Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1 -- Why Horses and Buggies?
Uninformed travelers may be suddenly alarmed if confronted with a horse and buggy traveling down the road driven by a somberly dressed man in a large black hat or a woman wearing a face-concealing bonnet. Has some freakish lapse in time occurred, bringing this antique vehicle from a century ago to a modern asphalt road?
If the travelers should inquire locally they would find it was no mirage they saw but flesh and blood people. These are rural folk, the followers of the "Old Order" of their religious heritage; Amish, Mennonite, German Baptist, or River Brethren. They are "plain people" because of their unadorned life style. They are "Pennsylvania Dutch" because they are descended from Germans who settled in Penn's "Holy Experiment" in the 18th century.
Do They Like Being "Backward"?
Why do these people insist on retaining a 19-century mode of transportation in this supersonic age? Are they a backward, primitive tribe or stubborn traditionalists whose reason for everything is, "This is the way we always did it?" Do they just enjoy being odd? Do they feel that automobiles are sinful? Perhaps if you asked the average Old Order person why he drives a horse and buggy he would find it difficult to give you a clear-cut answer. Others have made statements on their beliefs which are quite logical.
The plain people believe that everyday life cannot be separated from religion. Just as magistrates have divine authority to make laws not expressly mentioned in the Bible and parents need no proof texts to back up rules for their children, so the church has the God-given right to set up guidelines for the spiritual welfare of its people. The rules do not replace the Bible but interpret the Bible as the church feels it applies to life today. If anything is a hindrance to the spiritual well-being of the church it should be abstained from.
Horse-drawn vehicles are an increasingly common sight across the United States and Canada. Large Old Order settlements are found in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. In the last two decades many new settlements have been started in Missouri, Wisconsin, New York, and even Montana. There are presently Old Order communities in 22 states, one Canadian province, and four Latin American countries. With large families and the retention of most of their children, the Old Orders will probably continue to seek new homelands. They are far from a dying people.
The Problem with Cars
The various groups which retain horse-drawn vehicles believe it is very important to maintain a close-knit family, church, and community structure. It is felt that the auto is a disintegrating force on these institutions. With fast, easy transportation readily available, family members are apt to be away from home more often than not, and the church community is likely to become very scattered. The auto also tends to draw people to the city and the plain people feel that this is no place for a Christian to be. After all, they reason, Lot's downfall was his entrance into the city of Sodom. Abraham remained content tending his sheep and cattle far out on the plain.
Old Orders believe that automobiles in the hands of young people are an especially harmful influence. Lovers' lanes and drive-in theaters are a typical part of automobile courtship.
Those promoting and selling cars emphasize that their product is designed for style, speed, comfort, and convenience. The plain people believe that one should deny one's self of these things as much as possible. A life of luxury is not for the Christian.
Few would dispute that cars are often the objects of pride and ostentation. Humility is a central theme in Old Order doctrine. Certainly followers of Christ would want to avoid status symbols and keeping up with the Joneses.
The Old Orders point out that cars are very expensive and that they tend to bring radios into the church if the owner neglects to remove this harmful device from his car. They also insist that automobiles are dangerous. Who ever heard of loss of life due to two buggies crashing? Of course car-buggy accidents are often fatal to the horse driver, but if the Old Order had been driving a car both drivers could have been killed. Would a Christian want to be guilty of sending a sinner to hell, they ask.
A strong point made against the auto is the associated evil of insurance. Many Old Orders avoid liability insurance because they feel it is trusting in man rather than God. Having a written insurance policy would tend to show that a person is expecting something bad to happen. Such a fatalistic attitude is not regarded as scriptural. The Old Orders also wish to avoid an unequal yolk with "worldly" insurance companies who may resort to unchristian tactics to settle a case. In most cases the church district or associated districts help needy members in an unorganized way. In one incident a $10,000 judgement was made against the owner of a buggy involved in a car-buggy accident. The Amish church districts of the area helped pay the amount in full. In some cases, where there is especially heavy car traffic, the Old Orders have resorted to carrying special liability plans of their own or even taking policies from "worldly" companies.
Some critics point out that many of the evils the Old Orders are trying to avoid by using horses and buggies are very much present with them. The buggy drivers believe things would be much worse if they had cars. The temptations and problems increase in ratio to the speed of the vehicle, it is said.