I got an email this morning from Linda raising the question:

…have you heard, too, the idea that Amish could be an ethnicity or ethnic group.  People that have an Amish heritage may not be Amish any more, but they might think in Amish ways, or be ethnically Amish?  I’m not sure I agree, because the lifestyle and beliefs are much intertwined.  In the secular as well as on Sunday.

I suspect what prompted this may have been discussion over the upcoming “Amish Mafia” program.  I’ve only viewed the 30-second preview portraying men who seem to clearly not be Amish in the traditional sense (tattoos, non-Amish appearance, destroying and shooting things).  I have also read that they’re described as “members of the Amish community”, while not being baptized.  It certainly works better for the show if you can call these fellows “Amish”.

In one sense there may be some grey area as to who counts as “Amish”.  Part of the confusion stems from whether “Amish” describes church membership or, more broadly, an ethnic group as Linda notes.

For practical purposes I tend to think of it as referring to church membership.  So I would agree with the way Linda seems to be leaning here, that being Amish is about more than just growing up in the culture, choosing another path, and then keeping some ties with bona fide Amish family.

That noted, people can officially leave one religious tradition or cultural background and still identify with it.  It gets in the bones, so to speak.  The more so, it seems, in the melting pot that is America.  I have encountered people raised Amish who still strongly identify with their childhood community and see themselves as Amish in some real sense.  It’s hard not to be sympathetic to that position.

Food for thought; your views or other examples of this phenomenon are welcome.