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Commentary: Anti-Lockdown Protests and the Defiant Protestant Heart of America
by George Rasley
In his 1904 masterwork, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. German social researcher Max Weber argued that Western capitalism and the Protestant Reformation were inextricably linked. Weber made the case that the Protestant theology of John Calvin and the idea of work and economic activity as a God-given “calling,” inspired Protestant societies to develop a strong work ethic, leading to the development of Western capitalism.
Today, only about 49 percent of Americans identify as Protestants, but the Pilgrims and Puritans continue to exercise a powerful influence on the American psyche whether one is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or adheres to no religion at all.
And, Weber’s monumental work, and the century of research and thought it spawned, tells us much about the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of the protests against the government-imposed lockdowns of the economy that have sprung-up in the past week.
In 2013 André van Hoorn and Robbert Maseland of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands published research demonstrating that the psychic harm from unemployment is about 40% worse for Protestants than for the general population. Moreover, people living in Protestant societies are hurt more by being unemployed than people living in other societies, according to their analysis of subjective well-being data on nearly 150,000 people in 82 societies. An analysis of the data shows that the effects derive from an intrinsic appreciation of work among Protestants and in Protestant societies, the researchers say.
“The resulting ‘experienced preferences’ provide strong support for Weber’s original thesis: for both Protestants and Protestant countries, not having a job has substantially larger negative happiness effects than for other religious denominations,” noted Daniel Luzer in an article for the Pacific Standard.
While Weber’s work, and the work of later researchers such as van Hoorn and Maseland, helps explain how deeply unsettling being unemployed is to the millions of Americans put out of work by the COVID-19 epidemic and panic, what Weber and the others have failed to note is another idea central to Protestantism: the right of each individual to read and interpret the Gospel according to his own understanding and live his or her life according to it tenets.
And, intrinsic in that central idea of Protestantism is the notion that the interpretation and authority of priests and bishops and other hierarchical structures is unnecessary and can and should be defied when they conflict with the plain language of the Gospel.
Far from being “anti-science” this anti-authoritarian view is deeply rooted in Protestant ideas of individual conscience. The very suggestion that individual conscience could oppose external authority would, in the years after Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation, crystallize into the affirmation of the ideal of individual freedom. That is why the English historian Christopher Hill went so far as to claim that the ‘essence of Protestantism – the priesthood of all believers – was logically a doctrine of individualist anarchy’.
The recognition of a sphere where political rule could not legitimately coerce the individual ultimately undermined the status of absolutist authority in all spheres of life. It soon became clear that once individuals are granted inner freedom, they find it difficult to unquestioningly obey any form of authority.
What those who demand that Americans bow to the irrational demands of the high priests of “science” and secular rulers who use the supposed authority of “science” to justify their oppressive rule really want is a return to a pre-Protestant Reformation state of affairs where all authority is vested in a new self-appointed elite priesthood.
Thus, in today’s rebellion against the unholy alliance of authoritarian political rulers and the priesthood of the religion of “science” we see opposition to pre-Reformation ideas of intellectual coercion and punishments meted out for heresy and blasphemy:
- In California, Naomi Soria, 27, is facing criminal charges after she organized last week’s downtown San Diego protest. Around 400 people marched on the Hall of Justice demanding an end to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order. Police said Soria is the only protester facing charges as she violated the stay-at-home order by organizing the protest and encouraging others to gather.
- YouTube has banned any coronavirus-related content that directly contradicts World Health Organization (WHO) advice. Chief executive Susan Wojcicki said the media giant wanted to stamp out “misinformation on the platform.”
(Editor’s note: No doubt Ms. Wojcicki would have happily confined Galileo to house arrest or worse for writing the proof that the planets revolve around the Sun; no misinformation on the platform don’t you know.)
- In New Jersey, police filed criminal charges against a protest organizer for violating emergency stay-at-home orders.
- Eight anti-abortion protesters (who were originally part of a 50-person group) in Charlotte, North Carolina were arrested outside A Preferred Women’s Health Center abortion mill designated as an “essential business.” In Raleigh, North Carolina, police announced protesting was “non-essential” activity.
Far from being anti-science these examples of defiance are deeply rooted in Protestant Enlightenment thinking in which all authority may be tested against the plain language of the Gospel and all knowledge subjected to lived experience gathered through observation and experimentation.
Much as Martin Luther studied the Bible, posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church, and refused to recant before ecclesiastical and secular authority, Americans have begun to gather the facts about the COVID-19 epidemic, interpret them and act upon them according to their own understanding.
This defiance of the authoritarian kings and queens of the universal lockdown order, the high priests of COVID-19 pseudo-science and the Inquisitors of the establishment media is not ignorant reaction. Rather, it is deeply rooted in America’s cultural Calvinism and the Protestant Enlightenment which empowered men and women to challenge the Divine Right of Kings and to ask why they should be locked in their homes to “save just one life” by the same politicians who claim that abortion is “essential” healthcare and who put political correctness ahead of the germ theory of disease to place patients recovering from COVID-19 among aged New York nursing home residents, killing over 3,448 of them.
For more information about how you can end these unscientific authoritarian lockdowns and get your state open visit openthestates.com.
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George Rasley is Managing Editor of Richard Viguerie’s ConservativeHQ.com.
His ancestor, the Reverend Richard Mather, began his ministry in England after graduating from Brasenose College, Oxford. He was twice suspended from the pulpit for nonconformity to the Anglican Church Discipline by that “great adversary of the puritan faction,” Richard Neile, Archbishop of York. Mather joined the Puritan exodus to Massachusetts, in 1635, and ministered from the pulpit of the First Congregational Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, until his death in 1669.
1.) There Really Is Such a Thing as the Protestant Work Ethic, Harvard Business Review, Andrew O’Connell, August 29, 2013, https://hbr.org/daily-stat/2013/08/there-really-is-such-a-thing-a.html
2.) The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real, Pacific Standard, Daniel Luzer, June 14, 2017, https://psmag.com/economics/protestant-worth-ethic-real-65544
3.) The Invention of Individual Freedom, History Today, Frank Furedi, March 29, 2017, https://www.historytoday.com/invention-individual-freedom
4.) The Invention of Individual Freedom, History Today, Frank Furedi, March 29, 2017, https://www.historytoday.com/invention-individual-freedom