Skip to comments.An ‘Error Message’ on the Screen of Western Civ (RTS Chancellor on the importance of a work ethic)
Posted on 10/12/2012 6:08:35 AM PDT by darrellmaurina
An Error Message on the Screen of Western Civ? The Most Important Question Facing us in 2012 is more than an Election
The most important question of the coming year is not who will be the next occupant of the White House? The single most important matter before us all is a question of value. It is a question that may be stated, Will the Western world embrace the very thing that holds it together. Or will it continue the denial of the obvious and seal its inevitable decline? Let me explain.
In historiography the study of history professional historians are often torn between what is called lower history and higher history. Higher history aims to chronicle the past through grand events such as kings and queens and wars and treaties. Lower history, however, traces the record of mankind through often unseen events, underlying popular, philosophies and, often, obvious facts. Thinking about lower history, British historian, Dr. Niall Ferguson, has drawn our attention to a lower historical fact that, as he proposes in his latest and most exceptional (if not unsettling) work, Civilization: The West and the Rest (Penguin Press, 2011). Ignoring political-correctness in favor of the obvious, Ferguson appeals to his readers to see that the remarkable civilization called the West is just so because of what he refers to as six killer apps (using a computer metaphor). These apps are fundamental common commitmentsa worldview, if you willwhich has brought about the greatest advances in human history and the greatest opportunities for men to live free, happy lives. These killer apps, according to Niall Ferguson, are competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic (p. 13) specifically, the Protestant work ethic that came as a result of this reformation in the 16th century. Ferguson describes this sixth application of Western civilization as the glue of the dynamic (p. 13) that allows the other features to work. Yet Ferguson also observes that, the Protestant ethic of thrift that one seemed so central to the Western project has all but vanished. (p. 17) I believe the Ferguson is absolutely spot on. He is spot on because Jesus Christ declared; you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. We dont have to look any further than here, in John chapter eight, to uncover the roots of the present Euro-Anglo-American debt quandary.
Before the Protestant Reformation and the counter-reformation that influenced the Roman Catholic Church, freedom and that which we call Western Civilization was hardly free. The truths that Luther recovered and that Calvin taught, were galvanized in the popular conscience of their time and afterwards gave rise to the other five apps that Ferguson cites, and activated them. The activation code that unlocked Western Civilization was nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That blessed One who said that He was the way, the truth, and the life opened up a new world of opportunity for mankind. This was the operating system, according to Ferguson, that nations embraced and thereby became Western civilization as we know it. The question is now, will the Western world disavow the very worldview the glue, the Protestant work ethic, the Reformation truththat activated the software that generated Western civilization, and that brought so much life, liberty, and happiness? Or will we foolishly ignore it in the name of a secular substitute that is powerless to re-boot the system? No one will deny that (still using the computer metaphor) there is a giant Error Message on the screen of Western civilization. Something has malfunctioned and every other application is either no longer operational or running too sluggish to be productive. Ferguson helps us to see what is going on is not the absence of a higher historical figure to fix us, but a lower historical faith to free us: the faith of the Bible and of the Redeemer it presents: Jesus Christ. Ferguson ends his excellent treatise by declaring, today the biggest threat to Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own pusillanimityand by the historical ignorance that feeds it.(p. 325)
The greatest challenge before us in 2012 is not merely to choose an individual in America who will become president and expose this ignorance and lead us back to the truth, but to recover what Churchill called for, a large majority of mankind united together to defend the truth that got us where we are today. We have every hope that since it has been done before, it can be done again. Lets pray so. Our civilization depends upon it.
-- Michael Anthony Milton (Ph.D., University of Wales) serves as the chancellor/CEO elect of Reformed Theological Seminary (one of the largest accredited seminaries in the country), a U.S. Army chaplain (instructing at the Armed Forces Chaplain School) and the James M. Baird Jr. chair of pastoral theology at RTS/Charlotte. He is an author, songwriter, singer, ordained minister, former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and he previously served as the president of RTS/Charlotte. Dr. Milton also hosts a national Bible teaching television program, Faith For Living, reaching 70,000,000 potential households through DirecTV, Legacy TV network, YouTube and iTunes. It is also available as a free app in the Android and iPhone markets. The Faith For Living radio program is broadcast on several stations in the southeast. For 16 years he served in the business world and has also served as a top-secret Navy linguist.
Theology has consequences. We forget that at our peril.
The chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary's key point can be summarized here:
“Ignoring political-correctness in favor of the obvious, Ferguson appeals to his readers to see that the remarkable civilization called the West is just so because of what he refers to as ‘six killer apps’ (using a computer metaphor). These apps are fundamental common commitmentsa worldview, if you willwhich has brought about the greatest advances in human history and the greatest opportunities for men to live free, happy lives. These ‘killer apps,’ according to Niall Ferguson, are ‘competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic’ (p. 13) specifically, the Protestant work ethic that came as a result of this reformation in the 16th century. Ferguson describes this sixth application of Western civilization as ‘the glue of the dynamic’ (p. 13) that allows the other features to work. Yet Ferguson also observes that, ‘the Protestant ethic of thrift that one seemed so central to the Western project has all but vanished.’ (p. 17) I believe the Ferguson is absolutely spot on. He is spot on because Jesus Christ declared; ‘you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’ We dont have to look any further than here, in John chapter eight, to uncover the roots of the present Euro-Anglo-American debt quandary.”
Historiography is not the study of history. It is history writing (which used to be called “history”) or writing about history. As implied by the suffix “graphy.”
