Chapter Four: Subjectivizing Morality
This chapter is about economics and how the Reformation affected it. Before the Reformation the traditional view was that avarice, or in modern English greed, was a bad thing. That while it was not necessary for people to live in poverty to be close to God. Avarice made it hard to be close to God, it was repellent to Him.
Of course people being people avarice was something that was practised. Even though the Church regarded it as a sin. They could not find anything good about it, it was bad for Christianity, it was bad for community and it was bad for the soul. The Reformation did not change that, both Protestant and Catholics Theologians continued to believe that avarice was bad.
Two things would change that, the first I have written about before, the reality that as there was no Protestant Pope, any dispute lead to schism. If someone didn't like what their religious leader was saying then they could find another religious leader. One who you agreed more with. Over time this lead to more liberal attitudes to trade and wealth. In the past vast wealth could in least in principle be defended because to be rich you had to be an Aristocrat or Royalty. Your wealth was not simply yours, it was part of the governments wealth as these men were the government. But when a merchant or tradesmen became wealthy how could that be justified?
The idea grew that in trade everything had a price and therefore it was a good thing that men became rich through trade. It showed that they were good at their trade and favoured by God.
The second was a religious compromise in what is now the Netherlands, religious strife lead to finding a neutral activity that both Catholic and Protestant could partake in. That activity came to be trade, if people were busy making money then they couldn't cause religious strife. Catholics, Protestants and Jews all took part in raising money for commercial expeditions to the East Indies for spice. Over time that trade expanded and for around a century the Dutch were both wealthy and powerful. That was noticed by others and they sort to copy it. The Dutch model was very tolerant, the models adopted by others was not as tolerant religiously. But they learnt the lessons of trade quite well.
As time went on the Protestants came to view trade and wealth as a sign from God that they were his chosen people. In time the idea that trade and wealth were good became enough in their own right. God was left behind. Today you can still hear this message in the Prosperity Theology that is preached in many Mega-Churches. Australia's Prime Minister Scot Morrison attends such a church.
What is quite clear in this chapter is that the Reformation failed. If Luther and the other Protestant leaders from the 1500's could see the state of their churches today they would be appalled. They turned against the Catholic Church because of what they saw as immoral teachings and practices. They wanted to right Christianity, not to overturn it, not to reject it. Avarice was not something that they wanted to encourage, they rejected it. However over time their followers would come to support the most extreme forms of avarice. Today avarice is portrayed as a good thing, something that each of us should aspire to. "Greed is good!"
Most of us live lives of great material wealth. I am poor but I still have more food than I can eat and a house full of things. That is not uncommon, in the West it is how most of us live and we can find it hard to think of it as anything but normal. That attitude comes to us from the Reformation. It wasn't intended but it is how it has ended up anyway.
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