Saturday, February 15, 2020

Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Some people have wondered why I'm not posting as often lately. We've been traveling for six weeks and have more places to go. Hardly enough time to get on the Internet, let alone write blog posts.

We have lots to discuss here once we settle down, though. Plus,, while driving through the outback in Australia, we recorded some videos that we'll post on youtube soon.


One place we visited in January was Hanoi, Vietnam.

The Hanoi Hilton, as it's commonly called (real name Maison Centrale), was a prison originally built by the French to detain and punish Vietnamese rebels against French rule.

During the Vietnam war, the Vietnamese used it as a prison for Americans.

The perspectives of the Vietnamese are quite different from the perspectives of most Americans who lived during that war. (I was a kid in the Philippines who watched B-52s take off every day on bombing missions to Vietnam.)

From the perspective of many (if not most) Vietnamese, they fought any foreign invader that wanted to control their country, whether it was the French or the Americans.

From the perspective of many Americans (unknown how many were for or against the war), they fought that war to prevent the spread of Communism.

Your opinion about the Vietnam war is mostly a function of what you choose to read, watch, and listen to. There are no objective facts that lead to only one "correct" opinion. It's all a matter of interpretation of the facts, which usually includes selective acceptance of certain facts and rejection of others.

Our guide told us that most Vietnamese have no idea of the difference between communism and capitalism. They just want to make a living for their families and live in peace.

The Hanoi Hilton is a dramatic example of how the same sets of facts can lead to different conclusions. This produces what some call "two movies on one screen."

We have a similar situation with the Book of Mormon.

Most people have no idea what the issues are with respect to Book of Mormon historicity, the location of Cumorah, or even what the prophets have taught. They just want to make a living for their families and live in peace. They seek validation for their beliefs, whatever they are (whether they are LDS or not, active or not, etc.).

Some active, faithful LDS look at the facts and see Book of Mormon events taking place in a limited area within Mesoamerica. Others look at the same facts and see Book of Mormon events taking place in North America, essentially east of the Mississippi.* Others see the events taking place in Panama, or Chile, or Peru, or in Africa or Southeast Asia.

Some former LDS and critics look at the same facts and see the Book of Mormon as fiction. Even some active LDS see the Book of Mormon as fiction.

After all, BYU and CES are teaching the Book of Mormon to students using fantasy maps that portray the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting.

The point to consider is that we each think our beliefs are "correct." Otherwise, we'd change them to adopt another belief.

This is why, IMO, it is so foolish for Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, the Interpreter, and the other M2C advocates to insist that only M2C is a valid option for believers.

I'm still hopeful that the day will come when they will adopt the Church's policy of neutrality and embrace, or at least accommodate, the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Maybe they'll even accommodate the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon...

Based on my years of experience with the LDS M2C intellectuals, I doubt they will ever embrace neutrality, let alone change their minds.

But we are each responsible for our own beliefs, and we are all free to believe whatever we want. I find that most people, when given a choice, seek to make informed decisions.

And most people who make informed decisions about Book of Mormon historicity choose to accept what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

We'll be discussing the implications of all of this in upcoming posts.

*Ignore those M2C proponents who try to confuse the issue by saying Mesoamerica is in North America because all of "Central America" is technically in North America. We call the theory M2C-the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory because the issue is really about the location of Cumorah. It's either in New York as the prophets have taught, or its in southern Mexico as certain intellectuals have taught.

More of my photos from the Hanoi Hilton:

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Did Joseph and Oliver tell the truth?

We're spending some time in Western Australia, golfing and writing. The Church is awesome here; there's a temple in Perth and about 15,000 members in this area (out of a population of 2.4 million.

Perth is the an international city; about 40% of the residents are not native Australians. People come from the UK, India, Malaysia, South Africa, and other countries around the Indian Ocean.

According to census records, the largest religious affiliation is none, followed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.

When we attended President Nelson's visit to Singapore a few months ago, he mentioned that President Benson had said Singapore would be a center for taking the Gospel to other countries in the area. With its international character, Perth could provide a similar introduction to the Gospel.

However, that's not exactly happening.

In the census records, LDS come in 26th place, at 0.3%.

Members here tell me the same thing I hear everywhere I go; i.e., people aren't joining the Church or staying active because their lives are so good they don't need religion.

That may be true in many cases (a topic for another day), but it seems to me there is a more fundamental problem.

