Jack Welch began Friday morning’s festivities with a well-illustrated retrospective about his discovery of chiasmus followed by reflections on its significance regarding the claims of the Book of Mormon. (The title was “Forty-Five Years of Chiasmus Conversations, Criteria, and Creativity: What Chiasmus Proves and Doesn’t Prove.”) I was already familiar with most of what he related, but, frankly, I’m somewhat peculiarly placed – I’ve known Jack for at least thirty years now — and I expect that most in the audience were unfamiliar with major elements of the story. Even for me, though, the story is fascinating, and never loses its interest. I’m amazed, too, that Jack still has the original German-language copy of the Book of Mormon in which he located his first chiasm, his notes, his correspondence, and the like. I, by contrast, routinely lose books that I bought yesterday.
Brant Gardner followed, with “From the East to the West: The Problem of Directions in the Book of Mormon.” It was a strong defense of the aspect of John Sorenson’s geographical model that has drawn the most criticism and even mockery: his alleged “skewing” of the cardinal directions. Brant argues that no “skewing” is necessary, that Sorenson’s reading of Book of Mormon directions is consistent with attitudes and presuppositions demonstrably present in Mesoamerica.
John Gee, asked by the FAIR conference organizers what he would be speaking about, answered “The Book of Abraham, I presume.” And that became the title of his interesting summation of his own relevant writing and publications over the past five years. It was a helpful overview, very clear.
Just before lunch, John Lynch, the chairman of the FAIR board, stood and presented the organization’s John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award to two people who have advanced the defense of the faith over the past year in exemplary ways – Cassandra Hedelius and Steve Densley. The awards were and are very richly deserved.
After the break, Rosemary Avance, a non-Mormon doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, read an interesting paper (which is now online) entitled “Seeing the Light: Parallels in Mormon Conversion and De-Conversion Stories.” She analyzed the discourse of various dissident communities, believing and heterodox and hostile/apostate, and found considerable similarities among them. She also suggested that Latter-day Saint apologists could profit considerably from careful, sympathetic study of what disaffected or marginal Latter-day Saints have to say about the reasons for their alienation – a suggestion with which I strongly agree.
I’ve heard some mockery of the title of Don Bradley’s presentation, “Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages.” “A typical Mormon apologist,” several critics sneered, “manufacturing evidence out of nothing.” These critics appear to spend much of their lives sneering. In any event, they seemed wholly oblivious to the irony of their dismissal of a paper that they had neither seen nor heard, thus – or so it seems to me – drawing a conclusion on the basis of, precisely, nothing. (And, for what it’s worth, Don Bradley is scarcely a “typical Mormon apologist.”) In fact, his presentation interwove a careful reading of the extant Book of Mormon with little-known nineteenth-century historical materials in order to construct an intriguing portrait of some of the content of the lost 116 pages. There were a couple of quite remarkable moments.
Hartt Wixom’s “Perception and Reality: Then and Now” provided an overview of several common issues raised by anti-Mormon critics and provided brief responses, or summarized responses that have been given over the years.
There’s little worth noting about the final speaker of the day, Daniel Peterson, who droned on and on for what seemed an interminable length of time about something or other. “If you can’t say something nice,” my mother used to tell me, “don’t say anything at all” – a principle to which, even my severest critics would agree, I’ve always adhered with remarkable fidelity. His ostensible subject was “Of ‘Mormon Studies’ and Apologetics,” but it’s impossible to know what he was really talking about, except that, as usual, his comments consisted mostly of lies and name-calling. Still, the announcement at the end of Peterson’s otherwise soporific presentation was actually quite interesting.
And, incidentally, John Sorenson’s paper from Thursday, “Reading Mormon’s Codex,” is now available online.