Wednesday, April 19, 2017

‘Capitalism without Protestantism Becomes Wild,’ Russian Evangelical Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Ever since Max Weber published his 1905 study, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” many have speculated on how capitalism can emerge and function in countries without a Protestant tradition and whether capitalism in these countries is different in kind from the system in those informed by Protestantism.

            As Russia enters what Moscow has declared “the Year of Protestantism” to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launch of the Reformation in Europe, Konstantin Bendas, a leader of Russia’s Evangelical Protestants is arguing that “capitalism without Protestants will become wild” (

            In an interview published in today’s NG-Religii, the Pentecostal bishop argues that unless capitalism is informed by Biblical principles of the kind that inform Protestantism and some other denominations, it will descend into “a cult of success” in which those who pursue their own greed and do not help others will be viewed as successful. That leads to “wildness.”

            Protestantism has experienced a revival in Russia since the end of Soviet times, he continues, but its values still do not inform the attitudes of much of the larger society about labor relations and private property.   Those values are changing only slowly, Bendas says; and to a large extent, they remain Soviet in a capitalist system.

            Thus, he continues, many expect the government to solve all their problems and are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves; and many as well have adopted “a cult of consumption and showy luxury” rather than follow the kind of Biblical positions on such issues that Protestantism promotes.

            All too many Russians, he says, including the NG-Religii interviewer, are inclined to blame the West for the “wild” 1990s rather than to see that what occurred was a situation in which people with Soviet values were put in a position to exploit the advantages of capitalism without any constraints.

            Protestantism teaches and Russians should accept that when problems arise, it is important to look first into oneself rather than seeking to blame others, Bendas says.

            His interviewer points out that Bendas is a Siberian and that Siberians from pre-revolutionary times have been more Protestant than Russians in the European portion of the country and that that Siberian experience, which includes the Old Believers, means that Russians can gain a Christian understanding of capitalism without having to accept anything from abroad.

            Bendas agrees that Siberians and especially Old Believers have played an enormous role in the development of Russian capitalism, but he says there is a long tradition of Protestantism in European Russia despite efforts by the Soviets to wipe it out.  And he expressed the hope that this religious tradition will return and help Russia to have a worthy kind of capitalism.

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