Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nuclear North Korea and the Follies of the Grand Chess Board

While the US and its limited circle of allies went chasing after phantom WMDs in the early 2000s, and then the prospect of US style post-Obama culture in Middle East rallies the Western powers around destabilizing governments on the promise of a mid-east spring (look how well that turned out), and the American media spent (and continue to spend) the majority of their efforts focusing on Trump Drama, North Korea put its nose to the grind to develop an ICBM that successfully, according to current estimates, puts the US mainland (and many other Western powers) within striking distance.

The significance of this latest test is two fold. First, most talking heads are taking the claims seriously. Second, the intel behind this latest test indicates that North Korea was well ahead of previous Western estimates.

One wonders if said estimates were deliberate attempts at domestic propaganda designed to keep attention from Arabian escapades. The common wisdom is that no one wants a conflict on the Korean peninsula - the results would be catastrophic and there are risks of it spiraling into a conflict with China.

China's role as North Korea's strongest trade partner ought to come under scrutiny, at least for the purposes of better understanding the current context. The US has spent the better part of two decades pussyfooting around North Korea's nuclear program for the sake of not provoking China. It is worth asking if the US and its allies took stock of how strategic North Korea really is to China's ambitions for dominance in Asia and the South China Sea. North Korea is a bulwark against US influenced South Korea. It may also be argued that a nuclear capable North Korea (with an unstable head of state) is the most successful deterrent to US military presence in the South China Sea and intervention in any future dispute or conflict with Taiwan. It also provides a distraction from China's creeping global military expansion. China opened its first base in Africa. It is to be expected that China will open more military facilities in Africa, competing with the more limited US presence, as it continues to invest in a continent that the West has let slip by since the end of colonization.

The US (and the West in general) have always played with a short view on the grand chess board. China, by contrast, has played a long game, leveraging the shortsightedness of Western policy, and the addiction to oil, cheap goods, superfluous social issues, and, in the case of the US, debt as an industry.

It's our move...

ESV - Catholic Edition....maybe.

Rumors abound on social media that Crossway is developing (or more accurately, has given license for another publisher) to develop a Catholic edition of the ESV.

You can read a brief summation of recent events here.

The notion of particular denominational based editions seems somewhat absurd from an academic perspective. The primary criterion by which any edition of the Canon ought to be measured is by how thoroughly grounded it is in textual criticism, particularly with regards to the manuscript tradition. The ESV has traditionally done this well. What else could be needed?

The frequency with which editions of the Bible are produced to reflect denominational or ecclesiastical interests reflects the tensions that abound in Christianity as pertains transitioning from pre-critical to post-critical self understanding and praxis. By and large, most Christian traditions identify their origin (partially) in pre-critical collections of Scripture. These are translations or manuscript traditions whose antiquity or proximity to the earliest edition of the sacred text is disputed on the weight of recovered manuscripts pointing to an alternate reading having greater antiquity.

Advocates of the pre-critical text often voice two primary objections. 1) Despite early fragments, there are no complete manuscripts of a given book of the same antiquity. As such, the "critical text" is viewed as a hypothesis demanding further proof before it can claim surety. 2) The pre-critical text has, by and large, been the basis of the praxis of the spiritual life. Christianity's praxis was influenced by the pre-critical text. This is the text that provided the imagination guiding the vision of Christianity's greatest moments, its liturgy, and its great ascetics and holy men and women. This is an argument one will find in many Orthodox arguments defending the insistence on the textus receptus for properly ecclesiastical usage - i.e., liturgy, doctrine, etc.

As an Orthodox Christian, I expect the KJV or NKJV to be utilized in most any ecclesiastical setting. Truth be told, I've basically gotten used to it since leaving the Roman Church for Antioch. This said, as someone with an academic background, there is the expectation that the edition of Scripture encountered will be the product of solid critical scholarship, and demonstrably so. In truth, my interpretive horizon is firmly planted on the critical mount, as such, that is the primary hermeneutic by which these matters are judged.

This said, the ESV is essentially a critical translation - the changes of the 2016 edition of the text being the only red flags that would argue against this statement. What exactly would distinguish a supposedly "Catholic" edition from the normal edition remains an open question.

Would Crossway let this happen?

