The Invasion of the Amish
There's an interesting article in today's Sunday edition of the local paper, 'The Winnipeg Free Press' on a new Amish settlement in the Plumas, Gladstone area of Manitoba. This will be their first Canadian colony outside of southern Ontario. There are also Amish colonies in 28 American states.
The Amish are another branch of the Anabpatist movement who believe in adult rather than infant baptism. They are actually an offshoot of the Mennonites, and like them they are pacifist. Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a former Dutch Roman Catholic priest who founded the sect. The Amish split off from the Mennonites under the leadership of Swiss preacher Jacob Amman in 1693 because they felt that the parent body was too liberal for their tastes. Their first American colonies were in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, and they are known there as the "Pennsylvanian Dutch" even though they speak a dialect of low German (like about 2/3rds of Switzerland) rather than Dutch.
They have become a big tourist draw wherever they settle as their refusal of most modern technology makes their "horse and buggy" lifestyle a matter for sightseers. The Amish are divided into two denominations, the Old Order Amish who worship in their homes, and the Old Order Mennonites who worship in churches. The Manitoba settlers are of the latter denomination. Many of the locals in the area where they have settled are enthusiastic about the new colony, not just because of the immediate economic income but because of the potential for tourism that such a colony represents.
The author of the article, Bill Redicop, goes on to make many other points about the welcome the Amish have received in the community, about their aversion to having their photographs taken, and the general theology of their religion. Despite the aversion of the Amish to having photographs taken, in which they seem to be more severe than the most orthodox of Muslims-for the same reasons, "graven images,etc" there are several photos that accompany the article. I gather these were sneaked by the reporter or one of his confederates. I do wonder about the legalities of this.
A few questions come to mind from this article. The Amish use kerosene lanterns rather than electricity for lighting. This technology was NOT available at the time of the split in 1693. Neither was the electricity they use for cooling the milk that they produce. I'm sure that like the Hutterites and Doukhobours there are many other accommodations to the modern world that they have made while still pretending to hold to "the old ways". Any sect that refused to make any and all such compromises would have sunk into extinction long ago. Yet, I must admit that these sectarians are shining examples of consistency when held up in contrast to "sects in the making" such as the pseudo-anarchist 'primitivists' who make immensely loud noises about abandoning all technology and generally abandon no technology. If the "primmies" do rediscover something like vegetable gardening that huge segments of the population have known forever they make a big hoop and holler about their own crude achievements even though they are pretty well always less competent than over 95% of the population at their theologically coloured "return to nature:.
The other question is what in the nature of the Amish and other such sects has led to their prolonged survival as communities. Most of the modern examples of political or cultural sectarianism have passed into the black hole of history. Those that still exist (such as the Rainbow Gathering) give every appearance of being ready to expire with the senility of their adherents. Those that have stabilized resemble normal Churches (a wealth of New Age cults) or political parties. Lots of people have spilt an ocean of ink on this question. Authoritarianism certainly helps survival as does an excessive pride vis-a-vis the real world. The Amish certainly cultivate "humility" amongst themselves, like leftist sects who use identity politics for interpersonal manipulation, it is doubtful that their "humility" could stand the scrutiny of an animal behaviorist used to finding patterns of hierarchy in social interactions. But the losers in this competition can be compensated by an illusion of superiority to the outsiders. There are surely many other factors, but this is not the place to even begin to explore them.