catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 23 :: 2003.12.05 — 2003.12.18


Koyzis? vision

The process of writing a magnum opus is a thing the majority of us will never experience. Professor David Koyzis, then, deserves our admiration for he has completed something we may never start. InterVarsity Press has recently published his Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, a book which has taken nearly a decade to complete.

The composition of this magnum opus was an intellectual journey that began very early in Koyzis’ life. It should be noted that the political world in North America has grown rather quiet since the 60s and 70s. In living memory, I can recall the downfall of communism, yet it did not have so great an impact on me as it may have had on a person who lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nor have many of us seen Martin Luther King, Jr. protest against racial discrimination. No longer are we forced to look directly at radically different political ideas and compare them. The dominance of liberalism in North America left us rather complacent. We have reached, as it were, a comfortably quiet political landscape.

Koyzis, on the other hand, lived through these events and had the importance of the need for working with a Christian approach to politics impressed upon him. There are currently two well-developed Christian approaches to political thought, one Reformed, the other Catholic. Koyzis encountered the Reformed stream while attending Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota. From there he went on to pursue a Masters degree in Political Philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS), and he would round off his education at Notre Dame before coming to teach at Redeemer University College in 1987.

When asked why he began to write his book, Koyzis pointed out the lack of entry-level, undergraduate, political theory texts written from a Christian perspective. In the summer of 1994 he began to remedy this problem. Five chapters were quickly turned out; of those one was scrapped and two went through massive overhauls of their content. The actual writing of the book took seven years’ time. And this was not without its problems. It seems even political theorists are not without their personal bouts of writer’s block.

The result of a lifetime of study and many years of writing (between other responsibilities to work and family) is a lucid treatment of recent political theory, written from a Christian perspective.

The last few centuries of Western history are a record of political experimentation. Koyzis traces the development of five major political ideologies, all of which are radical perversions of the Gospel message of Christ. What characterizes an ideology, says Koyzis, is a central, modernized version of Old Testament idolatry. It is the treatment of some part of God’s creation as if it were God himself, as if it possessed God’s saving powers. Idolatry necessarily implies an intellectual reduction, which robs our experience of God’s creation of its rich fullness. Koyzis proceeds to break down the five different ideologies and exposes the idolatrous root from which their structure stems. Liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democracy, and socialism, all of which have had effects upon current political systems used by governments today, do an injustice to the wonderful diversity of God’s creation. For example, Liberalism finds its salvation in the freedom of the individual to do whatever he or she chooses. It destroys any understanding of a personal responsibility to fellow human beings. A second example, Nationalism, possesses a concrete example that we are all familiar with: Nazism. Hitler’s propaganda was based upon an idea which said the German volk, or nation, had natural rights to annex territory. Also, the dreadful slaughter of the Jews was done to preserve the purity of the German nation.

The necessary course of action then, is to reach beyond the ideologies. Koyzis proposes we do this by adopting the Biblical worldview of creation, fall and redemption. We cannot find the solutions to our world’s political problems in the world itself, as the ideologies would propose to do, but rather in the world’s Creator and Redeemer. Current political dogma would have us believe we need to separate our religion from our politics. The assumed danger of a political system influenced by faith is the totalitarianism it would attempt to impose. In response to this naivet? Koyzis presents a brief overview of two Christian alternatives: neo-Thomist Catholic thought and neo-Calvinist thought, both of which propose to provide a Christian understanding of the nature of politics in our world, and to provide a foundation for a Christian view of justice. He concludes by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives.

Koyzis is fond of pointing out he was unmarried when he began to write this book, but married with a child upon its completion. Perhaps there is significance in this reflection. Koyzis’ interests and passions are reflected throughout the book. He refers to his native country of Cyprus. His love of orchestral music shows through. He reflects on what a family is. These bring the text to life, making it not simply an accomplishment, but a personal achievement of the highest degree.

Our grandparents may have seen firsthand the Nazi horrors of WWII. Our parents may have lived under a threat of Communist invasion. But simply for the reason that Liberalism now stands more or less unchallenged does not mean we as Christians no longer need to involve ourselves in politics. Political Visions and Illusions is a reminder of that.

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