The Amish are an unusual group of people in the light of modern American culture.
They’re ideologically and religiously isolated from just about everyone else, and many of them may have family heritage in their hometowns that goes all the way back to the colonization of the New World.
Naturally, the Amish are best-known for their round rejection of modern conveniences.
But there’s still a question that a lot of people want to ask.
Do the Amish drive cars? No.
In fact, the Amish so unanimously reject driving cars that it’s one of the many ways to tell Amish from Mennonites.
Still, the Amish have ways to get around in the world that allow them to travel long distances. These are essentially loopholes in their belief system that are passively endorsed by Amish communities themselves.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at the beliefs that prevent the Amish from driving cars and the loopholes that they’ve created so they can conveniently travel long distances.
First, let’s take a look at what the Amish believe that prevents them from driving themselves.
1. Amish Beliefs That Prohibit Driving
The prevailing Amish belief that prohibits driving is their belief against luxury.
Driving, by its nature, allows people to travel long distances in shorter amounts of time. It doesn’t provide anything that the Amish can’t already do without, so it’s deemed a luxury.
Other Amish communities may have different interpretations of this overarching thought.
Some of these more conservative communities may have hard-and-fast rules against the use of gas-powered equipment in general. For them, driving is a completely alien concept that is forbidden to them.
For other sects, they’re free to use gas-powered equipment, but they believe that their horses and buggies transport them just fine, so a car would be a luxury.
These are just two examples, and you’re sure to find regional variations of these beliefs depending on the heritage of an Amish person who you ask.
But the results are always the same.
The Amish don’t drive.
However, that rule only applies to an Amish person in the driver’s seat.
What about riding in a car as a passenger?
This comes down to a few handy loopholes in the Amish belief system.
2. Loopholes That Allow the Amish to Travel Long Distances
Most commonly, the Amish will ride as passengers with people who offer to drive them places for work or convenience.
Sometimes called “Amish haulers,” these people tend to be retirees who want to earn side income, former members of the community, or friends of the community through other means.
The concept of “hauling Amish” is somewhat similar to the Orthodox Jewish concept of a sabbath goy. In Judaism, a goy is someone who isn’t Jewish who can help Orthodox Jews do things on the Sabbath, a day that is reserved for absolutely no form of work whatsoever.
In some sects of Judaism, this extends to everyday tasks that may be as simple and ubiquitous as flipping a lightswitch.
While this may sound like an obscure concept to those who live in areas with low Jewish populations, it’s fairly common in areas that strictly adhere to tenets of Judaism.
Most famously, Elvis Pressley was a sabbath goy.
There’s no one who hauls Amish that’s as famous as Elvis, but the principles are the same. The Amish, like Orthodox Jews, look for people of a different belief system so that they can do the things that their beliefs prohibit.
On top of that, some Amish communities are becoming wise to the fact that the world is changing more rapidly and more significantly than ever before.
As a result, there are those who will admit that some things need to change in order for the Amish to thrive in a world that continually relies on high-tech gadgetry.
This prompts the Amish to apply their old-school beliefs to new-school opportunities.
For example, the Amish may admit that the distance travelled in a car is unnecessary and, as a result, a car is a luxury.
However, they can also argue that they need to travel long distances in order to find good work — like many Amish carpenters do. This is common in places like Lancaster where Amish workers are often contracted to do high-paying work in places like West Chester and the Philadelphia suburbs.
So how can they justify getting in a car?
The idea is that work is essential to life. An Amish man has to provide for his family, and that may entail taking a job in West Chester when he lives in Lancaster.
That’s an unreasonable distance to travel by buggy in a single day.
But the payment is required for the Amish family to live.
As a result, that Amish individual can make a valid argument for the necessity of using a car.
But even so, using a car does not mean owning a car.
And that’s how you get to the surprising existence of the micro-economy around hauling Amish.
There’s another question we can ask after this, though. The Amish are well-known for their stringent belief system and rejection of worldly delights.
So why on Earth are there loopholes in their belief systems?
3. Why Are There Loopholes in Amish Beliefs?
Even though the Amish are zealous in their adherence to their way of life, even they’re capable of seeing that the world is changing.
And if there’s one thing the Amish haven’t done for about 400 years, it’s change.
So this new generation of Amish is much more aware of what’s happening in the world — again, depending on the geography in which they live.
For example, Lancaster Amish are sometimes called “liberal Amish” because they’re much more independent than some of their stricter cousins.
The Amish communities in Lancaster embrace some modern ideas like electricity and even smartphone usage. It’s not uncommon to meet an Amish person who has an active email address.
So how do they get away with this when the Amish belief system strictly forbids electricity?
It depends on the community.
Some say that electricity is fine to have in a barn because it’s not someone’s living space and, as a result, not a distraction from family.
Others say that, much like riding as a passenger in a car, these items and services have become essential to life in the modern world.
Still others will go so far as to attach new stipulations to these loopholes. It’s now common to find Amish barns in the Lancaster area, among others, that have solar panels on the roofs.
Because they’re generating their own electricity from the sun, so it’s not the same source as the technology that creates grid electricity.
Does any of this make sense? Not really, no.
But does that matter? Also no.
The only thing that matters is that the logic behind these decisions makes sense to the Amish community that chooses to embrace them.
Once that’s done, it’s done.
Want More about the Amish?
Sign up for our newsletter!
We publish a weekly blog post that talks about Lancaster PA, its people, and the subcultures that inhabit it.
Once you sign up, you’ll hear the latest from us in our little slice of paradise.
Sign up today!
2 thoughts on “Do the Amish Drive Cars? (From an Ex-Mennonite)”
I have mennonite friends and they own a car but all the chrome has been stripped from it. Apparently Mennonite sects have different rules, etc. My friends are Brethren, I believe..
I have a Dutch background and married into the Mennonite faith. Alot of the foods that my mother made are similar to that of my mother in law so I guess some culinary foods they brought with them from holland in the 1600-1700 they took to Prussia and than Russian Ukraine Comfort foods I guess. I enjoyed reading your articles being an “Englisher”. John