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In 1998, a strange thing happened in the tiny  village of Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

Two Amish men were arrested for drug dealing. A federal  indictment alleged both had been sourcing cocaine 16:00 from members of the notorious Pagans motorcycle  gang and then distributing it to their Amish brethren.

The men, both named Abner, were accused  of selling the drugs during Amish hoedowns. This seems very out of character for the Amish,  who are usually portrayed in popular culture as devout people who prefer a simple, quiet life free  of the hassles and distractions of contemporary society. They do everything possible to avoid  contact with people like us—ya know, people on the internet.

These stereotypes have been reinforced  in movies like Witness and shows like Vanilla Ice Goes Amish. And yes, that was an actual, real  show that aired on actual, real television. But on today’s episode of Misconceptions,  we’ll be debunking all the myths Harrison Ford and ‘90s rappers have been telling you about  this fascinating—and complex—group.

Including the fact that things like drugs and smartphones  can still find their way into this society. Intercourse, by the way, probably got its  name from the early 1800s usage of the word, which referred to social interactions. Generally clothed social interactions.

Funny  town names are for another video. Intro I’m Justin Dodd, and as I’ve just indicated, the idea that the Amish are absolutely untouched  by the perils of modern civilization isn’t really accurate. Nor is the belief that they’ve shunned  all technological advancements.

Like anyone of any religious affiliation, there are certain nuances  to their beliefs. Granted, there’s not much nuance to blasting lines at a hoedown, but for the  most part, the Amish are far more complicated than you’ve been led to believe. Amish and Mennonite Are Synonyms What do we mean when we talk about the Amish?

For  most people, and our purposes, it means Old Order Amish— there are other groups we’ll address later  on. Generally speaking, the Amish in North America can be traced back to the Anabaptist movement  of Europe in the 16th century, which promoted some beliefs contrary to more widely accepted  Christian practices. For example, only Anabaptist adults were baptized, with the idea being that  accepting God had to be a conscious choice.

A few years after the Anabaptist movement came  on the scene, Menno Simons joined and became so important that many Anabaptists started being  called Mennonites. Over a century later, down in Switzerland, Jakob Ammann took things a step  further and pushed for a stricter belief system, with idiosyncratic views on everything  from communion to shunning to how to wear beards. In 1693 his group broke off into a new  branch, Amish, derived from Amman’s last name.

To avoid persecution for their beliefs in Europe,  in the 18th century many Anabaptists started migrating to Pennsylvania, including the Amish,  who were able to continue to live plainly—at least until the Industrial Revolution, which introduced  challenges to their way of life. Starting in 1862, Amish communities across the country started  to have a yearly gathering to discuss how to navigate this new world. Conservative  elements felt marginalized at these meetings, so they started breaking off and  declaring their preference for the Old Order, while the more liberal groups  eventually merged with the Mennonites.

The invention of the telephone in  1876 sparked renewed debate among the community. Pretty soon, cars and  electricity were something the Amish had to grapple with. Which brings us  to our first persistent stereotype.

It’s believed the Amish are wary of electricity  owing to their religious beliefs. And that’s true, but the reason why is often misunderstood. While  individual communities differ heavily on this, the decision was ultimately made that members  should remain off the electric grid—but it wasn’t because they thought electricity was  evil, per se.

The idea was that having easy access to electricity sort of signaled that you  were ready and eager—perhaps too eager—for the latest technological doodad. But if, when you’re  considering a refrigerator purchase, for example, you need to figure out how on Earth you’re going  to power it without being able to just plug it into the wall, you’re likely to be a bit more  conscientious about your foray into consumerism. While the Amish are prohibited  from hooking up to a power grid, they’re generally permitted to use power from  12-volt batteries, diesel generators, propane, solar panels, or hydraulics.

This comes primarily  in the form of power tools, which help the Amish with carpentry duties, though you might also see  it in the form of battery-powered headlights and windshield wipers for their horse-drawn buggies. Which bits of technology the Amish adopt depends on their specific community. There’s no one  Amish group, but a group of smaller sects.

Each one makes a determination on whether  something like a battery-powered drill or gas-powered refrigerator will be beneficial for  them. According to Donald Kraybill, an Amish expert and co-author of the book The

Amish: “[The Amish are] more cautious — more suspicious — wondering is this going to be helpful  or is it going to be detrimental? Is it going to bolster our life together, as a community,  or is it going to somehow tear it down?” Each Amish community is governed by the  Ordnung, the German word for “order.” It’s a kind of policy guideline dependent in some  part on the Amish sect. In Pennsylvania alone, there are hundreds of Amish districts, which means  there’s no one single rulebook that applies. But what about the big two technologies of modern  life—computers and smartphones?

Some Amish believe having computer processing power is integral to  their business, and so they seek out PC builds that are as basic as possible. Some companies  have even filled this niche market by advertising computers that have no internet access, graphics,  or sound. Even the case can be made out of wood.