Everyone has implicit faith in his/her own beliefs. That's axiomatic, because otherwise they would change those beliefs. In most cases, people inherit the beliefs of their parents, peers, and society. Facts don't matter. It's basic psychology that people filter out facts that contradict their beliefs.

That's why the Restoration required something different. It required evidence of God's involvement, which came through the Book of Mormon, an ancient text about real people that was translated into English by the gift and power of God.

The fundamental premises for the Restoration rely on the testimonies of two men, primarily: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. They were the principals involved with the translation of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Priesthood, and the committing of the keys of the gathering and temple work.

Ultimately, this is a question for everyone in the Church and everyone in the world:

Did Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery tell the truth?

My answer is yes.

But I keep being told, even by members of the Church, that the answer is really no regarding some key points.

President Nelson extended an invitation to all members of the Church for 2020 that included this paragraph:

Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Act on any of these invitations to prepare yourself for sharing the important messages of the ongoing Restoration. As you seek Jesus Christ in these efforts, God will prepare you to receive further light. It is your personal preparation that will help April’s general conference become for you not only memorable but unforgettable. The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church, and your part is vital. 

For the last few years, I've selected several questions and designed my own plan to better understand the ongoing Restoration. I've shared some of the answers on this and other blogs, in my books, and in various presentations.

I've been surprised at some of the answers. They've fortified my faith and confidence in what Joseph and Oliver claimed.

I've also been surprised at some of the opposition certain intellectuals and their employees and followers have expressed.

Because of my interest in how the Restoration is rolling forth outside the U.S., I'll explain it again.

Basically, I believe Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery told the truth. In some intellectual circles in the Church today, that amounts to heresy.

I believe Joseph and Oliver told the truth about the translation; i.e., that Joseph translated the plates using the Urim and Thummim that Moroni provided with the original set of plates.

I believe Joseph and Oliver told the truth about the New York Cumorah; i.e., that the hill near Palmyra where Joseph found the plates was also the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, and the location of the repository of Nephite records.

I don't believe Joseph and Oliver misled the Church (or the world) about either of these topics.

But apparently I'm supposed to believe they did, according to certain intellectuals, lesson manuals, articles, and other materials.

It's difficult to imagine a more confusing and unbelievable way to present the Restoration than the way it is being presented in these materials.

The stone-in-a-hat narrative from the Ensign
For example, I'm being told I should believe Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on a stone he found in a well and then put into a hat.


I'm supposed to believe it wasn't really a translation process at all. It was merely a reading and dictation process.

I'm supposed to believe Joseph didn't even use the plates because they were covered with a cloth throughout the dictation process.

And why am I supposed to believe this?

Because David Whitmer said so in a pamphlet he wrote to persuade people to believe that (i) the Book of Mormon is true but also that (ii) Joseph Smith fell into serious errors after he dictated the Book of Mormon and (iii) the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are false.

The pamphlet is cited in footnote 8 in the Ensign article.

Anyone who accepts the Whitmer quotation in the Ensign as an accurate first-hand account should at least read it in context by reading Whitmer's entire pamphlet, here:

Now, imagine you're a investigator (friend) meeting with missionaries. They give you the Ensign (or the Saints book, volume 1, or the Gospel Topics Essays, all of which approvingly and uncritically quote David Whitmer's pamphlet). As a serious investigator, you look up the references. You read Whitmer's pamphlet.

What are you going to conclude?

The logical conclusion of David Whitmer's version
By now, we all know the answer provided by certain intellectuals in the Church. They say Joseph and Oliver used substitute words.

When they wrote about the Urim and Thummim that Moroni provided with the plates, they actually meant the peep stone Joseph found in a well years earlier.

When they wrote "translation" they didn't really mean translation; instead, they meant that Joseph merely read English words that appeared on the stone in a hat.

When they wrote about the engravings on the plates, they really meant Joseph didn't use the plates at all.

When Joseph said the Title Page was a literal translation of the last leaf of the plates, we don't know how he knew that because he didn't use the plates.

And now some of them are saying that the text itself was composed by an unknown author/translator in the 1500s. 

Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion about all of this, of course. But is it intellectually honest to revise the testimonies of Joseph and Oliver to fit what David Whitmer said?

Most readers here know that I think David Whitmer was relating his experience with a demonstration that Joseph conducted. I wrote a book about it.

