Norwegian sanctimony, global folly

The Norwegian Nobel Committee looked in the mirror, saw the president of the United States, and awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. One is tempted to vary Rainer Maria Rilke (“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other”) and suggest that this was the meeting of two narcissisms. But that, as the late Richard Milhous Nixon might have said, would be wrong. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is sufficiently enamored of its own moral superiority to ascribe its self-regarding virtues to any nominee it wishes—particularly one who will help it flog the political corpse of George W. Bush (see “Gore, Al” and “Carter, Jimmy”).

The astonishing announcement of the Peace Prize—which surprised the president and may have caused him a moment’s embarrassment—was a matter of the Scandinavian left projecting what it regards as its superior political morality onto the man who promised “change” and “hope” without specifying the content of either. Still, it seems reasonably clear what the Norwegians imagine that content to be.

The world of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is one which conflict is born from misunderstanding rather than from a clash of interests; thus diplomacy is a therapeutic exercise in which soothing words make for peace. The notion that “peace” might have something to do with creating structures by which conflict is resolved politically—which informed the award of the Peace Prize to George C. Marshall, Nelson Mandela, and Frederik Willem de Klerk—is missing from the Norwegians’ view of the world these days (unless, that is, they’re giving their award to a failed multilateral institution like the International Atomic Energy Agency). Once upon a time, the Norwegian Nobel Committee also understood the linkage between human rights and peace; hence the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to heroes like Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa, who resisted the communist colossus with the power of moral truth. But that commitment to human rights seems to have become a thing of the past, too. Did the Norwegians know that, a few days before this year’s prize was announced, their 2009 awardee had stiffed their 1989 awardee, the Dalai Lama, declining to receive the nonviolent Tibetan leader at the White House for fear of aggravating a Chinese government that proclaims “human rights” a western imperialist imposition? Would it have mattered if they did?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee imagines that the president shares its worldview and, as one of its members said, it wanted to encourage Obama on his chosen path. But what if the path of “hope” and “change” turns out to be a snare and a delusion, because those to be appeased are unappeasable? Suppose the path the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes the president to follow leads to a revival of al-Qaeda terrorism and a nuclear-armed Iran? What if diplomacy-as-therapy leads, not only to a nuclear armed Iran, but to a nuclear-armed Egypt, a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, nuclear-armed Gulf states—and a devastating nuclear war in the Middle East? Is that the path of moral rectitude and political wisdom? What will the Norwegian Nobel Committee see when it looks in the mirror the day after Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, or Tehran, or Mecca, or Cairo, or Riyadh (or all of the above) is a smoldering, radioactive ruin?

The president has a golden opportunity to do something about this dangerous and willful Euro-naivete when he accepts the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize in December. He could accept it in the name of a United States committed to global leadership of the sort that saved Europe from its follies three times in the 20th century. He could use the global bully pulpit to tell President Ahmadinejad and the mullahs of Iran that their vicious regime will not be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. He could call on the Chinese government, and tinpot dictators like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, to recognize that there is no peace without human rights.

If he does, the Norwegian Nobel Committee may well faint en masse; but the president will have taken a giant step toward earning his Peace Prize.

CORRECTION: A previous column referred to the “Franciscan Friars of the Atonement” rather than the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. My apologies.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.