The Amish, known for shunning modern technology and living a simple life with no electricity or running water, fascinate outsiders. Some people see them as simple-minded or backward, while others admire their devotion to family and community. The Amish are also known for their handmade items sold at roadside stands, which support their simple lifestyle.
But you might still wonder, is Amish a religion, an ethnicity, or a lifestyle? And why do they live without most modern amenities and dress differently from the rest of us? We’ll share some underlying beliefs that most Amish people hold dear.
The Amish Religion
The Amish follow Christ. The Amish religion originated in the early 17th century when Christian leader Jakob Ammann broke away from other Anabaptists to form his own sect.
The beliefs of this faith group have much in common with those held by Anabaptists, who themselves were inspired by Protestant teachings on baptism and pacifism. People in this movement do not conform to the ways of this world—they live a life that is separate from society at large. They are devoted to their community, fellowship, and family.
The Amish are known for the quality of their work and the craftsmanship that they bring to everything they do. The Amish live by a set of rules called the Ordnung, which translates as “order,” and is intended to help them become more Christ-like.
How are Christians and Amish Related?
Because they belong to a Christian denomination inside a Christian denomination, Amish are a subset of the more prominent religion of Christianity. In a sense, Amish philosophy is the great-grandchild of Christianity.
During the Protestant Reformation, this occurred. Similar-minded thinkers like Menno Simons were learning about the ideals of baptism-by-choice and non-violence while Martin Luther was nailing his 95 Thesis to the door of a church. Menno Simons organized a group of people he referred to as “Mennonites.” Therefore, after Christianity, Anabaptism, Mennonites, and the Amish came into being.
The origins of the Amish can be traced to a strong-willed member of the Swiss Brethren, or Swiss Mennonites, who split from other church elders in the 1600s by adopting a stricter stance against “worldly” parts of life. These included anything that might be construed as luxuries in the slightest. The Amish continue to do this today, with several of their denominations placing various limitations on life’s “luxuries.”
What Bonds Do Amish Denominations Share?
Generally speaking, a disagreement over how to define “luxury” is the cause of the division in the Amish faith. Additionally, the Amish’s homes’ colors and designs—notably their buggies, or “carriages”—reflect their worldviews.
The Amish typically drive one of three colors for their buggies:
Today, a buggy’s roof color can also serve as a quick indicator of the Amish who ride in it. For instance, “black toppers” refers to Amish in all-black buggies. “Yellow toppers” are buggies with yellow roofs, whereas “white toppers” are buggies with white tops. Of the various Amish denominations, black toppers are the most “liberal” and have also integrated into modern life. They’ll be our first focus.
Black toppers are different from their yellow and white counterparts despite their conservatism in the face of the rest of the world. For instance, gas-powered equipment is frequently used by black toppers. They could have credit cards. They might even decide to leave their neighborhood after an incredibly insightful rumspringa.
A black topper may also be seen using and carrying a smartphone because some black topper communities accept electricity use in their barns or other non-residential structures but not in their homes. This explains why hundreds of Amish barns with solar panels are on top all across Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The next Amish denomination becomes more traditional after the black toppers. The yellow tops are these.
Yellow Topper Amish
Amish in yellow toppers avoids many of the conveniences that Amish in black toppers do. For instance, they have far stricter requirements for the upkeep of their buggies. They might cover their carts with reflective materials to make them more visible at night, but you won’t find any headlights, LEDs, or lamps as you might go on a black-topped buggy.
Yellow-topping buggies are infamous for being dangerous for oncoming vehicles because their doors lack glass. Because of this, the buggy driver must open the door to check for approaching traffic at a crossroads. By the time the driver shuts the door, the traffic situation might have altered, and a catastrophe might have occurred.
Other than that, Yellow Toppers are likewise more solitary than Black Top Amish. They reside in less accessible regions and interact with people of other faiths less frequently. Yellow toppers have far more traditional ideologies than black toppers, yet occasionally interact with modern society.
The last denomination’s white toppers are an exception to this rule.
White Topper Amish
Amish with white tops is highly traditional and secluded, which makes them uncomfortable. They rarely interact with outsiders, much less those not part of their groups, and they intentionally pursue hard-core minimalism.
Because they view a painted barn as a luxury, White Top Amish choose not to paint their barns. They firmly believe that God and their community will provide a new barn if the original one rots (which it always does).
Additionally, white topping Amish don’t use clothes zippers, snaps, or more than one suspender at a time. They think having two suspenders is a luxury since you only need one to keep your pants from slipping. Except for kerosene candles, their buggies are entirely dark. Even with headlights, it’s almost impossible to notice a white topper buggy if its lanterns run out of fuel at night.
Their genuine faith is a significant factor in the survival of Amish traditions and customs. Because the Amish culture is based on their faith and the moral code developed around it, it is easier to understand and appreciate the Amish way of life. We discover what unites us as a species when we take a moment to understand what makes us unique. The Amish are a vital part of our nation’s history and culture. The people, cultures, and values that make up American culture are diverse. You can best understand the theological and cultural influences of the Amish in light of these discrepancies.