The Not-So-Protestant Work Ethic

 

398px-Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_ProjectIs “the Protestant work ethic” a myth?  Isn’t it really an Anglophile work ethic? Or perhaps it’s a German work ethic (English culture originating from old Germanic / North European tribes). Is the term often applied to the growing Protestant communities in South America, Africa, and Asia?

After the many discussions on Ricochet of salvation by “faith alone” — a belief ultimately shared by Catholics, strangely enough — it seems that defining assertion would, if anything lead to lazier peoples, not more productive ones. There are other differences between Catholics and Protestants, of course. But that one has always been primary.

There have been statistics cited here before showing common incidence of poverty and corruption in Catholic nations. But, as I recall, none of those nations are derived from British culture.

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  1. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Protestant Northern Italy and Catholic Southern Italy have a similar split as well.

    This video puts it all into perspective:

    • #1
  2. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    Very interesting vid Guru.

    • #2
  3. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    It would be interesting to consider Catholic v. Protestant productivity in the German-speaking world. This seems to offer a decent sample size of both Catholics and Protestants. Also, there is no tropical climate in Germany to blame any region’s lack of productivity on.

    • #3
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Interesting.

    “…you work hard to prove that you are God’s chosen people.” But this isn’t any different than the Catholic theology, which agrees that we are saved by faith alone and yet continues to state that good faith necessarily produces good works (and is nurtured by good works).

    “The people in north say, ‘They’re not Italian. They’re German and Austrian.’ ” So, like I said? Northern European values, rather than Protestant values?

    In regard to “the pace of life”, it’s interesting that the North in the US has been the focus of manufacturing, but the South with its leisurely pace of life has been politically more sustainable and is now becoming the preferred location of those industries from other regions.

    Also, the pace of life might just as consistently be linked to climate. Italy is divided into the cool northern mountains and the balmy southern coasts, right? Not only does heat tend to slow people down, but it is obviously more conducive to agriculture. So there is greater emphasis in warmer regions on rural values, which are less oriented to production than to peace and righteousness.

    I do like the underlying time orientation theory, though.

    • #4
  5. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Jordan Wiegand:Very interesting vid Guru.

    Ya’but, he didn’t offer suggestions for how to deal with our tech-addicted kids.

    • #5
  6. Pencilvania Inactive
    Pencilvania
    @Pencilvania

    That is a fascinating video!  I’d love to hear the speaker interviewed on a podcast.

    It is a little amusing, though, that the very well-done graphics in the video are at break-neck, ultra-Protestant speed!

    • #6
  7. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    By the way, I’m not a very productive person and I am certainly present-oriented. But I’ve always thought that had more to do with being an artist than being tech-addicted.

    As an artist, my natural focus is on finding meaning in present experiences and dreams. I find beauty and happiness in the world around me, so I’m content with a relatively cheap lifestyle.

    My awareness of time has always been weak. So I can never remember what day or year something happened and my plans for the future are seldom set to a specific time-table. I can never remember how old anyone is because it’s meaningless to me.

    Theology-wise, I am also largely present-oriented, despite believing earthly life is preparation for eternal life in Heaven. I perceive God as being active in the present world and everything around me, similar to Saint Francis of Assisi (who was productive, but is remembered largely for his appreciation of rural enjoyment of nature).

    My theory about the sloth of younger generations generally is that it’s simply a predictable consequence of affluence. Most human beings are driven by needs, not by a love of labor. Lesser needs = less drive.

    • #7
  8. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Aaron, are you really open to the idea that being a Protestant makes you more hard-working and Catholicism leads to laziness? That you’d really entertain the idea that your religion leads to negative outcomes seems laughable to me. Methinks this ain’t an honest inquiry.

    If someone makes a convincing case are you going to become a Baptist?

    • #8
  9. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    ctlaw:It would be interesting to consider Catholic v. Protestant productivity in the German-speaking world. This seems to offer a decent sample size of both Catholics and Protestants. Also, there is no tropical climate in Germany to blame any region’s lack of productivity on.

