The prosperity and way of life in many countries of western civilization (namely Germany, Holland, Switzerland, England, and the United States of America) have existed for a few hundred years now. Much like those who lived in the Roman Empire, the sheer force of this history may persuade contemporary members of secular society to feel invincible against the demise of this prosperity and way of life, demanding it as a birthright rather than accepting it as a delicate heirloom. Rather than embracing the qualities that have brought about this prosperity, Fred Catherwood in The Creation of Wealth: Recovering a Christian Understanding of Money, Work, and Ethics notes that contemporary secular society has replaced these qualities with two basic assumptions: good and evil have no absolute definition and a moral order of right and wrong is unnecessary to underpin the laws of the land. Catherwood dedicates The Creation of Wealth to describing how these current assumptions of secular society are antithetical to the prosperity we currently enjoy.
Catherwood tracks the current prosperity of western civilization to the tireless and diligent efforts of merchant classes arising during the sixteenth century in western Europe. These merchants developed habits of work ethic and saving based on their theology, taking Christ’s parable of the talents and other biblical admonitions to live wisely and diligently to heart. They perceived of squandering their time, talents, and resources as a breach of their duties as God’s stewards. Thus, these individuals lived in meager homes and worked hard to develop lasting business relationships with other merchants, always conserving their assets rather than spending them and cultivating a relationship of trust based on their common moral worldview. Successive generations shared the moral worldview and ardent faith of their ancestors, moving to or remaining in countries that did not severely restrict their trade practices—Prussia, Holland, Switzerland, England, and the Thirteen Colonies. Essentially, these individuals conducted themselves in a trustworthy, thrifty, and assiduous manner, because they knew that God expected them to behave this way.
As the many personal experiences of Catherwood as an accountant, business executive, and politician included in The Creation of Wealth suggest, contemporary society presents a startling contrast. People who have business dealings no longer trust each other, relying on litigation and other legal remedies to settle their differences. Corporate executives in publicly traded companies tend to focus on short-term gain rather than long-term prosperity, because shareholders have become too impatient to wait for return on their investment, therefore making these companies subject to hostile takeover bids. Rather than fix this unrealistic shareholder expectation, corporate executives simply make certain to have a “golden parachute” in place that will protect them if such a hostile takeover does ensue. Instead of focusing on growth through exporting and production, the United States and British governments have sustained their countries’ growth by incurring huge trade deficits and now must expend a staggering amount of resources to finance their debt. Individuals tend to live outside of their means, forsaking the meager lifestyles of their ancestors in favor of the hedonistic principle “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” God and theology are not only out of the picture, but scorned as outdated and subversive concepts. Many members of contemporary secular society lack the fundamental understanding that we are working for and living in a kingdom that is not solely defined by the immediate or phenomenal.
While Catherwood’s apocalyptic assessment for western civilization—“secular humanism does not have a leg to stand on, and if we cannot see through its dangerous errors, it will be the death of Western society”—may seem overly anxious, Catherwood cites plenty of anecdotal evidence that indicates his apparent pessimism about the future of western civilization is not altogether unfounded. The use of this anecdotal evidence lends a degree of authenticity to the guidance Catherwood offers in The Creation of Wealth. Even so, some readers may find this anecdotal evidence inadequate to support Catherwood’s economic conclusions, especially those involving the superiority of the “Rhine Model” and other continental European economic practices. But that should be taken only as a minor criticism of an otherwise excellent and extremely relevant book. In addition to emphasizing the source of western civilization’s prosperity, Catherwood also provides provocative commentary on how a Christian should conduct his or her financial and business affairs in this contemporary secular society. Anyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, who is serious about creating or sustaining the prosperity of western civilization should read The Creation of Wealth.
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