In search of peace and contentment

Paul Miller gives an overview of the origins and basic principles of the Amish faith based on his in

The Amish in North America are a religious counter-culture that has not only persisted but also thrived in the hustle of modern Western society. With only about 5,000 members in 1900, they were widely predicted to fade and vanish from the United States cultural scene. To the contrary, the religious sect now numbers about 175,000 and is found in 26 states and the province of Ontario. The Amish continue their traditional lifestyle apart from mainstream society and they both survive and thrive in North America.

The Amish are a minority religious group with their roots in the Anabaptist movement which emerged in 1525 in the middle of the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptists (the name means to “re-baptize”) took issue with Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther, believing that the prominent leaders of the reformation too soon compromised with the religious establishment. They were unwilling to follow through with reforms that may have truly restored Christianity to its biblical forms.

Anabaptists differed with Protestant reformers on three significant issues. First, they believed the true church must be a voluntary association of believers who personally choose to follow Christ. They rejected infant baptism as a means of declaring affiliation with the church and of civil registration. Second, the Anabaptists maintained that church and state are by God’s design separate institutions. The foremost allegiance of believers was to the church and only secondarily to the state as long as it did not compromise commitment to Christ. Third, Anabaptists held that the Christian cannot use violence either in self-defense or in defense of the nation-state. They believed that the command of Jesus calls Christians to suffer loss or injury rather than to protect themselves by force.

Because of their religious stance, Anabaptists were severely persecuted by Catholic and Protestant leaders alike. Since both church and state were allied, Anabaptists were hounded by religious and civil authorities. Thousands suffered severe persecution and death by fire and sword.

More than 175 years later, the Amish developed out of an internal division in 1693 that called for stricter church standards and clearer distinctions from the rest of society. The Amish gained their name from Jacob Ammann, a prominent leader who challenged laxity in the religious life of the group.

By the time the Amish were established, capital prosecution of Anabaptists had ceased. However, other forms of intimidation and persecution actually intensified. Many of the Amish and other Anabaptists were successful farmers and artisans, but the law of the land made their property subject to confiscation and denied them the right to own land. In many instances, they were driven from arable land and forced to move into the mountains.

By 1720 the Amish followed their Anabaptist cousins emigrating to the New World. Thousands moved to North America and continued to emigrate for the next century and a half. They came in search of tolerance, religious freedom and economic opportunity so often denied them in Europe.

The religious convictions of the Amish are evident in their faith community where they practice a lifestyle of nonconformity. Within their church communities the Amish practice love and mutual concern for all members. While they do not practice a community of goods, the Amish help each other with aid when disaster strikes and also help with medical expenses. The Amish reject government subsidies of welfare, unemployment compensation or Social Security retirement pensions.

The Amish believe the scriptural teachings of a clear separation between the church and the world call them to distinctive patterns of dress, transportation, use of electricity and telephone, and simple homes and lifestyles. The principle they apply to modern life is to always weigh cultural and technological changes in view of their potential impact on spiritual commitment, community values and family life.

The Amish believe the ethic of personal integrity, community values and a disciplined spiritual walk produce true contentment and fulfillment. They are not perfect, but their patterns result in a life that is admired and coveted by many in the turmoil of modern society.

Paul Miller is the executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center, an interpretation center located in Berlin, Ohio, in the middle of the world’s largest community of Amish.
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Why Labour's dismal poll ratings won't harm Jeremy Corbyn's re-election chances

Members didn't vote for him on electoral grounds and believe his opponents would fare no better.

On the day of Theresa May's coronation as Conservative leader, a Labour MP texted me: "Can you imagine how big the Tory lead will be?!" We need imagine no more. An ICM poll yesterday gave the Tories a 16-point lead over Labour, their biggest since October 2009, while YouGov put them 12 ahead. The latter showed that 2.7 million people who voted for the opposition in 2015 believe that Theresa May would make a better prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn (she leads among all voters by 52-18).

One might expect these subterranean ratings to reduce Corbyn's chances of victory in the Labour leadership contest. But any effect is likely to be negligible. Corbyn was not elected last summer because members regarded him as best-placed to win a general election (polling showed Andy Burnham ahead on that front) but because his views aligned with theirs on austerity, immigration and foreign policy. Some explicitly stated that they regarded the next election as lost in advance and thought it better to devote themselves to the long-term task of movement building (a sentiment that current polling will only encourage). Their backing for Corbyn was not conditional on improved performance among the public. The surge in party membership from 200,000 last year to 515,000 is far more worthy of note. 

To the extent to which electoral considerations influence their judgement, Corbyn's supporters do not blame the Labour leader for his party's parlous position. He inherited an outfit that had lost two general elections, neither on a hard-left policy platform. From the start, Corbyn has been opposed by the majority of Labour MPs; the latest polls follow 81 per cent voting no confidence in him. It is this disunity, rather than Corbyn's leadership, that many members regard as the cause of the party's malady. Alongside this, data is cherry picked in order to paint a more rosy picture. It was widely claimed yesterday that Labour was polling level with the Tories until the challenge against Corbyn. In reality, the party has trailed by an average of eight points this year, only matching he Conservatives in a sole Survation survey.

But it is Labour's disunity, rather than Corbyn, that most members hold responsible. MPs contend that division is necessary to ensure the selection of a more electable figure. The problem for them is that members believe they would do little, if any, better. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that just 8 per cent believed Smith was "likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election", compared to 24 per cent for Corbyn.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary hopes to eradicate this gap as the campaign progresses. He has made the claim that he combines Corbyn's radicalism with superior electability his defining offer. But as Burnham's fate showed, being seen as a winner is no guarantee of success. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many fear that Smith would too willingly trade principle for power. As YouGov's Marcus Roberts told me: "One of the big reasons candidates like Tessa Jowell and Andy Burnham struggled last summer was that they put too much emphasis on winning. When you say 'winning' to the PLP they think of landslides. But when you say 'winning' to today's membership they often think it implies some kind of moral compromise." When Corbyn supporters hear the words "Labour government" many think first of the Iraq war, top-up fees and privatisation, rather than the minimum wage, tax credits and public sector investment.

It was the overwhelming desire for a break with the politics of New Labour that delivered Corbyn victory. It is the fear of its return that ensures his survival. The hitherto low-profile Smith was swiftly framed by his opponents as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly Pfizer's head of policy) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). His decision to make Trident renewal and patriotism dividing lines with Corbyn are unlikely to help him overcome this disadvantage (though he belatedly unveiled 20 left-wing policies this morning).

Short of Corbyn dramatically reneging on his life-long stances, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which the current Labour selectorate would turn against him. For this reason, if you want to predict the outcome, the polls are not the place to look.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.