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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.