Emerging Christian Interaction with Political Ideologies

Part 1 – Intro to the Series

I’ve begun reading David T. Koyzis’ book Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (InterVarsity Press, 2003).

David Koyzis (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame) is associate professor of political science at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. He approaches his subject matter from a neo-Calvinist (Kuyperian) framework, which I highly value.

As I go through the book, I will write here on the blog things that pique my interest in the book and comment.

First thought:
In a footnote, Koyzis quotes Charles Taylor (from his book The Ethics of Authority [Harvard University Press, 1991]). I thought this was insightful into how political ideologies are inconsistent:

“Right-wing American-style conservatives speak as advocates of traditional communities when they attack abortion on demand and pornography; but in their economic policies they advocate an untamed form of capitalist enterprise, which more and anything else has helped to dissolve historical communities, has fostered atomism, which knows no frontiers or loyalties, and is ready to close down a mining town or savage a forest habitat at the drop of a balance sheet. On the other side, we find supporters of an attentive, reverential stance to nature who would go to the wall to defend the forest habitat, demonstrating in favor of abortion on demand, on the grounds that a woman’s body belongs exclusively to her.”

We do well to look into the mirror as to what we say we are for and against based on our political ideology. As readers of this blog will know, I am constantly blaring the horn that seeks to point out how Christians who line up with the Religious Right and accept the Conservative side of the political discourse need to see the inconsistencies in that movement’s stands (for instance, while they seek to overturn Darwinism in the public schools, they participate in an economic form of Darwinism when it comes to economic issues in this country).

I also have gone round and round with Liberals in saying that even though they say they are for communitarian values they succumb to individualism when it comes to the issue of abortion (that each woman’s “right to choose” should trump the overall public good of protecting those in our society that are increasingly marginalized because they have no voice in the debate—the unborn).

Koyzis’ point in this portion of his book is telling: Whereas in the not-so-distant past political principles were limited to the educated and not usually intended for the general public, “modern (political) ideologies are packaged somewhat eclectically for mass consumption. It is not surprising, then, that such ideologies are often internally inconsistent.”

technorati: , ,


nancy said...

Bob - great series. I will read along wtih you and follow your posts.

I have a couple of initial thoughts on this. First I concur that as Christians we need to seriously evaluate the underlying presuppositions of our political views and never subscribe to the herd mentality.

Though one important factor in this discussion is an analysis of the mediums through which political discourse occurs. So when you point out that in the past it was the educated who had access to understand political principals I think these educated invested the time to think about and analyze the issues.

In our postmodern world, politics is conducted in either soundbites on "shout TV" or the politically inclined listen to their preferred ideas being repeated back to them on their left or right radio programs.

Thoughtful engagement on specific issues rarely occurs since we simply chose to associate with those who agree with us. Once again, only those who invest time studying a specific issue can speak coherently about it (and merely parroting DNC or RNC talking points does not count) and recognize the inconsistencies. It seems that as a society we have in part lost the art of engaging in a hearty, well-informed debate/conversation in which parties on both sides of an issue seek to learn from and inform those on the other side. This is inexcusable in the Christian community.

Also, you mention a quote that laments the closing down of a mining town because of the balance sheet. This statement too generalizes a situation that is far more complex and a right or wrong solution may not exist. I work in the private sector and have witnessed many a foolish corporate decision driven by the bean-counters. However, we cannot turn back history but must face the reality of living in this global economy. Perhaps a few mines must be closed in order to save others.

I use that as an example to emphasize that as Christians, though we would like to affiliate with the noble political cause, many issues are far too complex to label one view good and the other bad.

Bob Robinson said...

Great Comment, Nancy.

Two thoughts:
(1) It certainly does nobody any good to polarize the issues. We Americans have fallen into the sloppy thinking that sees all issues as one side versus another side, with no nuances in between. The left-right yellers on the cable news shows just do not serve us well.

(2) Koyzis makes the great point in his introduction that the simple "left-right" spectrum is extremely unhelpful: it's so one-dimensional that it makes only one overriding principle the evaluative criterion for debate at the expense of many possible others.

Ted Gossard said...

Excellent post and excellent comments.

There is such a "know-it-all" or "I/we know better" attitude I see among Christians on the all too familiar right wing political side (left wing, this can happen too, of course).

Would that there was serious engagement and thoughtful give and take on issues.

I get laughed at and made fun of by some at work as one who can't make up his mind. And that all things are complex. This is not fair or true. I do have a sense of a strong compass, but consequently there are things surely to be said "pro" and "con" across the board. And much listening and learning to do..... (Unlike what is often wanted, Job ends in awe of God, with most of his questions unanswered. But is finding, and us with him, hopefully, true wisdom)

nancy said...

Bob - Yipee, Denver Seminary had a copy of Koyzis book and now I'm reading it. It is a slow and meticulous read!

On p14 he says "An emphasis on rights without a counter emphasis on responsibilities leaves us with precious little basis for genuine community as we in North America are learning to our great regret."

Bob Robinson said...


That's great. Are you a student at Denver?

The book is indeed a little slow and meticulous, but unlike most books written about politics these days, Koyzis' book is not simple raw punditry. Koyzis' book goes beyond punditry and gives historical, sociological, and theological analysis of political ideologies. It's a shame that so many Christians are so lazy about their political opinions (myself included!) that we never read beyond the pundits of the ideology that we already think we agree with!