From John Ray's shorter notes
December 17, 2009
Is Protestantism of New Testament or of German origin?
Time for some sociology! I taught sociology for 12 years at a major Australian university so maybe I can claim to have some idea what it is all about. Sociology is actually a lot like climatology. You have to try to find a common thread in a whole lot of crazy data and the thread you think you have found may in the end not be there at all. But some of us like to make the effort anyway. At least we don't try to hide our data in sociology.
Max Weber's essay The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism is considered a classic in sociology and is usually cited with much reverence. When I was teaching in a sociology school myself, it always rather surprised me that my mainly Marxist colleagues seemed to think highly of it. I never quite saw how believers in economic determinism could accept Weber's spiritual determinism. But accept it they did.
I myself was never convinced. Weber makes a good case but I always doubted that competition for signs of election was enough to explain a capitalist orientation. I think Weber was fooled by the rationalizations that Calvinists put up rather than getting to their real motives.
The broader case that Protestantism in general was the spark that created the modern world did however seem to have something going for it. Many of the innovations and inventions that ushered in the industrial age originated from two communities with large Protestant populations: England and the German lands -- from Gutenberg's printing press to Watt's steam engine.
So it was with some interest that I read a report of some recent research which appears to show with considerable rigour that Protesant cities and Catholic cities of the early modern era in fact did equally well and were equally capitalist. I like the article so much that I have reposted it on my Paralipomena blog. The article is certainly strong support for my doubts about the Weber thesis. But does it also throw into a cocked hat the idea that Protestantism in general was beneficial?
Yes and No. It must be noted that the research concerned GERMAN cities only. It is not a comparison of Northern and Southern Europe, for instance. So it is not too disturbing to the theory overall. But the fact that Germans did equally well regardless of religion does strongly reinforce a theory that I put forward some years ago: That it was the Germanness of Protestantism that gave it its power, not its New Testament loyalties.
I am going to get myself into all sorts of strife here but Protestantism is a long way from the New Testament. I have explored the evidence for that at great length on my Scripture blog so let me just summarize that Luther, Calvin and Co. did not throw off much of Catholic theology. Absurdities of pagan origin such as the Holy Trinity mumbo jumbo (which is mentioned NOWHERE in the Bible) and the pretence that Winter solstice celebrations were somehow related to the (unknown) birthday of Christ were retained tout court. The real innovation was political rather than theological: Rejection of the authority of the Pope.
Perhaps the most vivid proof of what Protestantism is NOT lies in the fact that they still set aside the pagan Day of the Sun as their holy day, which runs contrary to every word on the subject in the Bible. Reverence for the sun was virtually universal in pagan religions and the Children of Israel deliberately set themselves aside from all that by making their holy day the day BEFORE the Day of the Sun. Had Protestantism really been a "back to the Bible" movement, they would have reverted to the Jewish Sabbath practice. Sabbath observance is after all a major aspect of Bible teachings. Jesus and the early Christians observed it, though not in a legalistic way. My copy of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance records over 50 references to the Sabbath in the New Testament. But instead of listening to the Bible the Protestants just used it as a fiddle upon which to play their preferred tunes.
So if theology was not the motor for Protestant innovations, what was? I have argued that Protestantism was a set of attiudes that came naturally to people of German stock, which includes the English, of course. Protestantism is an expression of Germanness rather than of the New Testament. But since the Germanness is basic, it is no surprise that German cities performed equally well regardless of their theology. The theology was not the driving force. It was, if you like, an epiphenomenon. All of which fits in well with the new research findings that I have mentioned above. It does however get me into deep do-do with any Leftist -- because Leftists these days refuse to believe in group differences -- no matter how much evidence you rub their noses in. American blacks as a group are just the same as whites as a group, only browner, don't you know?
So any Leftist reading this (if any) should get ready with the shrieks of "racism" now because what I am saying in summary is that the modern world was largely created by people of German origin and that their Protestant beliefs were a product and not a cause of what they were and became. I might note in passing that direct German ancestry is generally reckoned to be more common in the U.S. population than is English ancestry -- though the English themselves came from Germany 1500 years ago (the Anglo-Saxons).
My brief comments above do of course leave out a lot -- for instance the "counter-reformation" which in German lands did to an extent "Protestantize" Catholicism. But I think I have written enough for now. My earlier observations about Germanness are extensive, however, and can be found here or here.
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