Weber’s book, The Spirit of Capitalism, is a founding sociology text. In this book, he advocates that capitalism is a direct result of the protestant work ethic. He argues that we are indebted to our religious heritage for the successes of capitalist economies.
According to Weber, it all began with the dawn of Protestantism. In contrast to the Catholic belief in confession to a priest for absolution, Protestants believe only God is able to forgive anyone and he will not reveal those who have been predestined until the day of judgment. This left Protestants, specifically Calvinists, with high levels of anxiety and desires to prove their worth to God, hoping it would make an impact on their eternity. This led way to the “Protestant work ethic” in which Protestants tried to earn God’s pleasure through constant work.
Traditionally, Catholics had limited the concept of holy work to that of the clergy, but Protestants believed all work was holy work, and could be done in the name of God. This caused Protestants to relate their professional work to a sense of divine purpose. As Protestants reinvested their surplus money back into their work, capitalism was born.
Weber makes an interesting point when he states Protestants stopped believing in miracles. Weber called this, “the disenchantment of the world.” They believed prosperity wasn’t God-ordained but came only through working hard over a number of years. Without a belief in the miraculous, people turned to science. This energy led to new discoveries and technological advances and, according to Weber, capitalism emerged.
Weber’s response to the lack of successful attempts at Capitalism across the globe is simply that those countries still believe in miracles, so their work ethic is not as strong. In order for capitalism to be successful, Weber says the culture of the nation must trump the advancement of the familial status. He explains that anyone can bring about change with the right ideas.
Reading Weber has caused me to reflect on the way the Protestant work ethic has made a impact on the way I view my own work. This is particularly interesting as it pertains to my research on the formation of female leaders in the renewal tradition. I came across a popular article in Christianity Today titled “Workaholic Women and the Wager of Success.” In it, the author wrote,
In a meritocracy such as the modern West, the biggest piece of the pie is supposedly reserved for the hardest working. Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, credited her professional success to her indefatigable work ethic. Only after her divorce and resignation in 2008 could she admit the underbelly of that ethic. In a recent New York Times piece, “Is There Life After Work?” she wrote, “[W]hen I left my job, it devastated me. . . . I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”
Though workaholism is a plight of many westerners, it seems that since women tend to have a more difficult time advancing in their careers, they are often driven to work increasingly harder in order to prove their worth to their organizations. Perhaps we should try Weber’s hypothesis in our own contexts by exercising faith in miracles and leaning less on our own striving. It seems the protestant work ethic served not only as a catalyst for capitalism, but potentially for a misalignment of values when it comes to balancing faith and work. I am faced with the probing question, “How often do I attempt to earn God’s pleasure through my constant work?”
 Max Weber, Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells, ed. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit of Capitalism and Other Writings (New York: Penguin Books, 2002)
 Michel, Jen Pollock. “Workaholic Women and the Wager of Success.” ChristianityToday.com.