I’ve had enough of Max Weber’s crap. Somebody tell these suposed experts and professionals modern capitalism started in Catholic Italy.
Oh “and also tel them to read perhaps the original free marketeers: the so-called School of Salamanca from Catholic Spain.
Ooh, I can tell I’m going to enjoy this article...
This hits everyone, rich and poor alike.
Ping to read later.
For whatever it's worth, “Maurina” is an Italian name. Some of my ancestors originally emigrated from Italy to South America, didn't like the situation despite the country being Roman Catholic, and eventually three Maurina brothers moved together to the United States.
As far as I'm concerned, if Catholics and Protestants want to argue about which theology makes the best capitalists, that's fine with me since it has the effect of educating people in the pews why socialism is wrong.
I have opinions on that question, but I'm fine with Roman Catholics (the Acton Institute, for example) who want to promote a Roman Catholic view of capitalism. More power to them.
I readily grant that a Confucian culture can have effects comparable to those of Western Christianity, though it has key inherent defects when it comes to Confucian ideas of the worth of the group as opposed to the worth of the individual. Long-term, I believe Asian culture without Christian influence will lead to centralized control and a form of fascism, not true capitalism. Even so, the simple fact of the matter is that fascism works better than classical socialism and far better than communism. All three are wrong, of course; the solution is the freedom of capitalism which presumes the right of an individual to work hard to better himself.
South Korea, despite all of the problems of the Korean church world, is the single biggest exception to the non-Christian economic progress of Asian economies. The rise of Japan and China could have been predicted based on economics and demographics, and the same is probably true of Indonesia due to oil wealth.
However, the economic rise of South Korea definitely could **NOT** have been predicted. It was an irrelevant backwater that has become a major economic player.
How is that to be explained?
Religion has clear effects on culture once that religion has permeated the culture. It's been a joke for a long time that copper wire was invented by a Hollander and a Scotsman fighting over a penny. It's been an obvious reality, not just a joke, that New England frugality and thrift managed to survive the collapse of the Puritan theology that created those attributes.
However, when I look at the work ethic of Koreans, I think it's clear in a generation or two, somebody is going to have to start inventing jokes about the Korean work ethic.
Calvinism encountered a pre-existing capitalist ethos in the Netherlands and a Marxist argument could be made that the Dutch became Calvinists for economic reasons, not the other way around. That Marxist logic definitely does not work with Scotland, which was a backwater of largely uneducated near-barbarians before the Reformation. Scotland was radically transformed by the preaching of the Reformed faith. When Scotland became Reformed, it led to radical changes in society, primarily due to the need for people to be able to learn to read their Bibles and secondarily due to teaching people that it was perfectly fine to learn to govern themselves through local kirk sessions rather than kowtowing to far-away bishops and secular lords. Those two changes — improved literacy and legitimization of self-government — laid the foundations for the rise of Scottish capitalism.
Marxist analysis works even less well with South Korea, where religion is a critical motivating factor in much of what has happened in the last 80 to 90 years. The Korean Independence Movement under Japanese occupation was largely though not entirely led by Christians. Google “Esther Ahn,” a heroine of Korean independence, and you'll see an example of someone who wasn't explicitly political but strongly opposed Japanese imposition of emperor worship. Multiply her example by tens of thousands, and you'll get an idea of why South Korea did not capitulate to the Japanese or to the Communists.
The Korean church has many, many problems, and the parallels with Scotland are far from precise. However, the Korean church definitely has taught a biblical work ethic to its people, and that has had major cultural and economic consequences.
Since this is a Reformed thread, I'll add a side point — if we don't do something in the near future to fix our churches in the West, we'd better all figure out how to read and speak Korean soon. Raw numbers show that Calvinism is already a predominantly Korean phenomenon on a worldwide basis — their churches are rapidly growing while we're destroying our own Reformed churches in America by abandoning our roots.
It's certainly happened before that God has raised up powerless people to shame and embarrass the proud.
These killer apps, according to Niall Ferguson, are competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic (p. 13) specifically, the Protestant work ethic that came as a result of this reformation in the 16th century. Ferguson describes this sixth application of Western civilization as the glue of the dynamic (p. 13) that allows the other features to work.
First off, thank you for posting this.
I personally disagree that it is the “Protestant Work Ethic” or any work ethic that is the glue that holds these things together. I think it is Private Property, that is the glue. Even the Communists know this, as this is one of the things that they need to destroy before their dream of a “perfect world” can come true.
People work harder and longer when they know that they will reap the fruits of their labors. Look at Entrepreneurs, Farmers or the English Colonists at Jamestown and Plymouth.
In the case of the colonists the colonies were originally started up on the premise that everyone works and everyone shares in the fruits of their labors. They almost failed as colonies in their first year because of that. The next year they were allowed to claim land for themselves as long as the common area was worked first. Once they, (the colonists), knew that they could and would get the benefits from their own land the colonies became successful.
The same holds true today for entrepreneurs, they work nearly insane hours and sacrifice nearly all to achieve their dreams. Why? In the hope of course of reaping the benefits from all their hard labor.
I suppose I could go on, but I hope you now understand where I am coming from, Property Rights are the reason that the “west” is more successful in comparison to other cultures that don’t have the same appreciation for property rights.
“if Catholics and Protestants want to argue about which theology makes the best capitalists, that’s fine with me “
It’s not about that for me. Both, neither, whatever. I’ve just always found the “Protestant ethic” thesis unconvincing and the easiest way to debunk it is to point out the glaringly obvious alternative evidence.