“Why do the Amish shun technology?” or “Why do some Amish have cell phones and others don’t?” are questions I get asked quite often.

Below are 3 answers that will help you understand, in a nutshell, what’s going on.

#1

As a general broad rule among traditional Amish, owning or having x technology or modern convenience is approved of by the Church only if it’s a necessity for earning an income. E.g., To date, electricity hasn’t been a necessity to keep food on the table, which is why Amish homes don’t have electricity.

EXCEPTION: Some Amish on the most modern end of the traditional Amish spectrum allow electricity powered by solar in their businesses; there might even be some who are allowed to use it in their homes, but those would be communities or case-by-case families in the vast minority.

NOTE: It’s important to not confuse the Church’s actual mandates with those individuals or families who are breaking or bending Church law by having solar power in their homes.

#2

What is approved of by the Church varies from community to community. That’s why some Amish have cell phones or land lines, and others don’t. Over the past 25 years, more and more Amish communities on the very strict end of the spectrum have been allowing even cell phones for those families whose occupation depends on non-Amish so much that not having a cell phone would mean not being able to earn enough of an income to feed their family.

NOTE: Cell phones, even in communities on the most modern end of the spectrum, aren’t supposed to be taken into the house. The official Church law is that cell phones must remain in a building or location outside, for the same reason that . . .

. . . land phones aren’t allowed inside the house. The reasoning for that is that phones are considered a necessary evil technology and by mandating physical distancing, one is less tempted to do sinful or idle things with the phone.

Again, a ton of rule-breaking or rule-bending goes on. E.g., If you see Amish kids or men on smart phones, that’s officially breaking Church law. They’re supposed to use only flip phones (the less technologically advanced, the less sinful….)

#3

An important concept to be aware of is that Church law distinguishes between the using of or benefiting from technology and the owning of technology. Unfortunately, how those lines are drawn aren’t universal, except in rare cases. What’s approved of varies so much, from community to community, and situation to situation.

Did you know that Amish American children are legally prohibited from going to school past the 8th grade?

This is thanks to 1972 US Supreme Court case, Wisconsin v. Yoder. Check out my post about that.

E.g., It’s universally forbidden for us to drive a car, but we can pay non-Amish to chauffeur us every day all year. And in communities that forbid even phones in barns, it’s not breaking Amish law to run to the non-Amish neighbor and use their phone to make emergency calls or coordinate certain events (e.g., funerals).

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Torah
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