Jun
6
2008

Religion, innovation and economic progress – Part I

This post is part of a series.

The Council on Foreign Relations recently had a great three part symposium, and I wanted to summarize some of the great material from the transcripts.   It covers such things as the economic progress brought by Protestantism as compared to Catholicism and other religions, as well as how literacy spread, not by the invention or availability of the printing press, but primarily by Protestant Missionaries who used it.  And more.  In this part, I’ll cover the comments of Lawrence Hamilton, Director, Cultural Change Institute and Lecturer, the Fletcher School, Tufts University. centralliberaltruthLawrence Hamilton Director, Cultural Change Institute and Lecturer, the Fletcher School, Tufts University, Author of The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself. On religious relativism:

Religious relativism — the notion that all religions are essentially equal — is an illusion when it comes to progress. Some religions or ethical codes — for example,  Protestantism, Judaism and Confucianism — do better than others, in the extreme case, Haitian Voodoo.

On the effects of Catholicism and Protestantism on national economics, historically:

In the year 1700, viewed from Europe, the Spanish colonies in the south of the New World looked to be much more successful, much more promising, much more affluent than the British colonies in the north. Three hundred years later there’s been an immense flip-flop. [...] What you have is Ibero-Catholic culture, which is progress resistant in the sense not only of economics, but also in the sense of social justice and democracy — democratic governance — falling far behind Anglo-Protestant culture in terms of its  ability to produce democratic societies.  [...]  In the year 2008, Latin America, which may well have been ahead of the English colonies in the north in the year 1700, is now perhaps 50 or 75 years behind.  And while a number of other factors are involved, I believe that the contrast between Ibero-Catholic and Anglo-Protestant culture is a principal explanation.

On the values that lead to national progress:

The conclusions that we reached — again, they’re elaborated on in chapter four [of The Central Liberal Truth] — are that  generally, Protestants have done better than Catholics.  But the Nordic countries are the champions of progress.  We could refer to them as Lutheran-agnostics now.  That in the vanguard of progress a millennium ago, Islam has fallen far behind and this obviously has contributed to the humiliation that I believe is at  one of the roots of jihadism. There are close parallels between Catholics and Orthodox  Christians — particularly discomfort with capitalism.  I might add that the most recent Catholic miracles — economic miracles — have taken place in countries — Spain, Ireland, the Province of Quebec — that are now referred to often as post-Catholic. Buddhism and Hinduism are not progress prone.  Finally, there is the evidence in this analysis — and the analysis that is contained through the book, “The Central Liberal Truth” that there is a universal progress culture that emphasizes education, merit, achievement, frugality and community.  And these are values that are largely shared among Protestants, Jews,  Confucians, Sikhs and other groups.

On the different types of religious approaches, and how they affect cultural change:

Does the religion nurture rationality achievement?  Does it  promote materials pursuits?  Does it focus on this world rather  than the next world?  Is it pragmatic?  In contrast, does it — to those religions that may nurture irrationality — inhibit material pursuits and may focus on the other in a more Utopian way? The view of a religion with respect to destiny, the extent to  which a person can influence their own destiny is a very  important factor. Time orientation — does the religion focus the eyes of its faithful unto the future or does it keep them in the present or focused on the past? These are the kinds of issues that are very central to the role that religion plays in culture.

Interesting stuff.  Here’s Part II.

2 Comments+ Add Comment

  • Catholicism anti-capitalist? … it’s more complicated than that.
    A very good introduction into the topic:
    A Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark
    (and his other books on Christianity and the rise of the west)
    an antidode against multiculturalism (meaning cultures and religions having equal value for the wellbeing of our western societies and the world) and utopist thinking … as good lessons in history and economics usually are …
    impressive job, here on wholereason.com by the way.

  • >> DAVID: Catholicism anti-capitalist? … it’s more complicated than that.
    Yes, I was generalizing, and North American Christianity is very different from Central and South American, where Liberation Theology (which I believe is anti-capitalist) was popular.
    RE: Stark, I have favorably reviewed his stuff before, love him! See The biblical origins of science. And thanks for posting and the complement.

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