetler also points out that the Amish care about the land because they plan on passing it on to their offspring. (114) Hostetler illustrates their respect of nature and land through their relentless efforts to restore land productivity by using natural fertilizers and practicing the rotation of crops, among other things. (115) According to Hostetler they used a three-year system of crop rotation which consisted of wheat; rye, barley and clover; potatoes, carrots and turnips. (116) It was their way of making sure that the land they were farming would always be in its best condition and that it would be used for years to come. It could be said that the notion of their offspring and their family life is deeply ingrained in everything they do.