Crossway is a firmly conservative Evangelical publisher. It has been exceptionally aggressive in promoting the ESV and its success has been a bit of a marvel when one considers the amount of new English translations that have been stuck on the margins, getting little more than a limited audience. If true, and we have to be somewhat careful when it comes to sources on social media, a Catholic edition would fall in line with Crossway's marketing of the ESV.

Would it get approved?

While its own study bible has some notes that strike Roman Catholics as "anti-catholic," it should be noted that said notes are: 1) fair, serving only to make clear the distinctions between Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity, and 2) does not impact the text of the translation itself.

Would a Catholic publisher want to move forward with it?

Possibly. By and large most self identified liberal and conservative Catholics are dissatisfied with the translation commissioned by the USCCB (note: this is an American initiative). There are a myriad of reasons for this, but suffice to say the New American Bible typically fails to be adopted by "active" Roman Catholics.

Inevitably, a Catholic-ESV is likely to be a conservative initiative, but why move forward with it at all? I would imagine that the impetus behind interest in the ESV is borne from the failure to successfully resuscitate RSV in the Roman Church. Once a sign of the burgeoning ecumenicism around the time of Vatican II, attempts were made to get the RSV back in style by conservative Catholics. The initiative garnered limited results.

The RSV was impacted by Ecclesiastical politics when the US Bishops doubled down on their own translation and limited all liturgical texts to use of the New American Bible. The RSV was further hindered by the fact that it is essentially a "dead" translation. Unsupported by translation committee that could update the critical apparatus behind it and limited in the number of churches actively using (effectively, some conservative Protestant churches), the RSV has had little momentum behind it to find a place in Roman ecclesiastical life.

Enter the ESV. In the 16 years of its publication history, the ESV has steadily developed a segment of readers in the Roman Church. Crossway has successfully reached conservative Roman Catholics with its marketing of the ESV. Furthermore, Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants who have entered the Roman Church brought their Bibles with them - the ESV has been transplanted into the Roman Church for the better part of a decade via grassroots usage. Let's not forget, the ESV is a supported translation - developments in scholarship and manuscript discoveries will gradually be incorporated in subsequent editions. For a conservative Roman Catholic publisher with an eye towards a contemporary translation that falls on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum than the NRSV, the ESV makes sense.

Will it come to pass? Until there is something official from Crossway, it's all rumor. Is it relevant in the grand scheme of things? That depends upon one's estimation of the ESV and the motivations behind publishing a Catholic Edition. A Catholic Edition would broaden its audience and probably start getting some notice within the Orthodox Church. Although, I suspect the 2016 translation of Genesis 3:16 will be obstacle to Catholic approval, let alone Orthodox usage.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Taking the Temperature of a New Religion.

Before beginning in earnest, the following should be noted so that there is no confusion or impressions or allegations raised from such confusion:

Climate change is real. I take this as a matter-of-fact. In the grand scheme of geological history, the evidence point to climate change being a very real phenomenon - the Earth's climate changes, sometimes dramatically so.

It is also seems to be another matter-of-fact that humanity is impacting the current cycle of climate change.

It further seems to be another matter-of-fact that a depleted, deforested, and utterly contaminated environment is unquestionably undesirable, but seems nearly unavoidable.

Further, it must be stated that apart watching the man as an embodiment of anti-elitist sentiment, I have no political interest in President Trump.

This being noted....

The decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement until such time as a new agreement can be negotiated so as to protect certain economic interests has spurred up a visceral reaction among media outlets and the generations of the repeated meme - those social media denizens ranging from approximately late teens to early 40s, and certain political interests (both national and international).

It ought to be noted that the coverage has been somewhat skewed - withdrawal of the accord is only part of the story. The other part is the expressed interest to renegotiate a climate pact which the current power brokers in the executive branch deem beneficial to economic interests. Furthermore, there Paris accord has no force of law or other mechanisms binding signatories to execute on the terms of the agreement. In point of fact, the majority of the signers have not met the agreed upon goals and retained membership largely for political theatre.

The fallout from the US' decision to withdraw has largely abated - Stephen Hawking, however, surfaced to issue a dire prognostication of an irreversible transformation into a Venus like atmosphere due to climate change. Hawking's statement rests upon the nebulous tipping point, the hypothesized point of carbon build up in the atmosphere at which said build up becomes irreversible and produces a permanent green house cycle eventually leading to conditions similar to Venus. It should be noted that the tipping point theory is a moving target and the rigor with which it analyzes and then incorporates Venus' own climate history into its proposal remains undocumented.

