I think it falls to me to say something analytical and
profound about the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama the other
day. I don’t consider myself a Norway
expert, but I’m of Norwegian extraction, speak the language, and have made some
study of the country’s history. I also try to keep vaguely up to date on
The Nobel Peace Prize award was delegated to Norway
by the Swede Alfred Nobel, because Norway
was (grudgingly) united with Sweden
at the time. He wanted to make the award itself an olive branch from the very
outset. The gesture failed to preserve the union, which seems to have been a
What explains this “award for nothing,” an award for “not
being George Bush?” I think the ultimate reason is a religious one—in a sense.
is the most religious of the Scandinavian countries today, though far from an
observant nation. It has a higher level of church participation than Sweden
or Denmark, but—and
this is the point—even its politics seem to have a sort of religious base.
In Norwegian history, it’s impossible (which doesn’t mean it
hasn’t been tried) to separate the rise of democracy from Christian faith, more
particularly evangelical, pietistic Lutheranism. The democratic movement in Norway
came at the same time as a phenomenon known as the Haugean Awakening, a
religious revival led by a lay preacher named Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824).
Hauge was more than a revivalist. He was an entrepreneur, a popularizer, and a
rough-and-ready engineer. He saw it as part of his Christian calling to help
farmers improve their agricultural methods, and to establish industries that
would provide decent jobs for those who had no opportunities on farms.
Although his own activities were effectively squelched by arrest
and long imprisonment for holding illegal meetings, government officials found
Hauge’s ideas impossible to suppress. A generation of peasants who’d learned to
read books and invest their money became a social force that would not be
denied a place in government.
first liberal party, called the Venstre (Left), began as a party of Haugean
farmers. Their politics were animated, not only by a desire to reallocate
political power to the lower classes, but to do good and promote a Christian
Eventually the Venstre was taken over by the “Rene” (Pure)
Venstre, inspired by Continental atheist and socialist impulses. The old
Haugean farmers were driven out. But (I believe) the religious impulse never really
went away. The Norwegian Left sees the Kingdom
of God in the offing, awaiting only
the success of True Believers in preparing the way of the Lord.
The Nobel Peace Prize Award, I think, was an act of faith.