Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party have declared war on Transcendence.
“Transcendence” refers to that which goes beyond and extends above the “immanent,” the horizontal scale. The Truly Transcendent is infinite, meaning “unlimited.” The immanent is finite, bounded.
Yet the finite hungers for the infinite. Ultimately this is an intense desire for the InfiniteTranscendent Being — God.
Without a healthy understanding of and reverence for Transcendence humans have no standard for good. If there is no absolute standard for good, then there is no standard for identifying evil.
Theologian Alvin Plantinga says that a strictly finite worldview “has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort.” Richard E. Simmons III, in his book, Reflections on the Existence of God, discusses the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Robert H. Jackson, the chief prosecutor, “appealed to a law beyond the law, a universal standard.” A system of ethics, he believed, as Simmons describes it, “has to be transcendental, and its basis cannot rest in the finite world.”
If there is no standard for identifying evil, then anything goes — from heists to Holocausts. Without the Transcendent standard how can anything be judged as truly wrong?
However, Thomas Jefferson was thinking about Transcendence and the injustice of slavery, when he said, “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Most of the groups that Xi Jinping’s government is now persecuting from among their own people are those who look beyond the earthly tyrants to Transcendent authority. It’s not just Christians and their institutions in China that are under attack, but Muslims and Buddhists, and any others who look to authority above and beyond the stern councils of Beijing. That includes spiritual movements like Falun Gong. A shocking Canadian report exposed “large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.”
This passion to try to squelch the recognition of and hunger for Transcendence should come as no surprise, since all authoritarians ultimately come to this. If there is a Transcendent Being whom people worship, then the dictators are not at the top of the pole of power.
They are compelled to eliminate every trace of Transcendence. In doing so they run into a confession of St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
A few centuries later, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, in his Pensees (French for “reflections,” or “thoughts”), wrote: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? Thus he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can only be filled with the infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
Xi Jinping and all the totalitarians can try to stifle the passion in the human soul for Transcendence and replace it with sloganeering, great spectacles of armies and weapons paraded before the nation and world, as well as their own personages, but none of these can fill the “infinite abyss.”
Those of us who ministered in the former Soviet Bloc after the collapse of Communism were amazed at how quickly churches, seminaries, and ministries sprung up everywhere.
When I think of Xi’s current war on Transcendence, I remember an afternoon in 1971 in the New Territories north of Hong Kong. President Richard Nixon, my boss at that time, would a year later surprise the world by traveling to China. On that 1971 day, however, China was closed tight to the United States and much of the world. Yet l could look a hundred yards ahead and see a farmer in China working his fields.
“There are some Chinese who believe Mao will never die,” said my host. They have faith that at some future point he will ascend into the mountains and continue to rule China forever, my friend continued.
To suggest that there were Chinese who, in the officially atheist state, had already exalted Mao to transcendent status — in their minds at least — proved both Augustine and Pascal right: the human soul must have Transcendence just as the human body must have oxygen or water.
Take away true Transcendence and we begin glorifying and worshipping everything around us.
The Antichrist spirit exploits this. “Anti,” in New Testament Greek, means “in the place of” as well as “against.” The Antichrist spirit is therefore that of opposition and imposition. The desire is not only to oppose Christ but to push Him aside and put oneself on the Lord’s throne.
Lucifer tried this before creation, and, in the words of Jesus, fell from Heaven “like lightning.” (Luke 10:18) This has been the outcome for earthly despots driven by the Antichrist spirit to seize the thrones of their nations, civilizations, and, finally, the world itself.
Nero tried. Stalin attempted. Hitler blitzed. Now Xi Jinping is making his run on the throne of time and history. However, the Chinese are spiritually hungry. During the relaxation of Marxist totalitarianism prior to 2018, great churches bloomed overnight —the churches Xi is now bulldozing, bearing crosses he has ripped down.
Xi’s war on Transcendence is not new. The outcome has already been written in the soul of humanity.
Wallace Henley is a former pastor, White House, and congressional aide. He served eighteen years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Wallace, the author of more than twenty books, now does conferences on the church and culture, church growth and leadership. He is the founder of Belhaven University's Master of Ministry Leadership Degree.