Tuesday, August 07, 2007

FAIR: Friday Afternoon

With four presentations on Friday afternoon, it was a packed ending to a great conference. Blake Ostler spoke about spiritual experiences. He noted that logic and reason must take a back seat to revelation when there is a controversy. He derided the argument that spiritual experiences are the result of a "frenzied mind" and asserted that spiritual experiences are the best form of evidence that we have. He asserts that if he could make a logical argument for the primacy of spiritual revelations, that would be a concession that these is a more fundamental form of information and persuasion than revelation--namely logic.

Ostler recounted some really striking personal experience from his own youth where he learned to listen to the Spirit, in one instance saving a girl's life. He joked that as a lawyer he knows how "rational" arguments can be twisted and manipulated because the foundational assumptions of any argument must ultimately be taken on faith. This would be a sweet talk for anyone to read when the transcript becomes available. Blake is a great speaker.

John Hall's presentation was more of a mixed bag for me. I really disliked the first half of his presentation and then I really enjoyed the second half. In the first half, he was engaging in the lamest sort of one-sided debate where he marshalled his best arguments against his opponents' worst arguments. He was talking about how much better attested the New Testament is than any of the other great ancient works. This is all well and good, but it left some really important pieces of the counter-argument out that were blaring obviously, even to a lay person like me. I know I'm not being very specific, partly as a function of the fact that I failed to take good notes during this section, instead spending my time being annoyed.

After a while, though, Hall turned to actual examples of places where better translations of specific passages were available. A complete address could have been made of those points while skipping over the earlier stuff and it would have been a much more satisfactory presentation. There is a forthcoming 15-volume New Testament commentary being produced at BYU with significant direction from Hall. It will be interesting to see what that looks like given the wide variety of opinions held by the faculty that will probably be involved in creating such a commentary.

William Hamblin and David Seely teamed up to give a sales pitch for their just-published book of Solomon's temple. The lecture was packed with great pictures and I'm certainly going to be buying the book when I get an opportunity. Seely got extra credit in his presentation for giving a light-hearted jab at Hugh Nibley while still obviously loving him. Hamblin got extra credit for starting his part of the address with a jab at Daniel Peterson. A conference like this is so much more fun to watch when you get to see the sense of community that undergirds the scholarship. We must be able to laugh at ourselves without degrading ourselves and these two do it well.

The photos were an integral part of the talk, and I doubt I could provide a very good summary, so I'll just make a point or two. I was very interested to see how much the concept of "temple" has remained a powerful thread in Christianity. In art, the temple has taken on a variety of forms to suit the sensibilities of the artist, without regard to the actual historical appearance of the temple. Thus, we see temples that look like chapels or cathedrals or even the Dome of the Rock.

In the concluding talk of the conference, Daniel Peterson eviscerated Christopher Hitchens' best-selling book on why religion is bad. Hitchens spends a few pages in his book picking on the Mormons and gets a whole bunch of trivial facts wrong. If someone can't get the small things right (Nephi, son of Lephi) (a revelation giving the priesthood to blacks conveniently coincides with the 1965 Civil Rights Act), you naturally question any larger points he makes as well.

After shredding the portion of the book that talked about Mormons, Peterson turned his attention to bogus claims about religions throughout the world, most especially Islam. Peterson, as you may know, is no slouch on that subject. Sounds like Peterson's book-length critique (which he co-wrote with Hamblin) of Hitchens' book might be fun to flip through on the bus sometime.

And with that, the conference was over. Thanks to everyone at FAIR for putting on a great show. Perhaps I'll see you all again next year.


  • As for the John Hall BYU NT, he's been talking about that for years. When he came to SATX about 4 years ago, he said the first volume was going to be out by the end of the year and touted it as a new translation of the entire bible.

    So maybe it will be out by the time the new Camaro is...

    Matt W.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/07/2007 8:57 AM  

  • Even if the first volume does come out this year, I don't know how long it will be before we can expect to see the other volumes. I'm just hoping they make an electronic version available, since I probably can't afford to purchase the set anytime soon.

    By Blogger Bradley, at 8/07/2007 5:58 PM  

  • I have Bill Hamblin's book. I read it and loved it! I've read lots and lots of books, and it's one of the best. I hope you get it and enjoy it.

    By Anonymous Andrew Miller, at 1/01/2008 3:50 PM  

  • I still haven't got the book, but I did get a Barnes and Noble gift certificate for Christmas that I'm still deciding how to use. So many books and so little money. Of course, A book with good pictures is always the best sort to buy. Anything else you can probably get online in one form or another.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 1/01/2008 6:53 PM  

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