My point in this post is that it is unrealistic to expect investigators (and youth) to believe one paragraph out of Whitmer's pamphlet while rejecting the rest--especially when that one paragraph contradicts everything else Joseph and Oliver said about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

I'm also being told I should believe that Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, Lucy Mack Smith, Parley P. Pratt and others misled the Church by teaching that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

[See my summary here:]

I'm supposed to believe that all the prophets and apostles who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah were wrong. I'm supposed to believe that even members of the First Presidency, speaking in General Conference, misled the Church by expressing their own private incorrect opinions and testifying to their truth.

Why am I supposed to believe this?

Because a handful of LDS intellectuals embraced the so-called Two Cumorahs theory developed by RLDS scholars in the late 1800s. They taught this for decades until by 2020, most members of the Church have accepted it.

I'm supposed to believe these intellectuals because they are the "experts" hired by the prophets to guide the Church.

I'm supposed to trust these intellectuals and their employees and followers because they have advanced degrees and therefore are the only ones who can correctly interpret the scriptures.

I'm supposed to passively accept their sophistry and manipulation of the text of the Book of Mormon as they try to impose a Mesoamerican setting as the only "correct" interpretation of the text.

(I call this M2C for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.)

And I'm supposed to donate money to Book of Mormon Central to add to the millions of dollars they are spending to promote these ideas throughout the world.

Fortunately we still have an Article of Faith that allows us to each follow the dictates of our own conscience.

No one is obligated to accept M2C. We are all free to choose instead to believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

But M2C is specifically depicted in the Visitors Centers. CES and BYU teach the Book of Mormon to LDS youth by using maps that depict M2C. Church historians changed Church history in the Saints book to accommodate M2C by censoring the New York Cumorah.

What are investigators (and youth in the Church) supposed to conclude when they learn how the prophets, starting with Joseph and Oliver, misled the Church about the one specific touchstone between the Book of Mormon and the real world?

I think we'd all be much better off to stick with the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, including Joseph Smith--History, instead of relying on David Whitmer's pamphlet and the efforts of intellectuals to conform the scriptures to match what David wrote.

I also think that we'd be much better off to accept and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah instead of promoting M2C.

But I'm just an ordinary member of the Church. I'm not trying to persuade anyone about anything, except I encourage everyone to make informed decisions about these issues.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

update on Phoenicia

Many readers of this blog know about the Phoenicia expedition, but for those who don't, here is an important press release:

Long-time readers know about Isaiah 18, 1 Nephi 18, and all the facts and circumstances that support the narrative of Lehi crossing the Atlantic to reach the promised land. I won't rehash that all now, but it's fascinating on many levels.

For more info, see:

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Rules of Interpretation

One of the reasons why people disagree about Book of Mormon geography is that they apply different rules of interpretation to the text.

For Moroni's America (the North American setting), I used these rules of interpretation:

1. General terms (land northward, land southward) are relative terms. E.g., Salt Lake City is "northward" of Provo but "southward" of Ogden.

2. Different specific terms mean different things; i.e., the "narrow neck" is not the same as the "small neck," the "narrow neck" is not the same as the "narrow neck of land," etc.

3. The Nephites used rivers for travel. E.g., Helaman 3:14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships...

4. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York because Joseph and Oliver said it was a fact, they had visited the repository in the hill, and all their contemporaries and successors reaffirmed the New York Cumorah.

5. The city of Zarahemla may be across from Nauvoo. (D&C 125).

When you apply these rules of interpretation, it's pretty easy to see how the Book of Mormon describes North America.

For M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory), proponents use these rules of interpretation:

1. General terms (land northward, land southward) are proper nouns; i.e., there is only one "Land Northward" and one "Land Southward," both of them being specific geographical areas.

2. Different specific terms mean the same things; i.e., the "narrow neck" is the same as the "small neck," the "narrow neck" is the same as the "narrow neck of land," etc.

3. The Nephites may have used rivers for travel, but most travel was overland through jungles and mountains.

4. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is not in New York because the prophets were only expressing their opinions and they were wrong.

5. The city of Zarahemla cannot be across from Nauvoo.

When you apply these rules of interpretation, it's pretty easy to see how the Book of Mormon describes any location you want.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Implementing the "Gospel Topics Essays"

Here's the latest example of "neutrality" as implemented by our M2C scholars.

