Here’s another interesting YouTube comment (which turns out to be a good source of what people are thinking about the Amish).

A commenter recently wrote “Amish = How can we make our lives as hard as possible and still survive?”

While there might be some Amish who find a virtue of sorts in living very plainly, for many Amish, they appreciate comfort and try to make it a part of their homes and lives.

That means many have upholstered sofas and recliners, store-bought shampoo, hot water in the home, battery-powered lights as bright as or brighter than plug-in-the-wall lamps, expensive hunting gear for recreational excursions, and so on.

They do hitch up the inconvenient horse-and-buggy from time to time, but will also hire a van driver to take them places when needed (regular rides to a distant workplace and back, or longer-distance trip to a cousin’s wedding or family vacation). And they keep a phone within short walking distance or closer.

Amish home with a fancier interior. Note the Dewalt battery light, wall decor and furniture

In the more progressive Amish homes, you don’t really feel like you’re living some primitive lifestyle, fighting for “survival”. There are some awkward bits here and there, like fumbling around looking for a non-existent light switch on the wall. But for the most part, it’s nothing like “making our lives as hard as possible”.

Now in the plainer groups (Swartzentruber Amish or Swiss Amish, to take two), the way of life is certainly more “rough”.

Depending on the church, that can mean less frequent showering (no plumbing/hot water in the home), teeth-pulling instead of modern dental care, outhouses, home interiors with scrappy flooring and less comfortable furniture like hickory rockers, and so on.

It may mean open-front or even open-top buggies, year-round, including in sub-zero temperatures and thunderstorms. It means writing letters and borrowing an English neighbor’s phone in emergencies.

Swiss Amish open buggy, Berne, Indiana

For plainer groups, there can be a sort of pride taken in being plainer than “higher” Amish. And in general in all groups, ministry and older folks will tend to hew more conservative and traditional, as a point of emphasis in resistance to change.

The plainest Amish may in fact see some virtue in “mak[ing] our lives as hard as possible”, or something of that nature. Some may in fact put hope for salvation in adhering to material restrictions.

But for the Amish in general, restricting technology is not like wearing a medieval hairshirt as some penance for worldly sins. And it’s not a contest to see who can endure the most hardship and go without the most as some test of piety.

Outhouse at an Amish home. Image: Don Burke

Restrictions on technology and material comforts come from a shared desire to preserve family, church and community. Amish feel that permitting unrestricted access and ownership of some technologies would make this a lot harder (or impossible). And Amish settle in different places on the question of which technology to permit and in what ways.

And although the logic and impetus of business has driven Amish entrepreneurs to seek greater efficiency and speed of production, there is still a strong ethos of “faster is not always better” in Amish society. I believe that springs from a general instinct widely-felt among Amish to respect the older ways and tradition, even if one’s lifestyle is inevitably changing in some ways.

So while this commenter’s statement might have some truth to it when considering the plainest Amish groups, the general idea behind it is off. But it raises a good question.

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