During the time of the feudal system, the government was at a standstill. The Catholic Church had the final word on how things would work. People were born into a certain role in life, and there was nothing the citizens could do about it. The king ruled over everyone, the lords over the knights, and the knights over the serfs. This all changed through the works of Martin Luther. Martin Luther was the man who started the religions of Protestantism. He was a member of one of the Christian churches deriving from the Reformation. The Reformation started in the 16th century when Martin Luther came to the Catholic Church and challenged their rule. He thought that people should be able to increase their production in life. The fact is they were able to work because that is what G-d wanted them to do, and also to be able to make money because this was a sign of grace. Max Weber explains the resulting Protestant Ethic in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in which he shows how the Protestant reformation changed our society into the capitalistic regime it is today.
Everything was stable in the Catholic regime. People had their jobs. People would grow up knowing they would be a locksmith or a shoe man, and that was the job that they accomplished. No locksmith made more than any other locksmith though. The Catholic Church found it sinful to make more of a profit than anyone else in the industry. If a carpenter decided to raise his cost one-day the Catholic Church would reprimand them. If a shoe man decided he would open an hour early and close an hour late this was also looked upon in shame. This was a rigid society in which people could not achieve more even if they wanted to, because their lives were predetermined.
“Remember, time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides”(48). This was a problem for many people in traditional times. Time is money, and if people are not allowed to work longer, or work on days when others don’t, like on a Sunday, then they are not making money. Throughout history one man will always try to beat the rest. It was shameful in traditionalistic views but that is what capitalistic society preaches to us. Work as hard as they can and they will make more than everyone else. If a man could work seven days a week at ten hours a day to make more than the man that works nine hours a day than he would.
Why was it so hard for traditionalistic views to be changed into capitalism? Capitalism violates many human sensibilities in many ways. It violates some of our natural attitudes, provokes criticism, and troubles many people. For the medieval Catholic, purpose in this life is for salvation in the next. The Protestant said people could work in this world and use it for salvation in the next world. There was a virtue in amassing wealth. Work for the sake of work. Weber identifies the key turning point in the change of views of Martin Luther. Martin Luther came up with the doctrine of one’s “calling.” He looked at ordinary work as a task set by G-d. “The absolutely essential feeling of obligation to one’s job, and a cool self-control and frugality which enormously increase performance provides the most favourable foundation for the conception of labour as an end in itself, as a calling which is necessary to capitalism” (63). People don’t have to work because they want to. It is a task set by G-d Himself. Work had this religious value to it, and a big problem with capitalism was the fact that medieval Catholics looked at the idea of capitalism as evil. Anyone who makes a profit without accomplishing any manual labor is committing a sin. The medieval Catholics looked upon merchants and money loaners as illegitimate. They were being rewarded for no good reason. This also led to the birth of the middle class, which also challenged feudalism.
According to John Calvin, who was the man who devised Calvinism, which came out of Protestantism believed that “All creation, including of course the fact, as it undoubtedly was for Calvin, that only a small proportion of men are chosen for eternal grace, can have any meaning only as means to the glory and majesty of God. To apply earthly standards of justice to His sovereign decrees is meaningless and an insult to His Majesty, since He and He alone is free, i.e. is subject to no law” (103). Not every man in this world is going to live a glorious life after death. No man can escape the law of his present life. Work as they can, live their lives now and be free, because when they pass on it may be all over. Calvinists thought they were the chosen people. They lived their lives looking at predestination. What this means is that they believed their lives were determined before they were born. If a man grew up to be successful then this was a way of saying that they have been blessed by G-d. Everyone wanted to be looked at as being accepted by G-d so everybody worked the best that they could so they would be chosen by G-d. If someone were not successful, this would create great anxiety. Calvinism was a very religious version of Protestantism. Work for G-d because work gives the people a way to better themselves, and money was G-d’s way of assigning grace. If they’re doing well it’s because they’re blessed by G-d.
