Friday at FAIR



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.


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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I was coincidentally in Salt Lake this week and had the opportunity to attend part of the Friday session in person. I appreciated the opportunity to interact with Prof. Peterson in person. Nevertheless, the need to spend time with grandchildren took priority, including excursions on Thursday to the dinosaur museum at Thanksgiving Point, and on Friday to the new Natural History Museum of Utah. Yet modern information technology came to my rescue. I was able to watch several sessions of the FAIR conference on streaming video over the Internet, over the 4G LTE wireless network of Verizon, using my Samsung 10 inch tablet computer. It worked remarkably well. When it occasionally lost signal a simple refresh of the web page brought it back up.

    The opportunity to read some if the papers online soon after they were read is another example if efficient dissemination of information.

    I was struck by the comment during the Q and A of one s peaker, recounting a story of how an LDS couple were planning to leave the Church because of some concerns about the Book of Abraham. Some of their neighbors in Utah County learned about this and arrange for them to speak with a knowledgable BYU faculty member who has participated in FAIR programs. Apparently their questions were answered without significant difficulty, but the question it raises is, how could someone who has lived in the Church for years within a few minutes from BYU have grown up totally ugnorant of tge substantial body of scholarship built by the FARMS team? At tge very least, bishops should be aware of these resources, and the free availability of the information at the Maxwell Institute should be known to all Seminary andbInstitute instructors, and also publicized to Sunday School teachers and to readers of press releases about defense against critics of the Church. There is no reason to let our brothers and sistwra become lost for lack of knowledge that answers to most of the questions they ask have already been offered. It would not hurt at all if General Authorities occasionally referred to these resources in General Conference so that members would be directed toward them.