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A Discussion and Analysis Of some of his Contributions As Well as their Social, Political and Economic Impacts
Since the Thirteen Colonies first united, the United States has had one of the strongest economies in the world. Over the years, many theorists have had varying opinions concerning the reason for this nation’s strong economic standing. One reason that has often been overlooked is that a great many of this nation’s workers have been influenced by the Protestant work ethic. The philosophy behind this work ethic has driven many workers to attain as much as possible at their jobs during their lifetimes. If one man were to be given credit for the development of the Protestant work ethic it would have to be Martin Luther. In the course of the next several pages this researcher will examine the ethic that has had such a great impact on the United State’s economy and on the economies of other nations. It has been suggested by such writers as Weber and Smith that the Protestant work ethic first developed around the word “calling.”
Basically, this term has a religious connotation which is a task set by God. However, gradually this term was expanded to the point where it covered many of man’s activities. During the Protestant Reformation, the term “calling” started to take on a new meaning. Fulfilling one’s duty in worldly affairs became a task of extreme importance. gradually, fulfilling one’s duty was not only important but it became the moral obligation of every individual (the highest form of moral activity). Before the Reformation, the Catholic Church did not believe that everyday world activities had a religious significance. As a result of Luther these world activities were quite important in adhering to God’s wishes. Rather than devote one’s life to worshipping God through prayer, and instead of sacrificing all worldly goods to follow Christ, the Protestants believed that the task of every person is to fulfill (to the best of his/her ability) their tasks on earth.
This unique conception of the word “calling” was developed by Luther during his first active decade as a reformer. At first he believed, like many other theologians, that everyday world activities were activities of the flesh. Although these activities were willed by God, they were nonetheless morally neutral. However, gradually Luther began to protest against the life of the monks. He criticized them as leading a life “devoid of value as a means of justification before God, but he also looks upon its renunciation of the duties of this world as a product of selfishness, withdrawing from temporal obligations.” This was in direct contrast to the everyday labors of man. These worldly activities were outward expressions of man’s love for others and for God. Thus, according to Luther, the only way to live up to the expectations God has for us is to fulfill our worldly duties. A very important point that Luther makes in reference to callings is that each calling has the same worth in the eyes of God. The effect of the Reformation that was initiated by Luther was that worldly labor was given religious sanction.
This stands opposed to the Catholic tradition which did not give such worldly matters any moral emphasis. Luther stated that people may attain salvation in any walk of life. it did not matter what a person did during their lifetime as long as they worked as hard as possible. In hard work and dedication to one’s calling, salvation could be achieved. Before Luther professed these beliefs, people placed little emphasis on the daily tasks they had to complete. Jobs had little meaning except that they placed bread on the table to eat. However, with Luther’s concept of the “calling” people now had a moral reasons to work as hard as they could. The jobs of people were given religious sanction and this lead to workers striving to attain more in their jobs. Thus, there can be no doubt that Luther changed the attitudes of people toward their roles in society. People placed a new emphasis on their work roles. In the following pages the effect that this had on the economy will be examined.
The Foundation of Capitalistic Thought As a result of Luther placing such emphasis on a person’s calling, people began to take pride in their work. Instead of placing all of one’s emphasis on religious matters, people began to think of earning a living in the best way possible in order to serve God. Luther instilled in these people the concept that time is money. If a person spends his time at meaningful work he will earn money and become successful. However, if that person decides to sit idly or take a rest, money that could have been earned is lost forever. thus, Luther’s emphasis on the fact that people should work as hard as possible lead many to the conclusion that time should not be wasted. The fact that money can “grow” was realized by the workers of this time. Increasing one’s assets is a sign of a successful businessman, thus it is also a sign of someone who is successful in the eyes of God.
If money is invested properly, a person can receive interest and increase his financial status. If a person has an animal that is breeding, that animal’s offspring will increase that person’s financial status. In order to become a successful businessman it is often necessary to borrow money. However, in order to insure that a steady flow of money is guaranteed, a person must build up a reputation as a prompt payer. If one is late in paying debts, there will come a day when that person will not find a lender. If one is a prompt payer, there will always be a steady flow of cash for that person. Since success is necessary to please God, and money is necessary to achieve success, people made sure that they paid their debts promptly. Since credit is so important, people began to realize the importance of impressing their creditors. If a person builds a reputation of a worker that labors from early in the morning to late each evening, that person will be able to attain credit. If, however, a person has a reputation of relaxing and not taking his job seriously, then that person will not be lent money when he needs it to expand his business.
The above examples depict the spirit of capitalism (the true development of capitalistic thought among the masses). Luther emphasized that men should work their hardest at their particular calling. It became obvious that hard work often resulted in higher earnings. Therefore, workers began to figure out all of the possible ways by which they could increase their earnings.k Luther’s thoughts on work resulted in the development of a capitalistic mentality among workers. One example of a man who is d.............
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