Protestantism

Protestantism was another step towards the personal stage. Until the 4th century Christianity was still very much about society. After Augustine, it became more about the individual (saving shis own soul) who was still passive though. With the Reformation the person became active (had a duty to be active) in shaping shis destiny. This was also accompanied by strengthening monotheism. Protestant reformers (and Catholic too) insisted on turning away from saints and angels and focusing on God alone.

In 16th century Europe Luther's translation of the Bible into German and call for education for all resulted in the democratisation of religion and a heightened sense of individualism. Shortly after, Calvin managed to transform society on a small scale (in Geneva), so people started to believe that they could make a difference in this world. Calvinist pre-determinism of salvation may seem on first sight to remove choice but, in fact, it furthered individualisation - social control became harder without the belief that one's thoughts and behaviour will affect the outcome. By the end of the 16th century Christianity was fragmented into many groups, so religion became more than ever a question of choice. Moreover, ‘instead of expressing their faith in external, collective ways, the people of Europe were beginning to explore the more interior consequences of religion' (ibid., p.318). The cornerstone of modern philosophy, Descartes, urged to turn inside, self-reflection being the only reliable method to cognise reality. Isolation and autonomy that sprang from the Cartesian method were to become the central characteristic of the Western mentality.

When introducing what is now known as Pascal's wager, Pascal ‘was the first modern' (ibid., p.343), conceding that a belief in God was the matter of personal choice. In the 17th and 18th centuries Deism emerged as an attempt to reconcile religion with reason. Nothing was left except an impersonal God, who does not interfere with human affairs and could be discovered only by one's own efforts. This was only one step away from discarding God all together, which was yet to come. New self-reliance would soon lead many people to reject the whole idea of God who reduces them to the state of a dependant. All of that prepared the ground for a radical break with the past and a turn towards the future. While traditional societies resisted innovation and change, a new feeling that people are in charge of their own affairs provided a fertile ground for the development of technology on an unprecedented scale.

This is not to say that reformed religion did not leave its mark. Even when an image of God was discarded, its ethos could be expressed in a secular way. The idea that people make their own destinies was perfectly aligned with the emergence of a new economic system, capitalism, that glorified work and favoured competition over cooperation.