Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Look at the "Protestant Ethic"

When I was growing up, the term "Protestant Ethic" was often heard. At that time I interpreted it as "as a Protestant (a certain kind of Christian), one had the obligation to work hard and have straightforward goals; and in the long run a person would reap rewards." I grew up in a Catholic environment in the 1960's through which there was an increasing focus on addressing social inequities. It was very easy for me to meld my interpretation of the Protestant Ethic with the call of the Catholic Church for works of mercy (Whatsoever you do to the least of My brothers, you do it to Me.).

I looked to the life of my own Methodist grandfather as a model of living the Protestant Ethic: He was born basically in a cabin in north Knox County, Tennessee, in 1863. In his memoirs he noted that "living conditions in East Tennessee were about as poor as can possibly be imagined." Yet along his professional career he served as Assistant Attorney General and Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor and U.S. Senator,* but he did serve as Mayor of the City of Knoxville.

I wondered where the Protestant Ethic is as we are battered in this increasingly baffling economic situation. So I Googled it. oops. If I REALLY wanted to do a proper story on the Protestant Ethic, this Blog would turn into a thesis. Sorry, but I didn't know that the complexity of properly addressing the subject would have to include the work of German sociologist and economist Max Weber, etc., etc. I thought a brief reference to Martin Luther might be enough. WRONG!

Maybe my interpretation of the Protestant Ethic is simplistic, but I still believe that hard work pays off.

*My grandfather was an East Tennessee Republican, which at the time meant he had an uphill battle in any statewide election.

1 comment:

  1. Love the post, Marie! I wonder the same thing sometimes. These days, it seems we're all looking for a silver bullet -- a very frustrating search when the real gold lies down the path of persistent, incremental progress. Thanks for the reminder to keep plugging along.