What is the problem with capitalism? Why was it looked down upon? The capitalistic world is an evil one. Out of the seven deadly sins: lust, greed, gluttony, and envy are all aspects of capitalistic nature. The four sins of appetite, because that is what the capitalistic world is: hunger for more. In this world today if someone wanted to try to be better, they could. If a man works hard enough to go to school and start at the bottom of the company, but works that much harder than the rest of his coworkers and keeps getting promotions and raises, then one day he will be at the top. That is the power of capitalism. If someone wants something they have the opportunity to go out and get it. It is not like the communist society where everyone gets the same no matter how hard they work. In communist Russia, if someone was a doctor who studied for years to get their degree they will make the same as a garbage man who didn’t even graduate high school.
Capitalism is a progress of the world. It shows that even in its nonbiblical ways it is a better system for our society as a whole. It gives people a chance to succeed. In feudalism, if someone is born a serf they will stay a serf for the rest of their lives and never be able to become a better person financially and socially, which does help people’s lives physically and mentally. If a man aspires to the position of another than they leave their position and disrupt society. However aspiration can be a diversion of spiritual concerns according to the feudal Catholic regime. It can mess with the social organism. Traditional societies are based on order and hierarchy. In today’s society people are encouraged to order themselves. There is no established scheme. If a man is homeless they still have that opportunity to become something as long as they work hard at what they are trying to accomplish.
Asceticism played a big role in the change of traditionalistic views to modern capitalistic views such as practicing self-denial especially for religious reasons. Earlier many people did not want to succeed because of their ascetic beliefs. They figured if they were to try and get out of the system then they would be persecuted by the Catholic Church and by G-d after death. They wanted to live a sovereign life after death. They feared hell tremendously. “For in a time in which the beyond meant everything, when the social position of the Christian depended upon the admission to the communion, the clergyman, through his ministry, Church discipline, and preaching, exercised an influence which modern men are entirely unable to picture. In such a time the religious forces which express themselves through such channels are the decisive influences in the formation of national character”(155).
But, later, “Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained out its ideals in the world, material good have gained an increasingly and finally and inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history”(181). In medieval times no one cared to have more than the other. No one needed material things as a nice car, a watch, and jewelry. These material goods are something that people need nowadays. People need nice clothes; they need to have something no one else has. To get these things they have to work just that much harder than the person next to them. Capitalistic society lets us have these things. They are really of no worth to any of us. What is the loss of a diamond necklace if one that was loved wore it, and now it is gone. The loved one is what is to worry about, not the necklace, and that is a problem in today’s society.
The fear is that as riches increase that religion will decrease. In a way this is true because when people have lots of money to support themselves and buy themselves material things they start to leave G-d. That is because these people feel they don’t need G-d anymore. People pray for things through their lives such as to get certain things and to achieve certain things such as a car or to graduate from college. What happens after they get that car or graduate college? They thank G-d and then never talk to Him again unless they need something and that is not what G-d is about. G-d is about being there for Him because He is the one that created you and if He wanted can terminate you. “The power of religious asceticism provided him in addition with sober, conscientious, and unusually industrious workmen, who clung to their work as to a life purpose willed by G-d”(177). The Protestant reformation led to the separation between the church and the state because they felt that G-d wanted them to work and be better people, to achieve salvation and to be successful. Originally the Protestants were much more religious than the Catholics and they wanted to live life under G-d and not through G-d, and this led to the secularism of Europe.
Protestantism gave the world a view that it has never seen before. It showed people that there could be a change in society. The change was when people decided to work harder to achieve more. Work was good; it was what they believed G-d wanted from them. Protestantism helped this world change into a capitalistic society. It helped build the middle class. They didn’t want to be the poorest or even the richest. They just wanted to live happily, and that is what the Reformation brought for them.
Through all that as happened this change has showed the people of this world that in reality capitalistic society is one of greed; to want more. To live in a capitalistic society people must remember where they came from. They must remember that what they work for, material goods, is not as important as family and friends. Martin Luther sparked a huge movement in society. Was it for the better? That depends on the person.