Why Should the Devil have all the Good Music?
These were familiar lyrics when I was a youth. Larry Norman had begun a revolution in Christian music. Loosely translated, it meant that we, as Christians, could still have fun!
But in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Max Weber, we’re shown that it wasn’t always that way and in many cases, still isn’t.
Although his writings are about capitalism and how pietistic faith and especially Calvinistic dogma aided in Capitalistic development, it’s also about Christians not having fun.
Religious devotion, Weber argues, is usually accompanied by a rejection of worldly affairs – except wealth for investment
I was brought up in a denomination which believed that that “disenchantment of the world “is a goal to work toward. That the solid ”Christian work ethic” is enviable and that seriousness and soberness is important. Fortunately, my parents didn’t buy into this philosophy completely.
I laughed with my Brother when he and his family visited our home this summer. We were driving through a beautiful and wealthy neighborhood, looking at the homes when my niece (who had been brought up within the same denomination) said “but surely they’re not happy!”
That was and is the mantra for many. Work, responsibility and a stubborn faith (not money or enjoyment of life) bring joy, – but it’s a “joy” that many times doesn’t seem too joyful to others!
Weber also attributed the success of mass production in part, because of the Protestant Work Ethic. Only after expensive luxuries were disdained, could individuals accept the uniform products, such as clothes and furniture, that industrialization offered. Again, doesn’t sound too fun!
I now live in the “hot-bed” of Calvinistic thought. Most last names begin with “Van” and the Dutch Reformed and Christian Reformed headquarters are located in town, as well as Calvin Seminary. So Weber’s writings rang true with me as I see it exemplified in daily attitudes.
Although change has occurred, this mentality of the Protestant Work Ethic is still very present.
Christians here (White, Dutch Christians to be more precise) are still frugal, vote Republican (because as Weber says “donation of money to the poor or to charity was generally frowned on as it was seen as furthering beggary”), are conscious of trying to appear that they are pre-destined (by sending their kids to Christian schools and appearing holy) and believe in a God who controls the tiniest details.
But Calvin might be unhappy if he saw what I see in this epicenter of Calvinism. Many adherents also have cottages on the lake, spend Spring Break in Florida and don’t hesitate to take the family to Europe on a vacation and even drink a little – or a lot – of wine and beer!
But what’s been inherited as the understanding of Protestant Ethic should be re-evaluated. We need to realize that this was a specific leader’s interpretation at a specific time. And although it has continued in some form or the other until now, doesn’t have to mean it’s the only “Jesus way.”
The idea of living life to its fullness has been lost on many Christians. It doesn’t have to mean excessive debauchery, but can mean joy – not duty in what we do. Joy in being forgiven and living under grace rather than the unbearable burden of measuring up to others through a grid of religious justification. Joy in living life to the fullest. Joy in earning money and joy in helping others and encouraging their best. And even the occasional party!
I don’t think the devil has all the good music or the monopoly on fun. Although the Protestant Work Ethic is great for capitalism and…….greed, I’m not sure it’s always best for a life of faith.