'Secularization' means converting from religious to lay use. Evangelical Christians formed an organization for young men named the Young Men's Christian Association [YMCA] then added women [YMCA] and in my youth occupied separate buildings in downtown OKC.

Secularization

‘Secularization’ means converting from religious to lay use. Evangelical Christians formed an organization for young men named the Young Men’s Christian Association [YMCA] then added women [YMCA] and in my youth occupied separate buildings in downtown OKC. Now it is simply the “Y” in one building serving both genders, has few explicit ties to its Christian origins or Christian funding. The Salvation Army has had some of its programs assumed by government and volunteer groups. The Good Samaritan in Jesus’s parable now would utilize both secular health facilities and funding. Thy kingdom on earth as in heaven now often now morphs from sacred origins to secular funding and provision.

National Wealth

The latest, best research on national wealth identify “social institutions’ such as rule of law as necessary preconditions for the effective government required to create economies that create wealth. [1]World Bank research found 80% total national wealth in high-income OECD nations derived from ‘intangible capital’ [aka social or human capital such as the skills and know-how embodied in the labor force] compared with only 20% from natural and produced capital.[2] A nation’s wealth is not the criterion of national excellence, but it is evidence of and a proxy for governmental and economic excellence that provide the dominant ingredients of civic merit and the good life for individuals.

Civilization began in ancient Sumer—now southern Iraq—where the principal city of UR was located and where Abram was born. Literacy and writing began there and in ancient Egypt where the Hebrews were forced to live 400 years. Hence, the Hebrews were literate early on. Literacy spread primarily along trade routes because commerce required it. Traders on land and sea and in port cities relied on Jewish merchants who were among the 1% of the population then who were literate.

In the West, literacy was almost a monopoly of monasteries and Hebrew homes and synagogues until 1454 when Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press—making books cheap and widely available like a free, public university. By 1476 when England got its first press half of the European population was reading. Will Durant said that to describe all the effects of the printing press would be to chronicle half the history of the modern mind.

Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German Ca. 1531 displaced Latin as the universal language of commerce and literature. The King James Version of the Bible in 1611 had a similar effect of increasing literacy in English-speaking nations. The Reformation ended the Church’s monopoly on education. Lutherans created public schools further secularizing education

Puritan Education

Settlement of New England began in 1620 with the landing of the Mayflower ship with both Pilgrims and Puritans on board. Before leaving the ship the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact establishing both a church and laws for self-government. Seven years later after Christian communism had failed them, they divided Plymouth Colony into parcels of private property. Hence, the intangible or social capital of self-rule, the rule of law, and private property were present in New England from the beginning of this nation—‘institutions’ that even today do not exist in most of the world. Soon to follow was literacy.

In 1629 London merchants supporting the persecuted Puritans formed the Massachusetts Bay Company to establish in New England profitable trade with Native Americans. These Christian groups came as families and church communities intent on ‘settling’ unlike early emigrants of the Virginia Company that failed so miserably in the Chesapeake area. Their personal character and community institutions read like definitions of the ‘social capital’ reqired to create government and economies required to create wealth.[2]

New England was settled by ‘dissident Protestants” from parts of England known to be very given to entrepreneurialism and a market economy. “For better or worse, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition was for two centuries—and in crucial respects still is—the dominant influence on American culture and society, the standard to which other immigrant nationalities were expected to conform.” [3]

Rejecting works salvation and embracing predestination, they stressed that one was saved by faith i.e., not by works but for works. Consequently, to gain personal assurance and the community’s recognition of being one of the ‘elect’, they lived abstemiously [underconsumed], and saved and invested their surplus in profitable innovations [The World Bank today refers to that formula now as the “Washington Consensus”]. The first civic moves were to build schools so their children could read the Bible and founded Harvard to create a literate ministry.

In short, their Protestant Ethic was a perfect prescription for everyone to get rich .Their preachers constantly warned of the “Protestant Dilemma” the unintended secular consequence of their sacred intent. By the time of the American Revolution, literacy in New England was universal. They stressed hard work and took care of their own poor while strictly guarding against free riders. They intended to establish a ‘citty on a hill’ as a Christian light to the nations until individual greed overcame capitalism quickly secularizing the Protestant Spirit into unrestrained individualism i.e., the Spirit of Capitalism.[4]

[1] Acemoglu,Daron, and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, NY: Crown: 2012.

[2] Where is the Wealth of Nations?, Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006, pg. 92

[3] Schlesinger, Arthur,Jr., The Disuniting of America, NY: W.W. Norton, 1991, pg.28

[4] Innes, Stephen, Creating the Commonwealth: The Economic Culture of Puritan New England, NY: W.W. Norton, 1995.