This Amish-ization can also extend  to other things. A power tool, for example, may have the motor taken out  and replaced with something air-powered. Nor have the Amish been able to completely avoid  smartphones.

When telephones became widespread in the early 20th century, the Amish began installing  them—until prohibitions were placed on them, citing concerns that community members  might resort to a phone call instead of a personal visit. Phones might, the thinking  went, encourage gossip. Speculating on who Bradley Cooper may be dating may not be an  existential threat to the Amish way of life, but it’s probably not going to help, either.

Sometimes, communities will rely on a phone shanty, basically a phone booth, to make communal  use of a phone. But some adults also carry phones for the same reason they have computers—to  engage with employees and customers. And some younger members of the Amish community are  sometimes tempted by the ease of social contact.

Now, you may be wondering what kinds  of businesses the Amish are in that require all this processing power. It’s  a myth that the Amish are only farmers, which brings us to our next misconception. Conjure up an image of the Amish and you might think of plain-living people with  meager financial resources.

Granted, you won’t see many displays of ostentatious wealth  from the Amish community. No flashy jewelry, no rims on their buggies. Although that would  be delightful.

But make no mistake about it. The Amish are not obligated to remain poor. According to a 2017 New York Times piece on the evolution of the Amish community, the wide-open  spaces of areas like Lancaster can start to become a little crowded, leaving Amish business  owners to think beyond the country.

Some open businesses in town, like bakeries or  other food shops, and then commute back to their more easy going life at home. These businesses and entrepreneurs can often be very successful. The Times reported that  as many as 2000 Amish-owned businesses are in and around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, some of  which are multimillion dollar success stories.

Amish craftspeople can develop reputations for  expertly-crafted woodworking or food preparation. That, in turn, creates a lot of consumer loyalty. It's hard to know exactly why the Amish are so successful—maybe it’s a lack of distraction  or a devotion to quality work—but according to Donald Kraybill, just 10 percent of  Amish start-ups fail.

That’s compared to the 50 percent failure rate of non-Amish small  businesses. And don’t forget land ownership, which can also add to their wealth portfolio. Now, I’m not suggesting the Amish are throwing piles of cash around like hay bales.

Some Amish  businesses may only turn a modest profit. And broadly speaking, they do tend to have higher  rates of cash-poor community members. But the idea that they’re all indigent isn’t right.

Because of their consumption habits and ability to support one another, relatively few  Amish people rely on public assistance—hardly any receive food stamps, for example. Amish communities often pool money to assist members in need, as in the case of a  medical emergency. That’s about the extent of their reliance on financial assistance.

They frown  upon debt. They also save a nice chunk of money by growing their own food, making their own repairs,  and not running out to buy the latest iPhone. But if the Amish are running successful businesses  in towns, how are they getting there?

Don’t they avoid cars? There’s a workaround for that. Now, this one is partially true.

Most Amish communities were practicing social distancing long  before it was recommended. Not from each other, but from the world at large. One way that’s  accomplished is by passing up easy transportation.

In Amish-heavy areas, you might even see parking  spaces for a horse and buggy at places like Walmart or Costco. For the Amish, a horse-drawn  cab helps them keep life at a slow pace and also works to symbolize their faith. After all, a horse  can only go so far, which means the Amish can’t stray far from their community ties.

But that  doesn’t mean they never climb inside a car. Some Amish take advantage of a kind of loophole  in their religious doctrine that permits them to be a passenger in a motor vehicle. They  can pay for what’s known informally as an Amish taxi, which is a car service that  provides transportation for the Amish.

We actually got a comment on our video covering  misconceptions about the 50 states from someone who claimed to have driven Amish people on many  occasions. (I’m inclined to take them at their word, because that would be one of the strangest  lies of all time.) They pointed us towards another misconception: some people say the amish  think photographs will steal their souls. Though it’s true that the Amish are against  prideful acts, and might resist photography for that reason, that supernatural  explanation seems to have been an outside invention. It’s hard to account  for every Amish person in every sect, but numerous experts on the community say  they’ve never heard of that soul-stealing belief.

As a general rule, though, you shouldn’t take  anyone’s photo without asking for permission. Don’t be a creep. Providing the Amish person in question  doesn’t own the car or operate it, riding is generally agreeable to community leaders.

And  obviously, the driver they hire can’t be Amish. Where do they go? In addition to work,  Amish may want to travel to go shopping, see family out of town, or run errands.

They might also use public transportation, like a bus. Planes, however, are  usually out of the question. If you manage to spot an Amish person driving a  car, you may have encountered an Amish-Mennonite, a kind of hybrid faith that blends some  of the conservative beliefs of the Amish with some more liberal ideas.

Alongside Beachy  Amish, who are sometimes treated as the same, these groups also speak English, not Pennsylvania  Dutch, and may also have more latitude when it comes to contemporary-looking clothing. But  again, when most people, even most experts, say Amish, they mean Old Order. There is one other motor vehicle exception.

