Calvin Year

Calvin anniversary prompts questioning of Protestant 'work ethic'

By Anli Serfontein
Trier, Germany, 20 April (ENI)--German Bishop Margot Kässmann has criticised
the Protestant work ethic ascribed to the 16th century theologian Jean Calvin,
saying it has  excesses in the current social and economic climate.

"God's grace does not only apply to those who are strong and productive in
society," Kässmann said in comments at a forum organized in the year that
marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Calvin, known for his role in
Geneva, a cradle of the Protestant Reformation.

Kässmann said she believed it important to make her point at a time when
performance-related achievement seems to be so central in society, the German
Protestant news agency epd reported.

Speaking on 15 April at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, Kässmann said
she found problematic the belief that, "People who are more productive, are
therefore more blessed. In times of burnout syndrome, we have to ask
ourselves: 'What did we trigger with this ethic?'"

In his teachings, Calvin propagated a strong sense of duty and purpose often
described as the Protestant work ethic, and seen as a contributing factor in
the rise of capitalism.

The Berlin discussion forum marked the start of a series of events at the
museum to commemorate Calvin (1509-1564). The meeting with Kässmann was on
discipline. At weekly intervals, discussions on money, resistance, images and
democracy will follow.

The forum is part of the museum's exhibition on the life and work of Calvin
called "Calvinism: The Reformed Protestants in Germany and Europe". It runs
until 19 July. With more than 360 historical documents, works of art and
liturgical objects, the Berlin exhibition is the largest exhibition in Europe
during the Calvin Year.

The exhibition also touches on issues such as expulsion, migration and
minorities. It was opened on 1 April by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter
Balkenende, a professed Calvinist, in the presence of Berlin Bishop Wolfgang
Huber, who also heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country's
main Protestant umbrella, and other dignitaries.

Balkenende said church reformers like Calvin and Martin Luther were constantly
fighting against injustice in their societies. Today this resistance should be
seen against the inflated bonus culture of bankers.

He pointed out the strong work ethic that forms an important part of Calvinist
theology is "worked into a moral framework". In the light of the current
global economic crisis, Balkenende stated, "It would be a good thing if the
financial markets were more strongly governed by this principle."

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