Redemption and Simplicity 3 Redemption and Simplicity: Maintaining Amish Culture in the American Mainstream The grand openness of America’s individualistic society has for centuries been a panacea for ethnic groups seeking a fresh start in a free land. Political oppression and religious persecution have always been the great motivating factors behind historic waves of mass emigration. The Amish are somewhat unique in that they came to America for the purpose of living apart, in obedience to the precepts of a prescribed redemptive society learned yet largely unfulfilled in Alsace, Switzerland and the German Palatinate. It is part of the genius of the American social experiment that Amish society, which stands in counterpoint to the dynamism and personal freedom that marks the American ideal, can have existed almost in a vacuum, flourishing despite such marked differences. The Amish have experienced their share of discriminatory behavior, xenophobia being an unfortunate yet persistent aspect of America’s psychological make-up. But in spite of their perceived “otherness,” the Amish embody qualities that many Americans revere: thrift, hard work and piety. Though differences exist and prejudices persist, it is the Amish respect for the sanctity of community - for theirs and others - that have made them such a respected social institution in this country, an important and admired aspect of Americana. Americans haven’t always taken Amish culture to heart. The establishment of their distinctly different lifestyle encouraged suspicion and ridicule. Amish beliefs require them to turn away from the uniquely American belief in “personal choice, mobility, fulfillment, freedom and self-actualization, the Amish argue that personal fulfillment comes through subordination to…community” (Umble and Weaver-Zercher, 2008). At the heart of this belief system is the rejection of aggressive behavior in favor of humility and simplicity. This has created conflict in some communities, where locals have often mistaken it for self-righteousness or an assumption of moral superiority. This comes down to appearance, a fact of Amish life that is traced to Jakob Ammann, the founder of the sect. The Amish approach to Redemption and Simplicity 4 dress and grooming are, in truth, pointed expressions of non-conformity, as much a symbol of emotional and intellectual acceptance of doctrine as it is a declaration of communal separateness (Hostetler, 1993). As such, the Amish are a living, thriving example of a people acting out a pointed expression of religious commitment. As different as their long beards, homespun clothes and ubiquitous straw hats may seem to tourists, there are many Americans who accept, even admire, what they take to be an example of asceticism. Religious fundamentalism and the evangelical strain in America’s religious landscape would seem to be appreciative of Amish faith. In fact, when young Amish people leave their communities it often has something to do with the influence of other faith-based groups (Hostetler). Strict obedience to principles of faith can be expressed in many ways others than dress and hygiene; lifestyle and economic pursuits also offer opportunities for expressing religious faith.