Moral rebound finds Dutch exploring Calvin

Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:09pm EST
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By Catherine Hornby

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Snuffed-out candles, skulls and hourglasses were how the Old Masters portrayed the vanity of greed. For the Dutch, the credit crunch has revived a moralistic stance from back when the first share was issued in Amsterdam.

Erupting on the 500th anniversary of the birth of Protestant theologian John Calvin, the financial crisis has spawned a splurge of puritanical debate and self-analysis.

Calvin's 16th-century teachings were influential for the Protestant Reformation in the Netherlands and across Europe, and as people reassess the forces that unleashed the global credit bubble, they are falling back on old truths.

Even Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has turned to Calvin to explain the financial mess.

"If the credit crisis makes anything clear, it shows we need to strengthen the moral anchors of our economy," Balkenende wrote in an article discussing what Calvin could teach us today.

"At its core this is also a moral crisis, caused by greed, money-mindedness and egoistic trading."

The renewed sobriety is not without ironies.

A special edition magazine titled "Calvin Glossy" presents the French theologian as the "Barack Obama of the 16th Century," and compares his connection with the ordinary man and his emphasis on responsibility with that of the new U.S. President.   Continued...

<p>Visitors look at painter Pieter Claesz's Vanitas still life in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem in this picture taken January 29, 2009. REUTERS/Robin van Lonkhuijsen/United Photos</p>