    You might also include an examination of Scotland/Northern Ireland vs Ireland, all Celtic.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Severely Ltd.:That you’d really entertain the idea that your religion leads to negative outcomes seems laughable to me. Methinks this ain’t an honest inquiry.

    Doesn’t seem laughable to me. What’s laughable about considering the negative impact of your beliefs? It’s something reasonable, reflective people do.

    Of course it can be overdone. But to never have misgivings about your own beliefs would strike me as… weird.

    • #10
  11. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Western Chauvinist:

    Jordan Wiegand:Very interesting vid Guru.

    Ya’but, he didn’t offer suggestions for how to deal with our tech-addicted kids.

    That sort of presupposes that it is in and of itself a problem, and not so much a function of failing social institutions.  Boys have always done better in more participatory systems.

    Generally, right now society offers jack and squat for young men except a lifetime of toil followed by an early death.  There is no concrete faith that a young man can have in any social, economic, or political institution.  The wholesale collapse in the future time perspective is because there is no plausible good future for the vast majority of people, especially males.

    • #11
  12. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Severely Ltd.:That you’d really entertain the idea that your religion leads to negative outcomes seems laughable to me. Methinks this ain’t an honest inquiry.

    Doesn’t seem laughable to me. What’s laughable about considering the negative impact of your beliefs? It’s something reasonable, reflective people do.

    You stole a base there broadening religion to beliefs. I don’t recall anyone on Ricochet admitting that their religion led to bad outcomes such as engendering laziness (Aaron’s example), but maybe I missed it.

    • #12
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Severely Ltd.:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Severely Ltd.:That you’d really entertain the idea that your religion leads to negative outcomes seems laughable to me. Methinks this ain’t an honest inquiry.

    Doesn’t seem laughable to me. What’s laughable about considering the negative impact of your beliefs? It’s something reasonable, reflective people do.

    You stole a base there broadening religion to beliefs.

    It’s not stealing a base. It was an honest reply.

    Why be so suspicious of Aaron’s inquiry or my honesty?

    • #13
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Severely, I’ve engaged in a similar discussion on Ricochet before. In that thread, I proposed that the Church’s preference for the poor could make it a chicken-or-the-egg situation.

    In other words, perhaps those nations were Catholic before they were poor, rather than because of it. Like in American inner cities, the Church thrives among the poor with its schools and hospitals.

    I am not open to being converted to another Christian tradition, no. But I am willing to consider that Catholic beliefs or culture somehow depress economic activity… or that Protestant theologies somehow empower efforts to bring Christ’s Kingdom “at hand” on Earth.

    • #14
  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    That was supposed to say “poor before they were Catholic” in the 2nd paragraph. I can’t edit the comment.

    • #15
  16. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Aaron Miller:…I am not open to being converted to another Christian tradition, no. But I am willing to consider that Catholic beliefs or culture somehow depress economic activity… or that Protestant theologies somehow empower efforts to bring Christ’s Kingdom “at hand” on Earth.

    I’ll take your word for it–your being open to a flaw in your church’s teaching (and a flaw at serious variance with Conservative orthodoxy)–but I have to say it will be a first for me. How do you square that with your faith? Do you feel you can reject church teaching that in your judgement seems to lead to bad outcomes?

    • #16
  17. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Severely Ltd.:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Severely Ltd.:That you’d really entertain the idea that your religion leads to negative outcomes seems laughable to me. Methinks this ain’t an honest inquiry.

    Doesn’t seem laughable to me. What’s laughable about considering the negative impact of your beliefs? It’s something reasonable, reflective people do.

    You stole a base there broadening religion to beliefs.

    It’s not stealing a base. It was an honest reply.

    Why be so suspicious of Aaron’s inquiry or my honesty?

    I don’t doubt it was honest, by ‘stealing a base’ I meant you were broadening my words to mean something they didn’t. Perhaps even unintentionally. I’d never accuse you of being a thief or a nimble base runner.

    • #17
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Severely Ltd.:I’d never accuse you of being a thief or a nimble base runner.

