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September 22nd, 2006 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

My brother decided to take on the Pope’s recent speech by arguing–if it can be called that–that Christianity suffers (or almost suffers?) from the irrationality of Islam. Unfortunately, the ironies my brother points out seem grounded misunderstandings of the nature of Christianity. To quote Mark Olson, Jim’s interpretations seem “silly.” I certainly don’t agree with every claim of Mark’s, but his criticisms have kindly saved me the trouble.

The irony of my brother’s post, though, is this claim: “If Keith Plummer is right, and “theological convictions have undeniable practical outworkings,” then let us be glad that, at least at present, the Greeks are winning.” It is ironic because Paleiologos was presumably steeped in the particularly Platonic Christianity (broadly speaking, of course) of Orthodoxy, a tradition that particularly emphasizes the transcendence of God. While Platonism is immensely rational, it also contains mystical and mysterious elements.

It is my hunch that our theologizing should start with the doctrine of transcendence, and never leave it behind. God is wholly other, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Transcendant thoughts, though, are not irrational thoughts.

I leave you, of course, with a fitting quote from Chesterton. He is responding to those in his day who would reject transcendence in favor of immanence:

If we want reform, we must adhere to orthodoxy: especially in this matter (so much disputed in the counsels of Mr. R. J. Campbell), the matter of insisting on the immanent or the transcendent deity. By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social indifference — Tibet. By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation — Christendom. Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself. By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself.