The Amish are, by and large, a peaceful people. They go about their lives with an emphasis on using only the bounty of the land to get them by. They don’t believe in new-fangled modern inventions like electricity or the internet or rock music, and they like to exist without them. They like to keep to themselves, not allowing outsiders to come in and mingle unless they too convert to the Amish way of life.
It’s a devout and quiet existence, but there can be times when a community is rocked by the actions of someone who breaks out of the mould. That person will soon face the highest punishment available to the Amish community: they will be shunned.
This is when the person is cast out of the community and ignored by everyone they once knew. It’s a religious requirement to take part in shunning once it has been decided: if you don’t shun someone who is a sinner, then you yourself are also sinning. This is a last-ditch attempt to convince someone to come back to the Amish ways and conform to their standards once again; if they don’t do it, they will never be able to speak to their family and friends for the rest of their life.
But what kind of behavior could prompt the normally gentle Amish to turn their backs on someone who was once a beloved member of their family? There are a number of transgressions to list, and, as you might predict, some of them are a little outlandish.
15. Owning A Car
It’s not allowable for Amish people to use technology in ways that could sway them from their faith, and this usually means not using any technology at all. They do have a few exceptions, but usually, they should do things in such a way that they do not become reliant on technology. One thing that you can do as an Amish person is to hire a car if you want to travel a long distance – for example, to visit family in another state. But you should never drive the car, as this may make you too reliant on the technology and make you choose the car over your horse and buggy. Similarly, under no circumstances should an Amish person ever own a car. This would be an immediate cause for excommunication if it were to be found out, and the Amish person would be forced to sell the car if they wanted to stay in the church.
14. Cutting Your Hair
Once you are married, that’s it as far as your hair goes. Yes, there’s a weird rule that married women aren’t allowed to cut their hair. We’re not sure why there is a distinction between married and unmarried women in this case, but there it goes. There’s no escape for men, either. Once they get married, they are not allowed to cut their beards. That’s why the typical Amish man has a long, straggly beard, which appears to be unkempt in some ways. Although they can comb it as much as they like, a trim is out of the question. Interestingly, there is some history of beard-cutting being used as an act of war between two different Amish communities who have different beliefs. Men will sneak into the other community, lopping off beards left and right, before returning home victorious. The shame of the attacked men will be clear on their faces.
13. Not Shunning Someone Who Has Been Shunned
When someone has been shunned, they are not supposed to have any contact at all with their community, which includes their families and friends. Considering that many of these people will love the shunned person, having grown up with them or being related to them, this makes things incredibly difficult. You might think that people would break the shun all of the time, but there is a very clear rule which does not allow that. If you go and make contact with someone who has been shunned, get caught, and then refuse to stop, you will be shunned as well. Even if you pretend to go along with it and then contact them again, a shunning is very likely to be in your immediate future because you will be quickly caught. Everyone keeps a close eye on someone who has strayed to ensure that they do not do it again.
12. Playing A Musical Instrument
You might not think that a musical instrument could be very threatening at all. After all, the Amish love to sing hymns together, so what’s the harm in adding some drums or a string section? According to the rules of Amish life, however, it would be a big sin to get hold of your own musical instrument and learn how to play it. Being able to play an instrument well, a skill that is hard to obtain and also requires some degree of natural talent, would be something that would set you apart from your peers. Thus, you could end up exhibiting feelings of pride and even becoming boastful. Since that simply won’t do in the Amish lifestyle, you would end up being shunned if you refused to let your instrument go. Imagine how many rock stars were never famous simply because their Amish family wouldn’t let them play.
11. Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol is not permitted in Amish communities, mostly because getting drunk leads to lewd or excessive behavior. Young people from the age of 16 are permitted to take part in something called Rumspringa: this is a chance to go out and break all of the rules of the community. At the ages of between 18 and 22 comes the time when they must make their choice between joining the Amish community fully with a baptism, or going out to live in the world. Most choose baptism, but what if you had too much fun during those few years and ended up an alcoholic? Anyone found to be secretly drinking alcohol would be shunned right away, with the chance to change their ways and return to the community if they could. If they couldn’t do it, it would become a lifetime shun, as this behavior simply would not be permitted.
10. Growing A Moustache
If you were thinking of growing some facial hair, then as a man of the Amish, we’ve got some bad news for you. You can only grow it in a way that the church feels is right. You aren’t allowed to wear a moustache at all, only a beard. That means you have to shave every day in one very specific area of your face. Anything else would be considered a sin or a blasphemy. It’s pretty weird to think that there could be a situation where you are banned from speaking to your family simply because you have a bit of extra facial hair. We wonder how many Amish men go ahead and grow a moustache right after they leave the church, just for the fun of it? The practice of shunning, by the by, is known as ‘meidung’ in the special dialect that the Amish use.
9. Wearing Jewellery
If you’re a woman, you probably enjoy wearing jewelry now and then. Jewelry can be an expression of self, can help you to accessorize any outfit, and can also help to make the other girls jealous. But for those exact reasons, Amish girls and women are not allowed to wear jewelry at all. You can’t stand out from the crowd, you have to wear just the same as everyone else, and you certainly shouldn’t invite anyone else to be sinful because of your appearance. Other things that girls are not allowed to do to make themselves feel pretty include wearing makeup or styling their hair. It just has to go right back underneath a kerchief, and that’s the end of the matter. Young or old, no one gets to have a great look just because they think they’re different. If they want to push the matter, they’re out.
8. Wearing A Knee-Length Skirt
You could never picture an Amish girl or woman in something so scandalous as a mini skirt or booty shorts, but what about a nice, tame, knee-length skirt? Unfortunately, the rules say no. If a woman was to cut her short skirt in protest and then wear it proudly all day long, she would soon be up before the elders for a frank discussion. If she failed to return to wearing clothing of the correct length, she could be excommunicated and cast out. This shunning may seem like a very over-the-top reaction, but it’s how they roll. Any infraction of the rules, even of the smallest kind, can be met with shunning if it does not stop. You can imagine that there have probably been a lot of rebellious teenagers who made a point of changing their clothing deliberately to incur the shock of the community and feel like they were acting out.
7. Using Patterned Fabric
Let’s say that you are an Amish woman sitting down to make some new clothes for your family. The fabric that you choose is totally regulated by the church, even down to the type of material and the colors. You can’t even liven things up by choosing a pattern that will make a certain dress better for special occasions, or give new life to an old, patched-up bonnet. Everything must be done with plain fabric, and that’s that. At least one ex-Amish woman has found a way to bring colour back into her life: Kate Stoltz left the community after starring in Breaking Amish to become a fashion model and designer. It turns out that not having anything exciting in your wardrobe can sometimes have the opposite to the intended effect, sending you right off into the so-called life of sin that everyone was afraid of.
6. Watching Television
Ironically, one of the ways in which a lot of people have heard more about the Amish people is through shows like Breaking Amish. This, and a number of other shows of a very similar format, follows Amish teens as they go through Rumspringa and experience the outside world, often for the first time. It’s about how they rebel against their elders’ ways by trying all kinds of new things, and whether they decide in the end to stay Amish or leave. But the irony lies in the fact that once they return, neither they nor their friends and family will ever be able to watch their episodes. That’s because watching television is strictly forbidden in the Amish lifestyle. There’s no reason why they would even own one, since they can’t use it for any other purpose – things like video games are banned too.
5. Refusing To Kneel In Religious Ceremonies
There are a lot of behaviors against the Amish way which could be committed out of curiosity or a simple pleasure. For example, you might go and have a drink secretly because you love the way that it tastes, only to get caught out. But there are a few actions which can only be committed deliberately out of a clear desire to leave the Amish way behind. Refusing to kneel in religious ceremonies is one of these. Normally, after committing a sin, you would be taken aside by your elders and your family, who will spend some time trying to convince you to repent and mend your ways. If you refused to do that, then shunning will follow. Sometimes you will be punished lightly with a temporary shun, but refusing to kneel would definitely be something that triggers a swift and decisive shun with no going back later.
4. Voluntarily Leaving The Church
Of course, if you decide to leave the Amish church on your own, then you are going to be shunned right away. There are several times when you might do this. One is during or after Rumspringa, at the time when you can choose to be baptized or to leave. After baptism, you can also still choose to turn your back on the church. The problem is that if you do it, you have to know that you will also be turning your back on everyone you have known in your life. Many people who leave the church by choice can end up going back again later because they miss their family and want to be amongst their own people again. Especially as technology develops more and more over time, many ex-Amish feel the modern world is too hectic and confusing and want to go back to the simpler ways that they have known.
3. Wearing Different Clothing
Sorry, but your fashionable clothing has no place in the Amish way of life. Everyone has to wear the exact same clothing, which is regulated by strict rules regarding the fabric to be used, the length of each garment, when it should be worn, and who is allowed to see you wearing it. Everyone wears just about the same things in order to ensure that no one stands out as different. This is fairly hard for some of the teens, especially those who go out in the world during Rumspringa to see what everyone else is wearing and doing. They might even buy some fashionable clothing themselves, which they can wear while they are outside of the community for a couple of years. After that, though, everything has to be sold off or thrown away when they join the church with their baptism. After that, they have to adhere to much stricter rules than when they were children.
2. Committing Serious Crimes
There have only been a few instances of people committing crimes that were serious enough to deserve a shun – at least, that we know of. The Amish people are pretty secretive and they often try to keep things within themselves rather than involving outside forces or authorities. There is one example of a man who became a murderer within the Amish community – Edward Gingerich, who killed his own wife in a bloody fashion. Another example of serious crimes within the Amish church included a man who was accused multiple times of assaulting his cousins. Shockingly, the first few times he was merely given a temporary shun and then included back in the church after he promised not to do it again. It was only later with police involvement that he was shunned, though a few Amish people have even continued to defy the shun and support him in prison.
1. Owning A Computer
Using a computer would be the ultimate version of sinning when it comes to using technology. It has access to the internet and so many programs, such as games, that would be considered sinful, and the machine often forces you to become reliant on it. There has been a useful invention to help get around the problem of not having access to computing technology: someone came up with the ‘Amish computer’. It basically has accounting and invoicing software on it and not much else. This allows Amish people to keep up with modern businesses and sell their goods to the outside world for a profit, but it restricts their access to the technology. Stricter communities would even outlaw that because it means you are relying on the machine to do business. If you were found to secretly have a laptop or even so much as a tablet, you would be out on your ear for sure.
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