    No, just of being slippery ;-)

    • #18
  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Severely Ltd.:

    Do you feel you can reject church teaching that in your judgement seems to lead to bad outcomes?

    Catholics, like any Christians, are ultimately judged according to the estimations of our own consciences. But we are called to give preference to Church teachings.

    That means we begin from the assumption that the instruction received from generations of collegiate consideration and prayer on the matter — particularly reasoning passed down from holy saints and bishops — is correct. Good trees produce good fruit, as Jesus says. Not every holy person can well identify or express the foundation of his or her behavior. And no one is perfect in behavior. But there is much to be learned from saints and God’s anointed shepherds.

    Then we test that inherited reasoning against our own knowledge and understanding. If the difference is mild or insignificant to behavior, then one should probably give the Church the benefit of the doubt. If the difference is substantial, then one may in conscience continue to disagree with the Church.

    But, like a disagreement with a most dear loved one (a parent or spouse, for example), that should always remain an uncomfortable disagreement because we hope to be in the nearest possible unity with those we love. Catholics love the Church, even when She frustrates us.

    • #19
  20. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Severely Ltd.:

    How do you square that with your faith?

    To answer you more directly, the Church shepherds us on morals more than ethics. Morals are general principles derived from a definition of fundamental realities. Ethics are the application of those general principles to specific circumstances.

    For example, God commands us to honor our parents. But how specifically should one honor them? Surely, expressions of that love must change from childhood to adulthood and finally in a parent’s old age. But what specifically are those changes?

    These questions can be pursued to endless depth and complexity. If an elderly parent has lost bladder control but refuses to wear diapers, should that decision be respected? Is it okay to badger the parent about it until he or she finally submits? How does that respect for the parent’s free will change as the person becomes senile?

    Ethics are inevitably harder to nail down than morals, and more dependent on specific circumstances. So, while Catholics welcome the bishops’ ethical guidance, the formal teachings to which we are bound in obedience are generally limited to the moral framework which must guide our ethical decisions.

    So, on economics, we must consider principles like subsidiarity and preferential attention to the poor, sick, and downtrodden. We are called to give some portion of everything (including but not limited to material wealth) to God. We are called to remember our dependence on God’s constant graces — to note that all that is good comes from God — and not to trust entirely in our own abilities. We are called to focus on the well being of souls and to remember that all accomplishments and treasures of this world are fleeting.

    The bishops often err in their attempts to apply these principles. And much harm is encouraged by those errors. I myself have publicly criticized individual bishops for a variety of egregious remarks. But on morals, which remain the focus of their teaching authority, Church teaching continues to be logically sound.

    • #20
  21. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Perhaps there is a cart standing before the horse here. Look at the development of the cultures up to their conversion to Christianity and see if there are any similarities there that correlate with their split from Catholicism. I would suspect so. The irony is how often Protestants accuse Catholics of preaching a works based salvation.

    • #21
  22. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Aaron Miller:

    The bishops often err in their attempts to apply these principles. And much harm is encouraged by those errors. I myself have publicly criticized individual bishops for a variety of egregious remarks. But on morals, which remain the focus of their teaching authority, Church teaching continues to be logically sound.

    Looking from the outside, it seems the Church often confuses the two things.

    • #22
  23. Severely Ltd. Inactive
    Severely Ltd.
    @SeverelyLtd

    Aaron Miller:

    Severely Ltd.:

    Do you feel you can reject church teaching that in your judgement seems to lead to bad outcomes?

    Catholics, like any Christians, are ultimately judged according to the estimations of our own consciences. But we are called to give preference to Church teachings.

    Then we test that inherited reasoning against our own knowledge and understanding. If the difference is mild or insignificant to behavior, then one should probably give the Church the benefit of the doubt. If the difference is substantial, then one may in conscience continue to disagree with the Church.

    But, like a disagreement with a most dear loved one (a parent or spouse, for example), that should always remain an uncomfortable disagreement because we hope to be in the nearest possible unity with those we love. Catholics love the Church, even when She frustrates us.