Some Amish teenagers are compelled  to learn to drive or even purchase a vehicle for themselves. And while parents may disapprove, not  all Amish communities will prohibit it. It’s part of the Amish tradition of letting younger  members get a taste of the outside world, which you may have heard of—it’s called  Rumspringa.

And it’s not exactly spring break. Rumspringa is a period of time in an Amish  person’s life—typically in their mid to late teens—when it’s permissible to experience more  of the outside world. To get a taste for modern society.

If you believe the media, Rumspringa is  also a time when kids are encouraged to drink, have premarital sex, and generally  live out a John Hughes movie, all with the full consent of their parents. Not quite. Rumspringa, which usually begins at the age of 16, does indeed allow young Amish the  freedom to step outside the boundaries of their Amish household and see new places or make new  friends.

But at no point do parents encourage their kids to binge-drink or act irresponsibly. While kids can use Rumspringa to get slightly wild, they’re still held accountable to  their parents. And not all communities are as freewheeling as others.

Some may simply  allow kids to meet their peers in social settings. Others might just go swimming in a pool  or listen to music. Most Amish teens who venture into this rite of passage don’t wind up drunk or  experimenting with drugs.

The most indulgent thing they do could be walking into a bowling alley. Nor is Rumspringa—which means “running around” in Pennsylvania German—set up as some kind  of ultimatum. It’s not really designed as a last chance for young Amish to decide they don’t  want to officially become a member of the church, though some kids may make that decision on their  own.

Rumspringa is, in many ways, a method to satisfy their curiosity about the outside world  so it doesn’t come creeping up later in adulthood, when their absence would be more damaging to their  culture. The rite of passage also plays a role in finding a spouse. The expectation is that young  people will come back, get baptized, get married, and settle into Amish life.

That’s what roughly  four out of five Amish teens wind up doing. And if they do decide to leave the church, they’re  not excommunicated or shunned. They can’t be because they were never a formal member to begin  with.

That doesn’t happen until they’re baptized. There’s another reason you can’t really  be shunned from an actual Amish church. Have you ever seen a big, impressive  Amish church full of congregants?

No? That’s because there aren’t any. While the Old Order are deeply religious and subscribe to a strict set of values,  they don’t attend a formal church built for the express purpose of worship.

Instead,  the Amish typically congregate in their homes or in nearby buildings like a barn or workshop. That’s because the Amish generally believe faith is in an interior experience that doesn’t require  dedicated buildings. It also means they don’t have to spend time or money on the upkeep of a  building meant strictly for religious services.

Because each congregation is made up of 25 or 30  families, they have to live close enough to get to each other’s houses for worship. Having smaller  groups also helps the Amish form tightly-knit bonds with others in their community. They don’t necessarily attend every week, either.

Biweekly church services are the norm,  with other devotional activities held during the off weeks. Because of this schedule,  no one Amish family needs to worry about hosting the others at their house too often. The math comes out to about once a year.

So—where does everyone sit? The Amish  have a plan for that. Wagons devoted to transporting benches are utilized so church  members can be comfortable for the services, which can last as long as three hours.

Of course, I don’t have any first-hand experience with anything we’ve talked about, because as  someone who mainlines Netflix, talks to Alexa, and is mildly interested in who Bradley Cooper  is dating, I would be prohibited from living in an Amish paradise. Right? Not necessarily.

There’s no question that Amish communities  prefer to keep their distance from outsiders, not wanting to risk mainstream culture polluting  their simple lifestyles. But does that mean they would refuse a former suburbanite? Nope.

The Amish, especially the aforementioned Amish-Mennonites, do sometimes welcome what’s  referred to as a seeker—a person raised in another religion who wants to pursue the peace  and relative solitude of an Amish community. These seekers approach the Amish with a desire to learn  more about their culture and a willingness to adopt their beliefs, work ethic, manner of dress,  and language. They’re looking to leave behind the conveniences of the modern world.

If the Amish  community believes that person is sincere, and that person remains convinced they want to  join the Amish after experiencing their life, then it’s possible they could be welcomed in. This is, admittedly, a rare occurrence. Of the 300,000 or so Amish living in the United  States, no more than 200 are estimated to be converts.

Most of the people who wish to  be Amish simply adopt some of their customs, like avoiding technology, but remain in their own  communities. For most, it’s too difficult to give up the modern world. Imagine spending 18 or 25  years of your life enjoying air conditioning, cars, and pop music, only to have it disappear.

You don’t need to be Amish in order to try and slow down and enjoy life more. Much of what the Amish practice isn’t about finding anything evil or corrupt with  modern society. They just want to focus on what matters most—family, civility, and happiness.

If you think about it, you probably have more in common with the Amish culture than you think. We hope we’ve cleared up some misconceptions about the Amish, and to any Amish watching  on a smartphone, we apologize for any harm Vanilla Ice may have caused. He does  not speak for us.

See you next time.