Preach about Hell to improve the economy

Here is a fascinating article on the influence of specific religious beliefs on economic growth. It’s too long to do justice with excerpts, so I will give you this teaser from The curious economic effects of religion – The Boston Globe:

A pair of Harvard researchers recently examined 40 years of data from dozens of countries, trying to sort out the economic impact of religious beliefs or practices. They found that religion has a measurable effect on developing economies – and the most powerful influence relates to how strongly people believe in hell.

The research goes into far more than this sensationalistic tidbit, finding, for example, that Protestants were involved in greater economic growth in the years after the Reformation than Catholics. Why? Some still suggest Max Weber’s hypothesis that the “Protestant work ethic” came from the need to prove one’s salvation through attaining earthly prosperity. The problem is that PROTESTANTS DIDN’T BELIEVE THAT! A more convincing reason is that “mass education was a Protestant invention.” A peasant taught to read the Bible could then read anything, giving him access to all kinds of information, and opening the door to prosperity. Even more fundamentally, I would argue, is the DOCTRINE OF VOCATION, which gave economic labor a new value and spiritual significance. The article also shows strong evidence that Christianity builds trust, honesty, and other virtues necessary for a strong economy.

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Booklover

    Dr. Veith, could you please proofread the sentence following the quote? I don’t understand it this morning. Of course, it *is* morning. . .

    Thank you for the interesting post. I have always thought that salvation is a many-faceted act.

  • Booklover

    Dr. Veith, could you please proofread the sentence following the quote? I don’t understand it this morning. Of course, it *is* morning. . .

    Thank you for the interesting post. I have always thought that salvation is a many-faceted act.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I was under the impression that it was a doctrine, at least among certain Calvinists, that it was impossible to know if one was truly “Elect,” and that the only evidence for the probability of Election was the purity of one’s life. Therefore, these Calvinists worked very hard to prove themselves Elect, and that included diligence in work. Is that a mistaken understanding?

    But I entirely agree about the literacy thing.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I was under the impression that it was a doctrine, at least among certain Calvinists, that it was impossible to know if one was truly “Elect,” and that the only evidence for the probability of Election was the purity of one’s life. Therefore, these Calvinists worked very hard to prove themselves Elect, and that included diligence in work. Is that a mistaken understanding?

    But I entirely agree about the literacy thing.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I’ve heard what Lars says, but the work ethic can also be justified simply as a reaction to God’s goodness. God is good to save me; should I not work hard to honor Him?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I’ve heard what Lars says, but the work ethic can also be justified simply as a reaction to God’s goodness. God is good to save me; should I not work hard to honor Him?

  • http://palmsundays.blogspot.com Juan Palm

    Just contrast a Christian, Biblical worldview with the hopeless circular pointless and worthless suffering of eastern religions or atheism. It should be obvious that non-Christians have little or no religious motivation to make long range improvements to society by invention, reform, etc.

  • http://palmsundays.blogspot.com Juan Palm

    Just contrast a Christian, Biblical worldview with the hopeless circular pointless and worthless suffering of eastern religions or atheism. It should be obvious that non-Christians have little or no religious motivation to make long range improvements to society by invention, reform, etc.

  • F.Scottie

    The relationship between economic prosperity and hell seems corollary.

    Also, Lars, my understanding is that Calvinists have always believed that there is an actual assurance of salvation based upon trust in Christ’s perfect life and death on the cross.

    Dr. Veith, do you believe being a writer can be counted as a vocation?

  • F.Scottie

    The relationship between economic prosperity and hell seems corollary.

    Also, Lars, my understanding is that Calvinists have always believed that there is an actual assurance of salvation based upon trust in Christ’s perfect life and death on the cross.

    Dr. Veith, do you believe being a writer can be counted as a vocation?

  • Aaron West

    Could you please correct the sentence after the quote:
    “The research goes into far more than this sensationalistic tidbit, finding, for example, that Protestants were involved in greater economic growth in the years after the Reformation than Protestants.”
    I think you mean to say:
    “The research goes into far more than this sensationalistic tidbit, finding, for example, that Protestants were involved in greater economic growth in the years after the Reformation than Catholics.” but it’s not completely clear.
    Thanks, great blog!

  • Aaron West

    Could you please correct the sentence after the quote:
    “The research goes into far more than this sensationalistic tidbit, finding, for example, that Protestants were involved in greater economic growth in the years after the Reformation than Protestants.”
    I think you mean to say:
    “The research goes into far more than this sensationalistic tidbit, finding, for example, that Protestants were involved in greater economic growth in the years after the Reformation than Catholics.” but it’s not completely clear.
    Thanks, great blog!

  • James

    Lars @2 – Lars, my understanding of Calvinist doctrine is, while salvation comes through faith alone, assurance through the testimony of the Holy Spirit who “testifies to our spirit that we are the sons of God”. While our works are evidences we must consider, the decisive assurance of our standing with God comes through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, no doubt many Protestant – especially Puritans – struggled with assurance, the abundant emphasis on pardon and forgiveness found through the merits of Christ alone would, to me, unleash a floodgate of good works knowing that one is free in the freedom which faith in Christ alone secures.

    Bike Bubba @3 -

    “God is good to save me; should I not work hard to honor Him?” Should we try to pay God pack? There’s an essential place to gratitude, but it is *faith* not gratitude which the Scriptures reveal as the motivation for obedience. (Just an observation I’ve had that’s freed me to great works of mercy and enjoyment in Christ.) See also, Luther’s “Treatise on Christian Liberty.”

  • James

    Lars @2 – Lars, my understanding of Calvinist doctrine is, while salvation comes through faith alone, assurance through the testimony of the Holy Spirit who “testifies to our spirit that we are the sons of God”. While our works are evidences we must consider, the decisive assurance of our standing with God comes through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, no doubt many Protestant – especially Puritans – struggled with assurance, the abundant emphasis on pardon and forgiveness found through the merits of Christ alone would, to me, unleash a floodgate of good works knowing that one is free in the freedom which faith in Christ alone secures.

    Bike Bubba @3 -

    “God is good to save me; should I not work hard to honor Him?” Should we try to pay God pack? There’s an essential place to gratitude, but it is *faith* not gratitude which the Scriptures reveal as the motivation for obedience. (Just an observation I’ve had that’s freed me to great works of mercy and enjoyment in Christ.) See also, Luther’s “Treatise on Christian Liberty.”

  • http://uest fws

    it is also a fact that sects like the jehovahs witnesses and 7thday adventists that predicted a date certain for the end of the world, GREW after their predictions proved to be false.

    Go figure. Humans are one strange race.

  • http://uest fws

    it is also a fact that sects like the jehovahs witnesses and 7thday adventists that predicted a date certain for the end of the world, GREW after their predictions proved to be false.

    Go figure. Humans are one strange race.


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