The the Protestant Work Ethic

Wednesday August 29, 2018

"Now as he was sleeping, there came one to him, and awakened him, saying, 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.'"

This is a line from Pilgrim's Progress. Remember that line; we'll return to it later.

I was brought up by Lancastrian Puritans. To put this into context, a Lancashire Puritan is what a Scottish Puritan aspires to be when he grows up.

The virtues of early rising, hard work, thrift, and the shunning of all frivolous pleasure were exemplified in our household: as ruled by my Grandfather, with a rod of iron. There was television, but we children could watch only the children's hour; if we had been good. It was otherwise switched on for the nine o'clock news and the cowboy film on a Sunday afternoon; when we all sat in the front room in a dutiful row on the sofa and watched in silence.

Food was wholesome and plain, clothes were hand-me-downs, and we were expected to do chores and to study hard at school.

To this day, I feel guilty if I rise later than seven, if I spend even an hour during the day doing nothing, if I read for pleasure rather than improvement. I cannot even watch TV without the excuse of doing the ironing at the same time. When I was in paid employment I was the first to arrive and the last to leave: I needed to be sure of giving good value for my pay.

It's sometimes called the Protestant Work Ethic.

But where did it come from? Well, here's my idea.

Discussing books with a friend recently, we discovered that neither of us had read Pilgrim's Progress and decided to do it together.

We have not got very far; not least because we are both reading it at bedtime and I can recommend it as a cure for insomnia!

What we have read however, has given me to think.

The work is, of course, a religious allegory – but it is not the theology of it that strikes me most, it is the world view presented by Bunyan.

I do not know if Pilgrim's Progress was the first work to put these Puritan values into writing, but it has undoubtedly been the most influential. I can trace much of our cultural attitudes towards work and play, both in the UK and in the States, to this book.

The problem is not hard work. The problem is not early rising. The problem is not being careful with money. The problem is the guilt which comes with lie-ins, with occasional extravagance, with – heaven forbid – time spent in frivolity, or worse, idleness.

The theology of the book is for another blog elsewhere, but the cultural significance of it is what I want us to consider.

As my friend said to me, "You can sleep in: it's alright. You can spend money on nothing: it's okay. And, come join me; let's sit in the sun – and do nothing."

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.


Comments are viewable only by members. Register Now to participate in the discussion.

Already have an account? Login to leave a comment.

There are 27 comments so far.

What is Moodscope?

Moodscope members seek to support each other by sharing their experiences through this blog. If you’d like to receive these daily posts by email, just sign up to Moodscope now, completely free of charge.

Moodscope is an innovative way for people to treat their own low mood problems using an engaging online tool. Anyone in the world can accurately assess and track daily mood scores over a period of time. We have proved that the very act of measuring, tracking and sharing mood can actually lift it. Join now.

Blog Archive


Posts and comments on the Moodscope blog are the personal views of Moodscope members, they are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Moodscope makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any of the links.

Moodscope will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.