Lutheranism may be institutionally weak in Germany, but its ethos of moral responsibility and sacrifice may be a significant factor behind the nation’s economic resilience and stability, writes Harvard University historian Steven Ozment in the New York Times (August 12).
Although religiously diverse and politically secular, the current German emphasis on frugality and responsibility in its fiscal policies harks back to the model of the “sacrificial Lutheran society” envisioned by Martin Luther. The charitable practices established during the Reformation made care for the poor a civic obligation (establishing “common chests” in most towns), while each recipient had to pledge to repay the borrowed amount.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor likewise draws on this sensibility, for instance, in her refusal to support so-called euro bonds. Her opposition stems less from the refusal to help the undeserving poor than from the conviction that it would not help the poor to take responsibility for either themselves or their neighbors. Ozment argues that Germany’s austerity model includes the Lutheran view of social responsibility, teaching that grace and faith empower a person to act in the world, “taking the worry out of his present and future life.”
He concludes that the steady advance of Islam and “unrelenting economic pressure from their neighbors” have led Germans of all backgrounds to “find ‘a mighty fortress’ for themselves in their own Judeo-Christian heritage.”