Protestant Ethic And The Evolution Term Paper

Length: 23 pages Sources: 7 Subject: Mythology - Religion Type: Term Paper Paper: #62928220 Related Topics: Protestant Reformation, Max Weber, John Keats, Emile Durkheim
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Any one who tried to gain enough power and wealth would be considered a threat to the power of the church and was therefore quickly deposed of their wealth.

Weber proposed that even though Catholics tolerated a greater display of outward wealth, Protestant doctrines asked the followers to concentrate on mundane pursuits. It also asks its followers to accept a lower station in life without a hierarchical structure to force the issue. There were no examples of upward mobility or examples of extravagance to follow. The Protestant faith in promoted a pride in one's work and the "work and Save" ethic. The members were self-motivated, not forced into submission by the Church. This was a key difference between these two philosophies. Weber claimed that this attitude was much more productive than the Catholic idea of wealth attainment. The Calvinists had a word which meant ones calling, or duty on earth. The term beruf means total dedication to the calling that one has given you in life. Weber argued that this work ethic led to higher economic productivity and Protestant communities.

Catholic society promoted the constant movement and striving for upward mobility. No one was satisfied where they were and many saw their current position as simply a stopping point on their way to higher and better positions. If they felt that a position was below them they may not put as much effort into it because they always had their eye on a bigger prize. The Catholic work ethic promoted the idea of never being satisfied. This contrasted with the Protestant idea which promoted satisfaction with one's work, regardless of how lowly it might seem. Weber felt that the most important element in productivity within the community was the amount of dedication that the worker felt towards their task.

In the Protestant community held the conviction that excess expenditure and lavish display was considered sinful. Protestant communities were thrifty as well as more productive than Catholic communities. Another key difference between the Protestant community and the Catholic community is that the Catholic Church felt they had the authority to forgive sin. The Protestant church did not believe that sins could be forgiven by man. Sins on earth could only be forgiven by a higher power therefore the person had to stay faithful in all of their dealings, including modest consumption and hard work in order to receive their just reward in the end. The thrifty lifestyle of the Protestants meant that they earned and saved more than Catholics, who had a tendency to spend it as soon as they earned it.

Weber used this difference in ideology as the basis for his theory that capitalist accumulation was born directly out of the Protestant work ethic. Protestant churches did not condone the acquisition of wealth, but rather indirectly promoted it through its dedication to one's purpose in life and philosophy of thriftiness. Without this change in the society it would have been difficult for the accumulation of wealth take place in the lower classes. Catholicism promoted extravagance and wealth, but only for the upper classes. It could even be said that it took a predatory stance on the lower classes using them to feed the wealth of the aristocrats. Weber felt these changes that allowed the lower class to accumulate wealth were necessary in order to promote the idea of capitalism.

The acquisition of wealth was later legitimized and born out of the idea of greed. Weber considered greed to be the true creator of capitalist society. However, many of his contemporaries felt that the capitalistic society created greed, rather than represented a byproduct of it. The Protestant work ethic set the stage for the cumulative wealth. However, society still had to go through many changes before the idea of capitalism could develop. The structures of the Catholic hierarchy would not allow the growth of capitalism. Those that were in control would not...


Under this structure the system was more likely to revert to a feudal state rather than give rise to capitalism.

The Protestant work ethic and encouraged members of the secular world to develop their own enterprises and to engage in trade. It encouraged them to pursue the accumulation of wealth and to use it wisely for investment purposes. This change encompassed a large portion of mass society. Under the Protestant work ethic the worker had the opportunity to attain wealth that would not have been allowed under a feudal system. The common person now had the ability to achieve upward mobility, as long as they were careful not to outwardly display it. They were free to save and work in order to make themselves a better life. There was no outside forced to strip them of it if they became too powerful. The Protestant movement gave the common people a chance that they had never had in the past. It was a stark contrast to the life in a Catholic community where such an effort would have been squashed. The Protestant movement gained ground largely because they gave the individual freedoms that they had never experienced in the past.

Individualism and a focus on one's personal connection with God and God's plan for the individual's life was a key element in the ability of capitalism to develop. Catholicism was much more institutionalized and focused on the church rather than individual relationships with God. The Protestant movement focused on individual spirituality. The individual no longer had to rely on a religious entity to achieve salvation, to obtain education, or to interpret the scriptures for them. This closer connection to God gave the individual power. This newfound power was the key to the rise in popularity of the Protestant movement.

The Protestant movement directly preached against greed for profit with minimal effort. Instead it promoted an ethic of hard work and a humble life. It destroyed the idea that one never has enough and should continue to strive for the next highest level in social status. Protestant ideas promoted the idea that one should be happy where they are as long as they are following their own calling. Rather than doing the minimal, the Protestant ethic doing the best job that you can do because everything one does in their life should be to glorify God. The focus of the Protestant religion is not on self and worldly attainment of wealth, but on fulfilling ones purpose of one's destiny. This is a key difference between the philosophies of Protestantism and Catholicism.

In another argument that Weber proposed is that the common person had difficulty adjusting to this new religious worldview. They were used to looking to authority figures for signs that they were living their lives correctly. However, the Protestant movement did not give them an authority structure to which they could turn and be certain that they were on the correct religious path. They needed signs that they were saved and that what they were doing met the approval of the powers that be.

Weber feels that certain members of society, such as Martin Luther fully understood this new religious philosophy. However, the common person needed a physical sign that they were saved. Society began to look for other signs that they were saved; money and achievement of wealth became the symbol. Soon became a common belief that if one were successful economically it was an outward sign that God was pleased with the work that you did. Worldly success became a measure of salvation. If one did not achieve economic success in their endeavors then they could assume that what they were doing was not right in the site of God. Therefore, economic success became a measure of spiritual success. One can see how this idea would easily develop into the capital market system.

The Protestant movement gave the common person a way to have a direct connection to God. Pursuing God's purpose of was no longer limited to the clergy. Anyone could be considered a servant of God regardless of their occupation or trade. Weber saw the Protestant ethic as a paradox. The paradox was that one should forgo worldly possessions and the outward appearance of extravagance for a more inwardly spiritual path. However, the individual was compelled by the same religion to follow their secular trade with as much fervor and zeal as possible. Ironically, a person living like this would be more likely to accumulate more wealth than those who did not pursue their trade was such zeal.

The real irony in is that the Protestant religion, particularly Calvinism, forbade actually using any of the gains earned through a person's pursuit. The purchasing of luxuries or items to make one's life easier was considered sinful. Even donations to the church were limited to the due to the rejection of the use of icons. Donating excessively to the church was seen as idol worship and directly in opposition to the commandment that one should worship only one God.…

Sources Used in Documents:


Ashley, D. And Orenstein, D. 1995. Sociological Theory: Classical Statements, third edition, Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Baechler, J. 1988. The Cradle of Capitalism: the Case of England

John A. Hall & Michael Mann, Europe and the Rise of Capitalism (Blackwell, 1988).

Bendix, R. 1977" Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait. University of California Press.

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