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The Religious World of Amish Culture

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The Religious World of Amish Culture

Many tourists are fascinated by the Amish people and their culture. People from all over the world have gone to places like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, trying to catch the meaning and the reason behind the Amish way of life. Throughout the 19th century Amish people have encountered some difficulties in practicing their religion and living they way they desired to. Disagreements did not only generated between the Amish people and the out side world, but also within their own community, as we have seen in the most significant one which led to an internal division of the Amish population. As a result of that, today we can distinguish to different groups of Amish, the Old Order Amish which are the more conservative and the Amish Mennonite which decided to assume a more progressive way of living. This paper will first focus on the word "ritual" and its meaning in world religions, as explained in William Paden's book, Religious Worlds and will follow by discussing its structure in the Old Order Amish religion.

According to Paden, there are two ways of studying people and these are from what they say and through what they do. A big part of the Amish "world" and also one of the helmets that stimulates people's curiosity about Amish traditions is their rituals. In Chapter five of Paden's book, he focuses on the meaning of the word "ritual" which concept, he explains by creating a connection between "ritual" and "time". "Time is a construct of ritual...", "How one lives in time is equivalent to how one lives in the world" ( Paden, 93). People tend to see rituals as being superstitious and as a way of manipulating magical forces to ensure some sort of reward or maybe avert evil. Also the word ritual is often interpreted as meaning something mechanical and regimented, however these common ways of interpretation, which Paden describes as being biased, can sometimes confuse people and impede them from studying and understanding religions.

As we look at different religions, we can observe the different lengths of time dedicated to rituals. Some might last days and involve total community participation, but others might only last a few seconds and be done privately by a single individual. Some of the most known rituals that are part of specific world religions include things like, gesturing the sign the cross, saying grace before a meal, but also big events like the Muslim month of fasting or the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. However every religion has their own rituals and even if some might appear to be identical, they most likely will have a different meaning attacked to them. An example would be communion; even though the ritual might look the same in both the Protestant and Catholic Church, the meaning and belief behind it is completely different. The Protestants believe that the use of bread and wine are just a symbolic representation of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but Catholics believe that through the Holly Spirit they actually become the real thing. It seams to me that through out the years and especially today, in western countries more than anywhere else, most people that belong to a religion don't take rituals as seriously as they should. That might be because of a lack of focus, which I think is completely understandable due to all the distraction that the world offers, but as Paden says, focusing, or framing and displaying are the key elements that form the structure of rituals.

The devotion dedicated to religion by the Amish people is something unique, that most people will never experience or fully understand. Most Amish beliefs and traditions go way back to 1500's, and were established by a group of Christians in Zurich, Switzerland that believed government and religions should be completely separate. They believed that Christians should model themselves after Jesus discussion about being "peacemakers" and "clean of head". They also believed that church members should be baptized as adults, when they can decide for themselves weather they want to make such a commitment. They were given the name "Anabaptists" which means re-baptized, because they all re-baptized themselves according to their beliefs. After years in Northern Europe they became the Mennonites, but because Jakob Ammann didn't believe that their discipline was strict enough so he decided to form the Amish, which eventually migrated to the United States. Their submission to a higher authority is shown in four different ways, but they prefer to summarize them in the word "Gelassenheit". One of the four ways to express their submission to God is through rituals. "In rituals, what is out of focus is brought into focus. What is implicit is made explicit. All ritual behavior gains its basic effectiveness by virtue of such undivided intensified concentration and by braking off distraction and interference" ( Paden, 96). Because rituals are such and important part of Amish life, I believe that their decision to "isolate" themselves from the rest of the world as worked in their favor, by eliminating possible distractions and interference keeping their minds free of world's superficial thoughts.

One of the most significant ceremonial rituals in Amish religion is baptism. Once a year each district baptizes young men and women between the ages of 18 and 20 that have chosen to commit themselves to the Amish way of life. Before they make such an important decision, they are given the freedom to explore the "outside world" in what they call "Sumspringa", which usually starts at age 16. During this time of freedom neither their family of the church can tell them what to do. Even thought there are some cases when people don't commit to the Amish Church and decide to live life according to the "outside world", most people do come back and commit. Baptism takes place during a Sunday service as a solemn ceremony. At this time young Amish promise to embrace Jesus and reject everything outside the Amish faith and by doing so they agree to respect the "Ordnung" which is a code of conduct that the church maintains by tradition. This code is a list of things that you have to do, such as wearing certain colors, kneeling for prayer,



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