I love scholarly conferences. I am not an official scholar, of course, so I just listen to the papers and the lectures and addresses. I highly recommend you take your kids to one if you can do so and they are interested in that sort of thing. And for adults, this is a lot like “going back to school” (if you have ever found yourself longing to do so) without the assignments or tests. You get to listen to professors and other academics read papers on topics that interest you (note to self: Don’t go to a conference on a topic that does not interest you) and then ask them questions about it. Usually there are some major figures in the field that get invited. I have met William Lane Craig, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Alvin Plantinga, and many other famous scholars at such conferences. Of course this type of namedropping does not generally impress people. So I drop these name to you, dear reader, in the hopes that you will be impressed. I attended the 2014 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture entitled “Faith and Film” and heard the director Bruce Beresford (director of Tender Mercies) hold forth on filmmaking. He is quite the raconteur and told some very funny stories. (I searched out his out-of-print book Josh Hartnett Definitely Wants to Do This… to see if there more interesting stories to be found there. The book didn’t quite deliver his tales with the same panache as Beresford did in person.)
All that to say that the magazine First Things is holding a weekend conference for the non-scholar that will allow you, the non-scholar, to actually participate. It sounds like loads of fun. If you think I am being facetious, then you probably should not be reading this blog. The conference is called “First Things Intellectual Retreat in New York City,” and is scheduled for August 7-9, 2015. It actually consists of a lecture or two and then seminars of no more than 15 people discussing a syllabus titled “The Paradox of Freedom: Happiness, Human Nature, Politics, and Religion.” If this sets your heart aflutter, then you, my friend, are a worthy reader and a true Christian intellectual. And who doesn’t want to be called an intellectual! (Actually, after reading Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky, I was put off of the appellation for a while, but now I am back to craving it.) So hightail it up there and get to intellecting.
If you are not familiar with First Things, then let me introduce you to this wonderful magazine. The title of the magazine comes from an essay by C.S. Lewis called “First and Second Things,” from God in the Dock, where Lewis writes:
“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.”
The magazine was founded by Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister who became a Catholic priest. He wanted a platform for addressing the cultural upheavals in America from a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective. Although he himself was Catholic, he encouraged Protestant, Jewish, and Orthodox writers to add their voices to the conversation. He worked with Chuck Colson to found Evangelicals and Catholics Together in recognition that we who follow Christ are all on the same side. His own prose is trenchant, sardonic, biting, and insightful. He was a delight to read, and I encourage you to search the First Things site for his articles and commentary. He is greatly missed since his death in 2009, but he has been ably succeeded by R.R. Reno and the work continues.
An interesting note about Neuhaus is that though he was born in Canada, he came to Texas as a teen, which goes to show his great character and insight even as a young man.