As a red-blooded American, I grew up with a certain understanding of life. America was the greatest country on earth, blessed by God and hard work, and everybody wanted to be like us. Our military was the best in the world and every war we every fought was righteous, defending freedom and fighting oppression. Our forefathers were great men of God and were the smartest, bravest, and most honest men of all time. We even had great contemporary teachers like Schoolhouse Rock to teach us everything we needed to know about history, math, astronomy, grammar, and even the wonders of capitalism in action. (Link to Schoolhouse Rock Dollars and Cents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV6YaTbNvvE )
As I got older, reality set in. Not everyone wants to be like America. Much of our history is appalling. Many of our actions and policies have had devastating effects on others both domestically and internationally. At least the church is there help mediate the damage! But wait; according to Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and The “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, the Protestant Church actually helped bring into existence modern capitalism and all the problems that accompany it.
Weber exposes and interesting journey that led the Protestant Church to redefine the purpose of work and the pursuit of wealth. In examining the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, he points out that, since some are predestined to be saved and others for destruction, those who believed they are saved seek some kind of assurance. Since it is impossible to know if one is “truly saved”, the best evidence is in living a life of good works. While works may not save a person, they are a solid evidence of the internal grace that has been given. “Thinking about having to repeatedly prove one’s state of grace, the guarantee of one’s eternal future, was the inner driving force for the Calvinist, and drew his attention emotionally to the present, in which the predestined Christian must constantly endeavor to gain self-confidence afresh in restless and successful labor in his calling.” Labor was no longer simple a means to gain the necessities of life, it was the calling of every true Christian. To prove one’s diligence in labor, one needed to be successful. The best way prove that one was successful was to show a profit. Weber’s assertion is that the Calvinists had to become successful, wealthy capitalist to verify that they were part of the elect.
Weber does not stop at the Calvinists, he targets the Arminians as well. He claims that doctrines such as christian perfection are just a substitute for Calvinist need to “prove” themselves. Either way, the Protestant Church must perform works as a test of their salvation. “Radical Calvinists, Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, Methodists, and the ascetic branches of continental Pietism all believe that only proving oneself in life [Bewährung], and particularly through labor in a calling, can bring assurance of regeneration and justification. This belief led inevitably to the conviction that the “proven” Christian is the one who is proven “in his calling,” in particular the efficient businessman (from the capitalist point of view). This type of Christianity was one of the chief educators of “capitalist” man.”
Weber brings up some good points that cause deep reflection. Few would argue that capitalism developed within a “christian” culture, but did the church really cause capitalism? Would capitalism have developed without the Protestant Church? It is impossible to separate the intertwined histories of the church and the culture since the church lives within culture, but Weber seems to negate certain key issues.
Capitalism was beginning to function in parts of Europe prior to the Reformation as a growing merchant class sought ways to invest and participate in a growing trade market as sea transportation advanced. He also seems to take a low view of the doctrine that developed following the Reformation as the Protestant Church began to search the scriptures for the answer to the question “how then shall we live”. He seems also to assume that people like the founding father of America were striving to be good Christians trying to prove their salvation. Was Benjamin Franklin trying to help American Christians grow in the assurance of their faith or was he trying to motivate men and women to work hard and build a new nation?
 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and The “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), Kindle Book, loc, 3177.
 Ibid., loc. 5520.