Author Spotlight: Blake T. Ostler July 16 2018
Conversation with Blake T. Ostler
We sat down with Blake Ostler for a short interview just in time for the paperback re-issue of Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol. 1: The Attributes of God. Blake is an attorney and independent scholar residing in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the author of the multi-volume Exploring Mormon Thought series along with over forty published articles.
Q: What began your interest in studying philosophy and theology?
A: I was a young whippersnapper when I ran into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig who died earlier this year. Because I had raced motorcycles and often rode motorbikes with my Dad, it was the perfect intro to philosophy—and it is still the best-selling book related to philosophy of all time. I was only a Junior in High School student, but for some reason I thought I could tackle Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I was foolish but did it anyway. I became fascinated with Kant's view that our consciousness depends on an organizational unity and categories that are not present in the things we experience, but that, in effect, we create the unity of consciousness and provide the categories to make sense of our experience and any concepts presented to us.
Q: In your course of studying some of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, what are some of the most important questions about existence that we can ask?
A: The first question to be asked is: How is it possible that questions can be asked? Implicit in this question is: Who or what is doing the asking? How is it possible to formulate questions for a response at all? Can I come up with these questions through insight and the creativity of imagination, or I am just a conduit for all of the causes that came before? Is there an "I" asking questions or is it just a mechanism with the appearance of unity of identity? And the ultimate question: How am I aware at all to ask questions and aware that questions need to be or can asked? Is it morally obligatory to ask questions and seek knowledge? Finally: Of whom am I asking questions? Does this other have a mind that can understand the question? How would I or could I know the answer to that question?
Q: What are the differences between theology, philosophical theology, and what we do in Sunday School? How can members of the Church benefit from each?
A: Theology is the attempt of a person who has belief (and the faith that those beliefs are true) to make sense of those beliefs in the world circumstances in which that person resides. Philosophical theology is the critical assessment of religious beliefs and systems in the widest sense using the tools of philosophical inquiry. Sunday School is the participation in community interactions seeking to dialogue regarding various subjects of shared importance or imposed importance.
It is a mistake to think that these three must necessarily intersect. The communal sharing of inquiry within a Sunday School class need not involve either theology or philosophical theology. It could consist of just sharing news about each other’s lives. But Sunday School necessarily is done in a communal setting and usually by folks who share enough commonality in belief to make genuine sharing of our deeply held commitments possible and meaningful. To the extent that theology or philosophy may provide insights to enrich and edify, they are appropriate in Sunday School. To the extent that arguing for or elucidating a position using the categories and tools of theology or philosophy is done in good faith and with positive regard for others in the class, it seems to me to be valuable—because the immersion in these disciplines is given as a gift to others out of love. To the extent that it creates tension and contention, these disciplines can interfere with the communal purposes of sharing life together along a journey of exploration that only gets in the way of the very community that fosters the very endeavor in the first place.
It is a very serious mistake to think that what must happen in Sunday School is a high-level discussion of the philosophy of religion or Biblical scholarship. Like other disciplines, such learning can be used as a tool for self-aggrandizement or fostering a sense of superiority or just plain old snottiness. That is inimical to Christianity. Others may feel intimidated and unable to join the discussion. That can even happen unintentionally. Any Sunday School class that excludes in any way is something to be avoided.
Q: You have a fourth volume in the pipeline. Can you give us a sneak peek at what its focus will be?
A: The Fourth Volume (boy that seems pretentious) focuses on the problem of evil from three very different perspectives that are all live-options in Mormon thought. I elucidate a Naturalistic Finitist Theodicy that departs from the view that God is after the universe. That is, the universe existed before God became God fully divine and He grew up in an already fully-ordered cosmos and became divine by following the natural moral laws that lead to divinity. I also present a fully-developed Process Theodicy—that is the view that God is with the cosmos and in each moment of the cosmos' existence has provided an Initial Aim to lure the cosmos to reflect His desires for it. I also present a theodicy departing from the view that God is before the universe in the sense that God ordered the cosmos and all order depends on God's prior creative acts.
Thanks, Blake! We're looking forward to your next volume!
Don't miss our podcast interview with Blake on the Greg Kofford Books AuthorCast!
Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol 1: The Attributes of God
By Blake T. Ostler
Now available in paperback!
Part of the Exploring Mormon Thought series