The Catholic creed prizes the sacrifice, 

the Protestant one prizes the success.

by Diana Baroni


Are the major two christian religions cause of different social behaviours in the latin and anglosaxon societies? 

I am trying to sketch a "comparison" between Catholicism and Protestantism in order to point out the elements of different mentalities whichlead to different individual and collective behaviours and different "visions" of the world. I am not exploring, here, the problem of how much all that matters today. In fact I don't know how far we can generalize; moreover there are further important conceptions that we should insert into the equation: Islam and Judaism in the religious field, and (at least) Marxism and Anarchism in the social field. 

Colonial history of Catholicism, models, conception of the individual and the woman 

In Catholicism, the clergy is the only channel of contact between individuals and God.  Catholicism survives in the "Latin" countries of Europe, that have known "barbaric" and Arab invasions, the Papacy as a political power, imperial domination, territorial divisions, wars between empires and the papacy, monachism, heresies, Crusades, the decline of the Mediterranean as center of the international commerce, the Inquisition, Humanism, Renaissance, armies, pirates, ecclesiastical and civil bureaucracies, and geniuses. The Church places itself above the believers, as the absolute arbitrator and the only repository of the truth. It acquired more and more feudal values and earthly power, and the clergy has became rigidly hierarchical. It keeps on using the Latin language also when the most part of people doesn't know it anymore, in order to perpetuate control over her flock, with the magical fascination that a mysterious language gives to her rituals. The cult of the Saints, the processions, the many and mandatory collective moments of the cult, the confession, allow continuous control over individuals. The church is more and more perceived as clergy, and the clergy is above the judgment of the Faithful and of the civil laws. Moreover, it is the only way of contact between individuals and God. The result can only be an individual without great value in himself, alone and impotent, ignorant and subject to Authority. Or a rebel, heretical, brigand or both. Such, however, is a dangerous individual, to be eliminated as a possible example (there were crusades against heretics). In the Catholic countries the "good" or the "evil" can be chosen, but not by single individuals; the collective dimension is always present. There are creative, brilliant, heroic individuals, but the figure of the "pioneer", cause and aim of his actions, therefore responsible only to himself, is absent. The Catholic pioneers (Da Vinci, Galilei) act only in the cultural field, not in geographic spaces. Let's think about the colonization of America: the South conquered with armies and missionaries with typical Catholic mentality and methods; the North (the West) colonized particularly with individuals, the "pioneers". (A duly collateral reflection could compare the result of the two colonizations: how many native people live today in Latin America? And how many in the North? And how do they survive?). 

The Catholicism gives great importance to the concept of love, but it is a filial and subordinate love: we are sons of the Church, which protects us from the evils of the world. Inferiority to the ecclesiastical hierarchy is a condition common to all, while everybody also shares sacrifices, mournings, penances, andpain. In this environment,manifestations offeelings (or the ritualization of them) are public. People help each other to bear all the powers that weigh on us. The solidarity is well-known. The concept of individual happiness in this world is at least strange if not sinful, the concept of success does not exist. Triumph and Priviledges are better understood as goodluck. 

 In Catholicism, woman is another story. The Church protects its sons (all males) also from her, that is seen as responsible for all evil, since Eva - Temptation personified. The woman is constantly suspected of a diabolic nature, or of complicity with the Devil (witches). The Marian cult (Maria not as a woman, but as Mother of God) reveals the acceptance, by the Church, of the pagan roots of the Mother-Earth Goddess's cult. It also demonstrates the fear of the power of such roots, exorcised by the veneration of the Madonna and the women-Saints on one hand, and with the rejection of real women on the other. 

In Catholicism, the works of man serve to increase the Glory of God, to beg the pardon for sins, as penance or thanks, or demand for aid. The most important works are done for the Church, which enjoys the benefits in the name of God. Works not directed to the Church are useless or sinful. The individual, in Catholicism, keeps the Church as intermediary in every field, every place, outside and within himself. The notion of the common good, is often the good of the Church. Having an intermediary also with oneself, it is difficult to have  autonomy as a totally complete being in relation to the whole outside world, and it is difficult to think about oneself as a "winner" and, at the same time, as an individual. 

The Protestantism, doctrine of individual happiness 

Protestantism flourishes in countries with a strong national spirit and local governments. The People also aimed to acquire the wealth previously sent as tribute to the distant Church of Rome. People claim the right to decide about local conditions, while the universality of Rome is something vague, expensive and corrupt. People want a more direct and simple relationship with every kind of authority. The Faithful want to understand the religion they profess and want to use, for faith, the same language used for all the other human relations (vernacular). They look for a direct relationship between individuals and God. There is a revaluation of human personality, of human work, the direct relationship of each individual to the Sacred Writing, without interference nor control: it is a great stimulus to education. The individual is accountable to God and to other people for his/her own acts. The freedom of the individual, not subject to venerate other persons, or to practice of penances and sacrifices, in a position to face with equal dignity every authority, becomes not only important as a concept, but also in practice. People become used to acting independently, and not always as subjects. The developed environment involves also the feminine figure: real women can have citizenship and dignity, even if not full equality. While in Catholicism people are subject to the Church, here people are "citizens" of the Church. Formalities and bureaucracies have a much smaller weight in the lives of the Faithfuls. They are not sons, but craftsmen, responsible to the Church and consequently to the world. Having to endure less coercion and less institutional power, they think freely and act efficiently. The collective dimension is also less shared, they do charity without strong ties of solidarity. The individual can have success, and seek his/her own individual happiness. The individual can feel detached from other peoples' suffering and/or happiness. 

Success is the manifestation of one's own predestination to the salvation. Work is useful to the individual and to the earthly world, and is the "certificate" of being chosen. The individual is not impotent, subject, or rebellious, the individual is fully aware of his/her citizenship rights, and is convinced of the legitimacy of his/her own actions. Everything is right, so far, but here is the problem: the border between power and arrogance, between knowledge of our own rights and always putting oneself first, and above everything else, between Liberty and Licence. I see dangers in omnipotence which, to me, should be eliminated as well as impotence. Maybe it is also because I don't much like very much people who think they are "Chosen", not by democratic elections, but by the Almighty, or who think that they have particular "ethical merits", or who declare themselves to be above the "common people". But I would not continue to go either with the feudalism of the Catholic Church, or with the arrogance of Protestantism. 

A feasible ethical growth

I wouldn't keep on sacrificing myself for the common wealth, if it is not also mine. And I wouldn't, or rather I couldn't, care for my wealth at the expense of others'. I would like to succeed, if my success is free from the shame of the failure of others. I would like to overcome the split which is present in too many aspects of life - in this case between love and freedom.

The above aim is feasible only through a comparative analysis of existing ethical models, at least in the post-industrial societies, aimed at valuing the ethical aspects (i.e. favorable to the ethically mature freedom of people) existing in such models, cleaning them from the incrustations and the rust of the centuries and the millennia, and integrating them into more recent ethical systems.

[English translation was revised by Michael Martin-Smith]

[DB - TDF 2/2001 - 17/06/2001]

See also:

Is a fruitful dialogue between Latin-Catholic and Anglophone-Protestant cultures possible? - by A. Autino