Nobel, Gore and Jesus

IKEA and Volvo are not the only Swedish exports to Australia. It seems Bofors, the Swedish armaments company, is in the early stages of negotiation with the Australian government for the sale of 250 satellite guided Excalibur missiles to upgrade the national defense system “down under.”

Alfred Nobel, the philanthropist founder of the Nobel prizes, made his fortune from Bofors, the company he redirected from its previous function as an iron and steel mill to an armaments manufacturer. Nobel had developed dynamite in 1867. It has always seemed strange that an armaments manufacturer should have instituted the most globally recognised Peace Prize. Makes one wonder, how important are armaments in maintaining the peace? I suppose, in view of the fact that fighting one another seems to be a basic human characteristic, they will always have a role. The idea of Jesus, of turning the other cheek, doesn’t seem to wash well with most humans.

One who did apparently live out that idea was Gandhi. Not that he didn’t resist the evil powers he saw around him. It was just that he resisted peacefully. Gandhi didn’t win the Peace Prize. Though he might have if he hadn’t been assassinated. Strangely the Nobel prize cannot be awarded posthumously. People don’t like individuals who challenge the status quo to the extent that Gandhi or Jesus did.

From this year’s Peace Prize it would seem that the biggest threat to world peace is climate change. But who is the enemy? Is it the climate? I presume not. It would seem to be humanity itself, since it is “anthropogenic (human induced) climate change” that all the fuss is about. After all, it is only our own actions that we can actually change. We can’t change nature. There was a time when people believed that God could change nature. But no-one much seems to believe he is in charge anymore. There is a much stronger call nowadays to people to take responsibility for their own actions than there is to God to fix up the results of our own actions. If we destroy ourselves we must take the blame. And it is apparently in our power to rescue ourselves.

The problem now, however, is not our inbuilt tendency to fight each other. It is our inbuilt desire to “have it all, and to have it now.” To be wealthy and comfortable and secure. It is materialism that is killing us. The billions in the world who live below the poverty line aspire to be like us rich westerners, who have built our comfort and security on fossil fuels. We rich westerners have no inclination to reduce our standard of living, but rather the opposite. What we have is never enough. Rather than using less water, buying expensive “clean energy” or “green” cars, we use our savings buying more cars, with bigger engines, burning more fossil fuel. We fly overseas more than ever before. We buy, buy, buy, and most of what we buy is made in China, where the main energy source is coal powered electricity, which we Australians are happy about because it means a huge market for our natural resources.

Nobel could not preserve world peace by building weapons. Al Gore cannot preserve world peace by making documentaries about climate change. The only thing that can guarantee world peace is a change in the human heart. A change that convinces humans that having more is not the recipe for happiness (see this article in The Age). Not that I would deny some of the material comfort and security that we in the west enjoy to the poor of the world (see this comment from Reuters). But the “inconvenient truth” is that if the poor are to have more, then we rich must have less. Which means moving downward. Downward mobility. A thought that is diametrically opposed to the essence of humanity: moving upward.

Where can we find contemporary role models to display this value system to the world? Generally people who move downwards are called losers. Because the one who dies with the most stuff, in our system, is seen as the winner. It is good that some have chosen to share their massive wealth with others. Nobel was one, but not, it seems, until after he had died. Bill Gates is another. But it needs millions to choose to give rather than get if we are to see change. I wonder if Al Gore’s efforts have moved us humans any closer to that ideal?

Downward mobility. It sounds like Jesus. But he wouldn’t have got the Nobel peace prize. He was killed (like Gandhi) before many people realised that he had a point. And the Peace Prize cannot be awarded posthumously. And of course nowadays many of the intellectuals of the world like to blame Jesus for the evil inherent in the human heart. When all he really did was challenge people to recognise that evil and do something about it. Much as Al Gore has done. Jesus talked a lot more about changing the heart than about climate change. Perhaps because he realised that the core problem is not climate change. That is just a result of the core problem. But talking about the heart is not scientific. It is a moral issue. An ethical issue. A religious issue. But right now in human history it is the scientists we look to for salvation, not the ethicists, not the religious leaders. The idea of moral absolutes is seen as ignorant and naive.

The truth is that science does not have the answers. It simply describes the problem. It offers strategies for dealing with the results of the problem. But in a sense, they just relieve the symptoms. If the underlying disease is not healed, problems will just turn up somewhere else.

4 thoughts on “Nobel, Gore and Jesus

  1. “It has always seemed strange that an armaments manufacturer should have instituted the most globally recognised Peace Prize.”

    The story I’ve heard is that he thought, with dynamite, he was introducing a potential force so deadly that the world would recognize the need to renounce war.

    But I’m not so sure I believe it. More likely, the story is a public relations ploy, an add-on.

    In the USA, John D Rockefeller made his fortune cornering the oil market. He was all business. He was ruthless. He was hated in his lifetime.

    His son devoted his life to softening the old man’s image. John Jr. founded the Rockefeller charitable foundation, one of the largest charities of all time.

    Maybe it’s something like that with Alfred Nobel.

    Yours is a thoughtful article.

  2. Hi Dave,

    Bofors has been supplying armaments to Australia for at least 70 years. We used anti-aircraft Bofors guns on ships in WWII – there is one on display in the National Maritime Museum in Sydney.


  3. Pingback: Christian Muslim dialogue « holfies

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