“The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Weber Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Historical context

The document exploring protestant capitalist ethics in the USA was written in the year 1903, a time when the secular undercurrents that characterize capitalist dealings today had yet to take root. Although the country was not particularly religious, the church appears to have been instrumental in facilitating the smooth transaction of business and other money-related affairs for parishioners.

In the contemporary period, one’s worth as a businessperson is largely determined by their liquidity or the state of credit, according to their banker. However, in the period examined, church-mindedness occupied the position of credit investigations since churches would only admit people whose fiscal reputations qualified them to mix with the rest of the flock. While faith was a consideration, if one was found to be unreliable in their business dealings, it could result in their ex-communication or denial of admittance into the congregation.

Consequently, churches acted as mini financial institutions, and this gave credit to the Calvinist claim that the Protestant ethic contributed a great deal to modern-day capitalism. Baptists and other sects, by carefully screening the people they admitted, managed to increase the prosperity of their church since people would naturally gravitate towards fellow Christians in business transactions.

Therefore, many entrepreneurs tried to associate themselves with the various sects since they were sure of a consistent customer base, unlikely renege on their financial obligations. In addition, the connection between an individual’s affairs and the church was so strong that the latter would take responsibility for their debts if one inadvertently come to ruin. Ultimately, it is apparent that during the period in question, several sects existed both as corporate and religious entities. In most cases, the corporate aspect was more overt, probably because it is easier to regulate and control finances than personal piety.

The nature of money

An overt and explicit argument addressed in the document is that money, in the United States at the time, could independently buy one power but not social honor. Simply being wealthy did not qualify one for admission into a higher social class. Unlike other countries in Europe, such as Germany, where the backdrop of feudalism made it honorable to be of noble birth or breeding, in the US, it was quite different.

Pedigree, while it had its value, was not as respected as the idea of being a self-made man. In the social circles, a man with inheritance found that having struggled to create one’s wealth was deemed the more honorable way to riches. In the Puritan tradition, money was used by society to create a balance between the secular and religious. One’s acceptance of salvation in the church was proof they had it right with God while their prosperity was seen as a sign that he had accepted them since wealth, after all, came from him.

In this setting, money was perceived as a tool through which one could raise the ranks without necessarily needing an inheritance, education, or any of the attributes that created conventional social stratifications. However, this argument fails to take to account the fact that the church members gradually rose above the rest of the society just like feudal lords as they accumulated more wealth.

Political and moral implications

Nevertheless, since they were united in their faith, they probably did not view this as immoral because their way of thinking, making money legally was God’s way of indicating approval of their actions. In a sense, if one was poor, they probably deserved it for not living right with the Lord. Morally, the argument about money appears to some extent, to contradict the nature of religion from a traditional understanding since wealth does not rank very highly in regards to Christian piety.

Combining religion with money, otherwise considered prosperity gospel, is common even today where wealthy believers justify their condition as a divine blessing. From a political standpoint, in the historical backdrop, the network of wealthy, influential people closely united by their faith made churches very potent sources of political power. In most elections, members would vote for, either their own or the person their leaders considered closest to their definition of upright.

Consequently, politicians often tried whatever they could to cultivate a positive relationship with churches since it would provide them decisive political mileage. Even in the modern day setting, where the sects discussed no not hold as much influence, they are major political players since their shared beliefs are useful in getting a majority to vote in the same direction. Furthermore, rich church members can afford to sponsor their preferred candidates because they collectively control significant wealth.

In the end, the moral and political implications of money in the religious context examined are highly complex, and it is hard to determine with certainty if they were always justified. However, there is no denying the fact that, with the financial power and control over dominant religious faith, it is easy for a group to justify its actions as moral.

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