The Amish tend to shun the spotlight, so it can be difficult to get a window into their world. But after Charles Roberts, a 32-year-old milk truck driver, burst into an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania on Monday, killed five schoolgirls execution-style and then shot and killed himself, the Amish have had to confront the outside world in a tragic way they never anticipated.
The Amish choose to live in a world that's isolated from modern conveniences, like cars and electricity — and from modern dangers. The Amish don't use electricity, don't have telephones and don't use computers. The essentially live as though they are still in the 19th century.
According to Dr. Donald Kraybill, who has studied the Amish extensively, there are about 200,000 Amish who live in 27 states and 350 geographical settlements. They came from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and have lived lives largely separate from mainstream American society ever since.
"It's a biblically based understanding of their way of life, and they seek to apply their unique ways in terms of their selective use of technology, the way in which they interact with the outside world," he told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.
Elam Zook grew up and lived in the Amish community for nearly 30 years. He left about a decade ago.
"There's always a struggle of how much of the outside world should we accept or embrace or condone," Zook told The Early Show correspondent Tracy Smith. "There was the sense that you were protected," he said.
Aaron Meyers came to the United States from Europe and decided to live this very separate life — an idea that he said originates from the Book of Romans in the Bible which says "you should be in the world, not part of the world," he said.
Meyers owns a buggy company in Lancaster County, Pa. He is a member of a Plain sect, which is similar to the Amish in that they stay separate from mainstream culture.
"The principle originally was that you didn't have a wire coming into your farm because that would connect you up with the outside," he told Harry Smith. "It's very literal."
The Amish are opposed to commercial insurance and believe they should depend on each other, Kraybill said.
"They have tremendous networks of social support for mutual aid. Whenever there's a misfortune of some kind, the community rallies around," he said. "There's a large extended family network. The average Amish person will have 75 or 80 first cousins, many living within a few miles."
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