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Christian Thought: 3 Ways Calvinism Influenced American Capitalism

By    |   Tuesday, 01 December 2015 02:47 PM

Characterized by beliefs in privately owned wealth and a free market, capitalism is based on concepts of individual rights, laissez-faire government, and the rule of law.

In American society, the ideals of capitalism and Calvinism often intertwine that it's hard to imagine either philosophy flourishing without the other.

The following are three ways in which Calvinism influenced capitalist thought.

1. Success as an Indicator of Character

Although John Calvin himself emphasized that outside actions and events were not indicative of a man's status (saved or not saved), Calvin's successor, Theodore Beza, according to the Yale University Divinity School's Reflections magazine, asserted that such events could at least partially indicate status.

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The remote nature of the John Calvin's God led Calvinists to seek signs of salvation in the economic world, thus granting legitimacy to the world of capitalistic competition. This is one of Max Weber's key ideas, expressed in "Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism."

However, this is a case of Calvinism influencing and complementing, rather than causing, the rise of capitalism.

2. Capitalistic Work Ethic

The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is not based on man's ability to initiate a relationship with God. It does not depend on man's actions at all as God predestines some to salvation, and those are the ones that will attain it.

Sociologist Max Weber argued that capitalism grew
out of a desire for wealthy Calvinists to justify their success at the expense of others; they wanted their success to be evidence of their predestined salvation.

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Therefore, no wealth is too great: the greater the wealth, the greater the indicator of salvation.

Capitalism with influences from Calvinism, encourages the vast accumulation of wealth.

3. Mass Incarceration

Friends of Justice links incarceration rates with a growing economy. American prisons punish people for doing wrong, which is a key tenet of both capitalism and Calvinism: Calvinism states that men are inherently bad, and reform of these inherently bad men is impossible unless they are predestined to be saved.

Criminal activity, according to Calvinist ways of thinking, is evidence of a man's non-elect status. Both capitalist and Calvinism assert that sinful, or criminal, men need punishment rather than reform.

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In American society, ideals of capitalism and Calvinism intersect so often that it's hard to imagine either philosophy flourishing without the other.
american, christian, capitalism, calvinism, influence
Tuesday, 01 December 2015 02:47 PM
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