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It seems this is the same latitude fundamentalists take in their interpretation of scripture, which shouldn’t surprise me, but does. I thought the church’s teachings and the Pope’s word on spiritual matters were considered inviolable. Your point allows for an individualism I didn’t think existed in RC doctrine, and the lack of which I viewed as a drawback and thought might account for its weakness in entrepreneurialism.

    [I apologize for that last sentence, but it’s cocktail hour here and I can’t think how to improve on it at the moment.]

    • #23
  24. user_23747 Member
    user_23747
    @

    There is a theological basis for the Protestant work ethic. I doubt Catholics would object to most of it.
    It starts with the creation mandate. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Man is given stewardship over creation. It is important to note that this is before the fall. We were created for work.
    Other passages explain the motivation for work. Even slaves are told to do their work for God, not just for their earthly masters.
    Colossians 3:22-24
    22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

    Don’t confuse the doctrine of justification by grace with antinomianism. That’s a misunderstanding that has been around since New Testament times.
    ​”What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

    The distinctive of Protestant theology of work is that we know our work is never complete. We cannot do enough to avoid punishment. We rely on Christ’s work for our salvation. Our work is in the role of servant. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price”. We don’t work to pay back that price, but to honor God and his work.

    • #24
  25. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    This sermon starting at 16:30 the pastor talks about work (picks up about 23:00 on more of it.) It’s pretty good stuff. The whole series is good, but Matt’s comment reminded me of it. Man was given the task of working the garden even before sin entered creation. Work is not a punishment; rather, it is the primary purpose of man.

    • #25
  26. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    Don’t even get me started on the Orthodox work ethics.

    • #26
  27. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Guruforhire:Protestant Northern Italy and Catholic Southern Italy have a similar split as well.

    Northern Italy is not Protestant. Fewer than 2% of Italians are Protestant.

    • #27
  28. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    So far as I know, the Protestant ethic to do with work is the invention of one man alone, Max Weber. I am surprised that no one has yet said that this guy had no idea whereof he speaks. I invite you to find his commentary on Ben Franklin–he finds morality there, where none had even thought to seek it before!

    It is not protestants as such or protestantism as such that started the protestant ethic. It is something said of English & later of Americans, in a way that does not compare with anything else in the world. There is also no suggestion that the phenomenon Weber tried to understand ever occurred elsewhere independently.

    The argument of Weber is an embarrassment from beginning to end. I see that its parent, but not the embarrassment, has been rejected–nowadays, people just talk about the work ethic–as when James Brown is the hardest working man in show biz. That’s ethics. Or an athlete pays child support for ten kids by eight women while raking in millions for professional sports. That’s ethics, too. Or, of course, when someone trains long & hard to be a successful criminal, terrorist or tyrant–you have to admire Stalin’s work ethic, after all. This is of course like admiring a drug dealer’s work ethic–calling him an entrepreneurial hero, like libertarians sometimes do, talking about capitalism in action. Like when funny rappers talk about being black Republicans-

    • #28
  29. user_1050 Member
    user_1050
    @MattBartle

    I had someone tell me once, “The Protestant work ethic made America what it is – the Catholic work ethic make Latin America what it is.”

    • #29
  30. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    ctlaw:It would be interesting to consider Catholic v. Protestant productivity in the German-speaking world. This seems to offer a decent sample size of both Catholics and Protestants. Also, there is no tropical climate in Germany to blame any region’s lack of productivity on.

    Had a sociology prof in college who defined it not even as a Mediterranean split per se (much less a Protestant vs. Catholic one), but more as a Germano / Celtic vs. Roman split.  The areas which retained Roman (including Romano-Byzantine) culture and law (including the Justinian updates) are the areas with a different work ethic culture.  If you look at the cultural split on a map, it pairs up rather well with a map of Byzantine rule from the Justinian reconquest or what remained of it after about 100 years (by which time the Byzantines had lost most of northern Italy).  The work ethic cultures of German Protestants, German Catholics, Catholic Poles, Catholic or Protestant northern France, etc., are all rather similar.

    • #30

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