Communal Values

The core value of Amish society is captured in the German word Gelassenheit (Gay-la-sen-hite). Roughly translated, Gelassenheit means yielding oneself to a higher authority. The Amish speak of “giving themselves up” to the church. Gelassenheit carries many meanings—self-surrender, submission, yielding to the will of God and to others, contentment, and a calm spirit. Most important, Gelassenheit is the opposite of bold individualism that promotes self-interest at every turn. This is the point where Amish society diverges most significantly from contemporary culture.

The Amish abhor pride—attitudes and actions that clamor for attention and recognition—and teach the importance of humility. Showy clothing, wristwatches, fancy drapes, and ornaments on a harness may signal pride in Amish life. The prohibitions against cosmetics, jewelry, and personal photographs are designed to prevent pride.

Humility and obedience are twin virtues in Amish culture. A spirit of humility signals respect for others. Members are taught to obey those with authority over them: children their parents, students their teachers, wives their husbands, members their leaders, and younger ministers their bishop. Everyone is expected to obey the will of God as taught by the community. Despite the strong emphasis on humility and obedience, the Amish express great respect for the dignity of each person.

Community and tradition also play important roles in Amish life. The welfare of the community ranks above individual rights and choices. Communal wisdom, accumulated over the decades, is valued more than the opinion of one person. Traditional beliefs and practices are esteemed above scientific findings.

Gelassenheit also shapes the Amish view of salvation. Rather than emphasizing emotional experiences and the assurance of salvation, Amish leaders speak of a “living hope,” an abiding belief that God will grant faithful followers eternal life. In a spirit of humility, they trust in God's providence for their salvation, believing that it flows from obedient living in the community of faith.

 

Additional information

  • See chapter 6, "The Amish Way," in Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
  • See chapter 2, “The Quiltwork of Amish Culture,” in Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
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