In 1905 Max Weber, one of the most influential social theorists, published probably his most widely read book, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, in which he argues that one of the most influential ideas of the reformation was that material success was a measure of spiritual favor. Weber also argues that this was the main driving force behind the rise of Capitalism of Western Europe and, of course the United States. i am not going to discuss the theological trail or implications of Weber’s hypothesis in this blog. Rather, I will discuss it in my Christian Heresiology blog when we discuss the reformation as heresy, which it is.
It is this link between Protestantism and capitalism is at the core of the economic philosophy of political fundamentalism in the United States today, since most, if not all, political fundamentalists are also religious fundamentalists. By religious fundamentalists I mean conservative evangelical protestants. I find the Christian Fundamentalist idea that material success is a measure of god’s favor hysterically funny since Jesus and his disciples, as well as the earliest Christian communities in and around modern-day Israel, owned little or nothing and what they did own was held in common. There are numerous sayings in the canonical gospels attributed to Jesus that make it very clear that material success was a hindrance to entry into the kingdom of Heaven. If you want to understand Weber’s explanation of how Protestantism became to the conclusion that material success was a measure of God’s favor, I suggest that you read the book. It’s not particularly long nor a difficult read. Something that I will discuss in greater detail in my Christian Heresiology blog, but I want to mention it briefly here, is that I feel the roots of this link between christianity and capitalism can be found in the Acts of the Apostles. The original disciples send Paul to collect contributions from the Gentile churches in Asia minor to show his acceptance of their leadership and to help support the Christian communities in and around Jerusalem. From his letters it appears to me that Paul found this idea of Christian “communism” rather distasteful. He often stresses his own reluctance to accept charity and boasts of his own economic self-sufficiency because he has a trade that allows him to earn money anywhere. He often encourages the members of the Churches he founded to be equally self-sufficient. I suspect that, unlike the Jerusalem Christian communities, Paul and his followers were not really expecting an immediate Apocalypse. As I pointed out in my latest post on Christian Heresiology, there is a very close tie between Christian theology and it’s struggle for political power. Europe at the time of the reprimation saw the birth and rise of the middle class, a group that achieved economic success without the benefits of noble-birth or inherited wealth. The Middle Class was flexing its political muscle and demanding political power to rival the long-standing power of the futile lords. This political struggle was best exemplified by the rise of cities and towns who recieved their charters from the ruling monarchs rather then the local lords. Many of the local lords were also members of the catholic hierarchy or had family members in that hierarchy. It is not surprise that the Reformers found their main support from the citizens of these free town and cities, and therefore, tied ther developimg theology to the aspirations of the middle class.
Modern-day American Protestant leaders have taken this link between Protestant theology and the Middle Class to new heights. They have further distorted the Christian message and American political ideals/history to further their misguided (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here) agenda. It is time for all Americans to wake up to the reality of their machinations. The U.S. never has been and never should be a one religion country. It was founded on the principles of religious, political and economic freedom. Whether the Fundamentalists want to admit it or not, this country is and always has been a country built by immigrants coming from diverse economic, religious, cultural, and ethnic background, even the Fundamentalists. It is this ability to accept and merge these immigrants into the melting pot of America that has made us a strong nation. To really see what happens to a nation that tries to maintain the fiction of ethnic purity, I suggest you study closely what happened in Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. The latter two dissolved into multiple political entities based on ethnicity. This is the future we may face if we do not retreat from the ever-increasing anti-immigration stridency of the political Right.