It seems like everyone had a field day a few weeks ago about the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. I admit I was stunned when I first heard the news. After reflecting on the prize, and who the committee has given it to over recent years, I was not so surprised. The whole flap did cause me to do a little research into the past winners of the prize and why they were apparently chosen. There have been some interesting winners in the history of this award, to say the least. The most interesting past recipient, at least to me, could be the least well-known of all the winners. I refer to the Christian leader John R. Mott. Mott, who directed the YMCA for some years, was the "father of the ecumenical movement" in the early twentieth century and a Christian of the greatest sort. Mott is featured in my forthcoming book, Your Church Is Too Small, because of his role in promoting unity among Christians for an entire lifetime.
Another winner of the award was Mother Theresa. She was not an international peace maker but stood as an iconic symbol of peace in her efforts to save lives and care for the poor and broken people of the world. Other Christians have won the award but these two stand out in my research.
So should Obama have been given the award? I really have no strong opinion. I lean toward the idea that he should have turned it down (there is a precedent) and waited until he had actually accomplished something in the world that would have warranted it. It seems he got the award based on "hope" more than anything else. While I admire his idea of "hope" I think his actions must match his rhetoric and only time will tell if this is the real case.
What fascinated me even more was the way the Right went after Obama for the award. They mocked him, the award and the hope for peace in no certain order. It seems that we will hear this for three more years so I guess I am getting used to it. We certainly heard it from the other side the previous eight years.
Cal Thomas, who I often read with interest, spoke of the award as "misnamed." He said the award was "an inside job in which liberal, wishful-thinking humanists give awards to each other." I think that is about right. But then Thomas writes about peace itself as if it is a foregone fact that peace is impossible because of sin. He cites Daniel 9:26: "War will continue until the end . . . "
Thomas' argument is that peace generally occurs where aggressive evil is defeated. "Give peace a chance" is, according to Thomas, an empty slogan. But Thomas then concludes, "The peace prize concept is flawed because the problem of war does not lie with those who would make peace, but with those who would make war." To me this is a fairly typical conservative mistake. I see this as the fallacy of a "false analogy." Let me explain.
While Cal Thomas is correct about the need to defeat evil, at least in certain contexts, his analogy seems to suggest that real peacemaking always involves making new wars against evil. If I read him correctly he is saying that the only way to defeat war-makers (potential or real) is by defeating them militarily.
I am not a pacifist. I do believe there is a time and place to fight. I do not, however, think that many of the wars of the twentieth century had to be fought. Most of America's wars could have been avoided with the possible exception of World War II. The historical facts are troubling. We entered more than one war because various political forces wanted war. We have even found a way to get around the Congress in terms of making war and this has cost us dearly as a nation.
As a Christian my first call is not to war, or to help fan the flames of conflict, but rather to be a "peacemaker." It seems to me that most conservative Christians forgot this principle. The rush to war is so strong that it defies logic at times. Even following 9/11 the vast majority of us wanted to make someone pay for what "they" did to America. "They" got broader and broader as we rattled our sabers. To be very honest about this I found my patriotic emotions really super-charged in the days that followed 9/11. I am not ashamed of that emotional reaction. What I am ashamed of is that I felt war was the first response. I have changed my mind and honesty compels me to say so. Defending our homeland did not mean we had to invade Iraq. I am prepared to say we should have entered Afghanistan but I am quite unsure that we should attempt to "build a nation" there (if it can even be done). My big question is rather simple: "Why do we Christians adopt one side or the other of this debate as if things are always so black and white when it comes to war?" Where are the real peacemakers, those who may think war is sometimes necessary, but who insist that we be very, very careful about when and where we use military force?
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I thought no Christian had ever won the peace prize. Maybe it was the Pulitzer. Thanks for the article’s candor.
Thanks for the article. You definitely are my daily intellectual caffeine injection for the day. I too was surprised by Obama’s receiving the award, but the fact remains, so was he. The response of the Right was so predictable that only the speed of it was notable. They have almost become caricatures of themselves and one begins to look for the joke before any truth that might lie within it.
Also, I share with you my now embarrassing reaction to 9/11. At the time I think I would have been satisfied had we sent a bomber and bombed anybody (Bagdad? Kabul? Montreal?)just to feel better. It was not a time of great Christian witness.
The notion of making war in order to have peace is right out of Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” but it is one which seems to be very high on the list of fundamental beliefs of this nation, among others. I am not sure our adversaries are notable for their high minded philosophies either but we seem to be content to mud wrestle with the harbingers of hopelessness anyway. New Testament scripture seems to give high marks to peacemakers, empathizers, feeders of the poor and such. It does not seem to uphold the notion that any particular political entity is the Kingdom in full and seems to have little regard for the long term holders of real estate. Christianity seems to frequently be hijacked and used as a mantle by those with less lofty aspirations than the Beatitudes. Perhaps a prize given to one who at least holds out the hope for peace is better than one given to someone who simply bombed their way into a temporary cessation of aggressions.
With your frequent criticism of the “Right”, I think it is relevant to point out that many Nobel Prize observers were simply shocked because Obama took office ***less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline.***
It is also relevant to note the results of a Gallup poll regarding the Nobel Peace Prize for President Obama:
The majority of Americans do not believe President Barack Obama deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize (61%).
The Washington Post notes that only 2 other sitting USA Presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize…….but after their FIRST TERMS ….after they have actually accomplished something……..
Obama has increased troop levels in Afghanistan slightly; he has kept up the drone attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban; contrary to his previous campaign promise, Obama has not closed Gitmo; he has approved indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects….in other words, the same sort of things that Bush did………so why did Obama receive the Nobel Peace Prize??
Check out what the Times Online had to say about this….
The point is the evidence seems to suggests that the Right were right on this subject.
Excellent thoughts John. Thanks for saying this.
Like many I too was very surprised that Obama got the prize. But Al Gore got it and I certainly didn’t understand that. So, like the many “awards” they give school children now for next to nothing, maybe a new consistency along the line of least resistance is in play. The scales seem to have tipped away from solid contribution (which might seem discriminatory to minds that refuse to recognize that faith of any kind is faithfulness) to sentimentality all across the board.
I understand that Sarte turned his award down. So while he was mistaken that hell was other people he at least recognized that heaven did not consist of receiving an award for the wrong reasons.
This is a great and interesting article. Thanks!