On the Anglo-American Religion

TO WINNERS
Frans Hals Regents Hospice

« You cannot judge men by the things they do when they take off their pants. For their really filthy tricks, they get dressed. » Those are the words of Minna, a waitress and a prostitute in The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary. The same opposition goes for Catholicism and Protestantism. The first revelled in his blatant «  filthy tricks » to the point that his activities are brought out in the open today with the paedophile scandals. As for the latter, he cleverly knew how to learn his lesson from his brother, so he pulled up his pants and gave himself up to wrongdoings far more outrageous in the end.

Famous sociologist Max Weber, on that matter, explains in precise detail the Protestant mindset in his work The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism : « it is a fact that the Protestants […] both as ruling classes and as ruled, both as majority and as minority, have shown a special tendency to develop economic rationalism which cannot be observed to the same extent among Catholics either in the one situation or in the other. Thus the principal explanation of this difference must be sought in the permanent intrinsic character of their religious beliefs, and not only in their temporary external historico-political situations. »

The Reformation, Weber explains, «  meant not the elimination of the Church’s control over everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous one. It meant the repudiation of a control which was very lax, at that time scarcely perceptible in practice, and hardly more than formal, in favour of a regulation of the whole of conduct which, penetrating to all departments of private and public life, was infinitely burdensome and earnestly enforced. The rule of the Catholic Church, ‘punishing the heretic, but indulgent to the sinner’ as it was in the past even more than today, is now tolerated by peoples of thoroughly modern economic character, and was borne by the richest and economically most advanced peoples on earth at about the turn of the fifteenth century. The rule of Calvinism, on the other hand, as it was enforced in the sixteenth century in Geneva and in Scotland, at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in large parts of the Netherlands, in the seventeenth in New England, and for a time in England itself, would be for us the most absolutely unbearable form of ecclesiastical control of the individual which could possibly exist. That was exactly what large numbers of the old commercial aristocracy of those times, in Geneva as well as in Holland and England, felt about it. And what the reformers complained of in those areas of high economic development was not too much supervision of life on the part of the Church, but too little. »

The sociologist’s analysis is harsh and yet very accurate for anybody having practical experience of Catholicism and Protestantism. But Weber goes even deeper in discernment. That new religious practice served, according to him, as a lever for the establishment and the domination of the capitalist spirit in Europe. Quoting a peer, he says that « the Calvinistic diaspora was like the seedbed of capitalistic economy ».
Among numerous examples in his detailed work, he takes that of Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States. Born in Boston, Franklin was the son of an English immigrant and was bred in the Puritan tradition. «  His strict Calvinistic father drummed into him again and again in his youth : ‘Seest thou a man diligent in his business ? He shall stand before kings.’  » (Prov. 2229) Franklin, who later became at a denominational level a «  colorless deist  », as Weber says, left an autobiography from which he extracted the following lines in order to support his study on the Protestant ethics  :

Remember, that time is money. […] Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it. Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Remember this saying, The good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse. He that is known to pay punctually and exactly to the time he promises, may at any time, and on any occasion, raise all the money his friends can spare. This is sometimes of great use. After industry and frugality, nothing contributes more to the raising of a young man in the world than punctuality and justice in all his dealings; therefore never keep borrowed money an hour beyond the time you promised, lest a disappointment shut up your friend’s purse for ever.

« Truly what is here preached is not simply a means of making one’s way in the world, but a peculiar ethic, Max Weber says. He adds, «  the infraction of its rules is treated not as foolishness but as forgetfulness of duty. » Then he goes on : « Now, all Franklin’s moral attitudes are colored with utilitarianism. Honesty is useful, because it assures credit; so are punctuality, industry, frugality, and that is the reason they are virtues. A logical deduction from this would be that where, for instance, the appearance of honesty serves the same purpose, that would suffice, and an unnecessary surplus of this virtue would evidently appear to Franklin’s eyes an unproductive waste. And as a matter of fact, the story in his autobiography of his ‘conversion’ to those virtues, or the discussion of the value of a strict maintenance of the appearance of modesty, the assiduous belittlement of one’s own deserts in order to gain general recognition later, confirms this impression. According to Franklin, those virtues, like all others, are only in so far virtues as they are actually useful to the individual, and the surrogate of mere appearance always sufficient when it accomplishes the end view. It is a conclusion which is inevitable for strict utilitarianism. »