No rationale person would deny that changing climate conditions ought to be a cause for concern-leading-to-action. The red flag that should be visible in most peoples field of view is the degree to which climate change has been crafted to produce a visceral, incoherent social response. Climate change is used as a social lever to manipulate behavior and response, and as a social barometer to influence interaction with others and demarcate safe association.

Climate change has drifted from credible science to a societal meme designed to elicit response and govern behavior. In no small part, the ability to elicit a visceral reaction which then wields influence on one's social interactions and associations is garnered by the post-modern religious narrative that has been built around the climate change proposal.  Again, this is not to deny climate change is real. It is, however, to caution against the disturbing trajectory Climate Change change as an intellectual and emotional proposition and social meme demanding response has followed. Climate Change has moved from a scientific concern to be addressed with a scientific response (such as carbon sequestration), to an article of faith demanding adherence and obedience enforced by the power elite with levers of media manipulation and political machination.

For the power elite (that influential nexus of political, social and corporate leaders), Climate Change has become something of a supra-dogma, towering over cultural conventions and national political interests. Climate change is the trans-national interest that trumps political disputes, presented as the common sense political action item all nations, even those in dispute can agree upon. It is also seen as the bridge over the great divide with the Islamic world - whatever the ideological disagreement between the secular West (although many Muslim societies still see the West as essentially Christian) and the Islamic world, the apocalyptic scenario proposed by climate change can be agreed upon by both sides of the divide.

Of course, that is all at the "executive level," as it were. The visceral reaction and corresponding social response that Climate Change produces is propelled by an intrinsically apocalyptic narrative. Like most new religious movements (whether contemporary, or historical), the contemporary climate change moment's message is galvanized by an apocalyptic proposition: X apocalyptic scenario is now, if you do Y, salvation is the yield. The majority of people who experience climate change as a quasi-religious movement are often impervious to this analysis of the narrative. Climate change largely avoids any overt mention of religious or spiritual material - this is not the Gaia movement of the 70s. It is, keeping with the shifts in the Western world, materialist in its overt presentation. However, a familiarity with the apocalyptic narratives that often accompany new religious movements immediately sees clear parallels. Whether this is deliberate messaging from a marketing think-tank, or stemming from some form of Jungian collective unconscious is anyone's guess. At root, however, the parallels are there. The prophets of the new religion announce an apocalyptic circumstance (climate change) with corresponding messages of cataclysm from some transcendent reality (in this case, the earth itself). Cataclysm can be averted (salvation) if certain actions on climate change are followed.

The resulting evangelists for Climate Change, those converted by the prophets and carrying on the message, pursue political or social pressure to enforce action. As mentioned, this is not the Gaea movement of the 70s, this is not a New Age attempt a retrieving practises of the mystery religions. While many readers of this blog would dismiss New Age, the New Age approach to climate change/global warming was bound up in a spirituality of communing (or achieving harmonium) with Nature. As such, New Age spiritual movements that concerned themselves with climate change sought answers in the form of inner enlightenment, the result of which would yield life style changes designed to be complementary with Nature - with the goal of spiritual maturation. These life style changes might be individual or communal, but they were always voluntary associations at the local level. There were corresponding movements in new Christian communities, both Catholic (Catholic Worker farms) and Protestant (some of the more rural new monastic movements). The nature of correspondence, such as whether they stemmed from the same source of the Christian movements were directly inspired by the more New Age movements, is an open question.  Regardless, the guiding conviction was that responding to the reality of climate change is local and anchored to a conviction in a greater reality...and entirely voluntary.

Climate Change as a political action and social meme, however, has followed a different path in order to get action on the promise of salvation. Like Constantine's church or Mohammed's military campaigns, the contemporary Climate Change movement has forgone local response in favor of executing on social and political power to enforce its tenets of faith.

On the political spectrum, Climate Change is treated as the supra-dogma and is positioning itself as the law above all laws. The contemporary Climate Change movement lobbies to have the prescriptions demonstrating adherence and obedience to its message instituted by the force of law. This end goal is so fervently desired, existing national processes for legislative approval are often decried as outdated and obsolete. The contemporary movement responds by pushing to change law by protest movement, or proposing to by-pass existing legislative structures through the establishment of an international body (typically composed of intelligentsia as opposed to elected officials) that would have the authority to impose globally binding mandates. Dogma then becomes law.

The contemporary climate change movement, like any new religious movement, has a code of conduct or asceticism intended to govern its members. Asceticism requires some context. Most every major religious tradition has an ascetic community or communities, typically monastics. These are composed of men (and women) who voluntarily separate themselves from the broader community and take on lifestyle changes designed to bring them into greater communion with the Transcendent. This was primarily through a code of conduct based in large part on self-denial with the intention that such self denial enables one to have mastery (by means of recollection) over the impulsive destructive behavior that typically runs rampant in the broader society.  They are, more often than not, distinct from the laws governing conduct in greater society. Similarly, the contemporary climate change movement has multiple components (in various stages of maturity) that lead toward a similar ascetic code : life style choices based on self denial that are intended to be a deliberate choice contra the behavior of the larger society. However, the contemporary climate change movement deviates from the innate presumption of ancient asceticism in that at various levels of the contemporary discourse, such asceticism is not left to voluntary adoption but is rather presented as a platform to be integrated into law or public policy (see here and here). This often involves proposals the ostensibly target the business sector but eventually roll out to the consumer, ideally under force of law.

The zeal, intolerance of dissent, and willingness to violate freewill for the purposes of realizing the salvation promised by their post-modern apocalyptic narrative and instituting a code of behavior that intents to govern one's praxis of the narrative's demands should raise a number of red flags on account of the unmitigated fanaticism propelling the contemporary climate change movement. Again, this is not to deny the science of climate change. It is rather to point out that the contemporary socio-cultural meme that has sprung in the last 15 or so years bears all the hallmarks of religious fundamentalism and  rabid intolerance that are supposedly repugnant in a liberal democracy.

It is hard not interpret the contemporary climate change movement's subliminal execution of some of the common pillars in religious history (apocalyptic narrative - a promise of salvation - and a code of ascetic conduct to live in line with said promise of salvation), as well as the high grid, almost cult like sectarian response with which it interacts with anyone who dissents from its orthodoxy, as Enlightenment Materialism's attempt to redeem itself and find some form of transcendence. The grand arch of the Enlightenment having worked the long job to dislodge the popular Judeo-Christian worldview from the West in favor of a world view based in Materialism, the contemporary climate change movement emerges as a means of filling in the vacuum left by the marginalization of the supernatural and spiritual. Yet, for anyone who can pull themselves back from the contemporary narrative to get some perspective, the inadequacies of the narrative and short fall of redemption are relatively clear. The contemporary climate change movement has only one venue by which to achieve the salvation promised in its narrative - Totalitarianism. Perhaps unconscious of this, the movement resorts to social pressure and political influence to achieve an absolute socialization of its narrative, promise, and asceticism as law reflects a pivot away from the supposed ideals of a free and open democracy to the absolute will-to-power supposedly defeated in the West with the collapse of the Nazi party.

The contemporary climate change movement is devoid of the elemental conviction in the spiritual world that sees Nature to be preserved untamed and untainted by the hand of man because as untamed and untainted, Nature occasions the encounter with the hand of God, however one wishes to conceive of the Deity. This is a common current in the ascetic movements in the world's historic religions. The narratives of Christian monks retreating from conventional urban life into the wilderness and there beholding encounters with angels, demons, obtaining spiritual insight and encountering the Divine itself shares the nearly perennial conviction that Nature is the gateway to encounter with God. Only during with emergence of late Renaissance and early Enlightenment Materialism did Christianity, for its part, begin to retreat from this conviction and entertain the notion that divine encounter could be had with internal piety (be it through quite devotion or Counter-Reformation Eucharistic piety).

The contemporary climate change movement has no greater horizon than transcendent materialism through Totalitarianism, where its precepts are enshrined as global law. What it is missing, and what makes it so prone to developing into a form of Totalitarianism (whatever  way its political fortunes turn), is the conviction that by addressing climate change, one preserves the reservoir of Nature, the wellspring by which humanity has unfettered access to God, the Transcendent, the Divine, whatever you wish to call it. And thereby, according to most Ascetic writings, we change, normally for the better. Yet, the contemporary movement is by and large led by and evangelizes with adherents who reject this premise. As such, the only end point to their narrative, the final quality of realized salvation, is the will to power.

Once again, this isn't to deny climate change is real. It is rather to raise some caution with regards to the socio-cultural movement that has sprung from the science and which is growing increasingly fanatic in its calls to realize apocalyptic salvation.