But Weber does not stop with this criticism which, alone, would leave Franklin in the typical attitude of the hypocrite. «  But in fact the matter is not by any means so simple. Benjamin Franklin’s own character, as it appears in the really unusual candidness of his autobiography, belies that suspicion. The circumstance that he ascribes his recognition of the «  utility  » of virtue to a divine revelation which was intended to lead him in the path of righteousness, shows that something more than mere garnishing for purely egocentric motives is involved.  » For, he adds, concerning the Protestant mindset at large : «  A lack of care in the handling of money means to him that one so to speak murders capital embryos, and hence it is an ethical defect. »

« And in truth, the German sociologist insists, this peculiar idea […] of one’s duty in a calling […] It is an obligation which the individual is supposed to feel and does feel towards the content of his «  professional  » activity, […] is what is most characteristic of the ‘social ethic’ of capitalistic culture, and is in a sense the fundamental basis of it. […] The ability of mental concentration, as well as the absolutely essential feeling of obligation to one’s job, […] This provides the most favorable foundation for the conception of labor as an end in itself, as a [spiritual] calling which is necessary to capitalism. »

We could conclude these series of quotes, lengthy but essential to get an idea of Max Weber’s discourse, with this last word by the economist : « the characteristic Protestant conception of the proof of one’s own salvation, the certitudo salutis in a calling, provided the psychological sanctions which this religious belief put behind the ‘industria’. But that Catholicism could not supply, because its means to salvation were different.  »

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For almost five centuries, this Religion has been completely permeating the Anglo-American, Dutch, Swiss and, for a large part, German mentality and spirit. All these peoples are insidiously led by that asceticism in work, by that financial prosperity brandished like a divine seal, like the evidence that some exceptional moral justice will reward the individual person : it works as a stamp which validates a so-called «  divine election  ». That spirit is to be found absolutely everywhere in the activities of the Protestant populations. As for the «  artists  » or those who boast about being on the margins of religion, all those who, in the midst of Protestant societies, flatter themselves to be in direct opposition with their religious background, those who state loud and clear to have freed themselves from it - the truth is they just cannot get rid of it. Indeed, this sort of hero worship, the worship of the virtuous man or the romantic conqueror, actually has its source in the Protestant religious background they pretend, yet, they have overcome. The Protestant ethic has weaved its precepts in the shadow of their souls and it is still brought out in their lifestyles and their social reflexes without their realizing it - the fervent atheism promoter just like the “rebellious” music artist, the avant-garde writer or the “wonderful” world of movies, etc. : all actually partake in it. Every TV series, every novel is filled with the smell, more or less strong, of that Protestant thought which introduced these peoples into the modern era before any other. These civilisations are circumcised to the ethic of financial success as a reward  - and the American system so much overindulged in it that it reached to an ultimate frenzy as it engraved the motto on its banknotes, «  In God we trust  » !

But the realm in which this painless poison reaches its shiniest modernity, the moment when it stands out in majesty, is when it seizes the Bible ! There, to quote Minna, men and women «  pull up their pants and adjust their skirts  », dress modestly, put perfume on and wear their best polite smile, then they go and commit the «  filthiest tricks  » : the evangelical teaching ! Today the love of money, the capitalist spirit, and security in the name of God are brought to new heights. Some sophisticated trick, that strikes the right balance, that is all dialectics and rhetorics, has Christ say he is a friend of Mammon. If Peter is the apostle of Catholicism, Paul that of Reformation Protestantism, then Judas is the apostle of modern Protestantism. This is only normal, for Judas was an accountant. One still wonders why countries such as France, with so many thinkers of value and so much ability for critical thinking, are constantly at the feet of these gold and glitz lovers. From now on, the churches of Europe seem to share in that same love, that same gold, that same fever for happiness and comfort that the bible yet denies its anointed. European Protestantism, as it went on listening to those false prophets, as it went on being bitten by their “Gospels” in which the rewards of the god-Good are made of money, of well-being whereas, they declare, the punishments of Evil bring poverty and insecurity, European Protestantism, also, is now but the legitimate son of some pagan Christianity. The time and the circumstances are getting near. The day is coming when Christ will hand them the bread he handed Judas in order to reveal his deepest intentions. I doubt that before that day French Protestantism will wake up and kick the asses of all these Anglo-Saxon missionaries and authors. It will probably share, with all these Mammon-god saints of the useful and the successful, in the same tree where Judas hanged his cupidity. The Protestant’s shame will come after the Catholic’s. The younger brother who thought he was more cunning than the elder eventually defeated the theatre of the antique episcopalian masses : he knew how to make the ropes invisible by conforming more intimately to the world.


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