Some of us remember when the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography was supposed to be a declaration of neutrality, but it was obvious the day it was released that the essay would not slow down the efforts of M2C intellectuals to claim prophetic support as they continue to imprint M2C on the minds of the Latter-day Saints.

Since then, Book of Mormon Central has spent millions of dollars in the effort. Other M2C intellectuals continue to lend their support to the cause.

Here's an upcoming example. January 30 at BYU-Idaho.

Chris Allison teaches Book of Mormon classes at BYU-Idaho. This means he's already teaching his students M2C because he's using the infamous BYU/CES  maps which teach students to think of the Book of Mormon in a fictional fantasy world, with the Hill Cumorah far, far away from New York.

Now Brother Allison is making "A Case for Meso-America" right on the campus of BYU-Idaho.

It's a good title. It fits with Brother Callister's M2C-approved book A Case for the Book of Mormon.

It's not difficult to make a case for anything, of course. Any lawyer can make a case for any side of any issue. Making a case has nothing to do with truth; it's a matter of making arguments based on a particular interpretation of selected facts.

I'm curious about this "making a case" trend. It works great as a bias confirmation exercise, but what does it do for open-minded people?

Doesn't "making a case" invite readers, listeners and viewers to seek out the "other side of the story" or at least other perspectives? Thanks to the ongoing censorship by Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, and other M2C organizations, the only "other side of the story" to M2C that most members hear about is CES Letter, Mormon Stories, and others who claim the Book of Mormon is fiction.

A truly "neutral" position would allow alternative perspectives to be presented at BYU and CES. Let Brother Allison make his case for "Meso-America" and let someone else make a case for the New York Cumorah. Then let students make up their own minds.

BYU fantasy map, teaching a fictional
setting for the Book of Mormon
That would be a big step forward, but it will never happen as long as the M2C intellectuals have their way.

Aside from those who merely seek to confirm their biases, the question for undecided people is whether the case is persuasive or not. The unpersuasiveness of M2C is evident; outside of a handful of M2C intellectuals, their employees, and their followers, no one believes M2C.

I encourage everyone attending BYU-Idaho to attend the event. You'll surely learn some great reasons why the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are wrong.

It's virtually certain you'll hear that the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles were written by Joseph Smith. Those ridiculous articles are the entire premise for M2C. Those who have read Mormon's Codex and the related M2C literature from the citation cartel recognize that everything else is bias confirmation and sophistry (not that there's anything wrong with that, because if you want to believe M2C, that's fine with me).

You probably won't hear that M2C originated with RLDS scholars, but you'll hear about the ways the Book of Mormon was mistranslated because Joseph didn't realize the Nephites lived among the Mayans.

You probably won't hear what Joseph and Oliver and their contemporaries and successors taught about the New York Cumorah in Letter VII and elsewhere, unless it is to explain why they were all wrong.

If you go, let me know what he has to say.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Cumorah and the Three Witnesses

M2C advocates claim there are "two Cumorahs" because the "hill in New York" where Joseph found the plates cannot be either (i) the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites or (ii) the location of Mormon's depository of Nephite records.

The M2C intellectuals and their followers know their theory contradicts Letter VII. They also know Brigham Young and others taught explicitly that the depository was in the New York Cumorah.

M2C organizations such as Book of Mormon Central and FairMormon readily repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah by claiming the prophets and apostles who discussed the New York Cumorah simply misled the Church by expressing their own opinions.

However, not many Church members realize that the M2C interpretation of Brigham Young's teaching supports the position of critics of the Church who disbelieve everything about the Restoration.

M2C scholars claim Brigham Young related a vision, not an actual experience.

The FairMormon explanation omits a critical part of President Young's teaching, along with the historical context. This misleads Church members.

Here's the link:

Here is the sentence that precedes President Young's statement: "I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country."'

JOD 19:38.

President Young was not talking about an imaginary or "visionary" hill somewhere in southern Mexico as FairMormon wants us to believe.

FairMormon explains it this way: "The geologic unlikelihood of a cave existing within the hill such as the one described suggests that the experience related by the various witnesses was most likely a vision, or a divine transportation to another locale (as with Nephi's experience in 1 Nephi 11:1)."

Of course, no one said or implied that the depository was a natural cave. The M2C explanation that the experience must have been a vision repudiates Brigham Young's testimony, as well as what others said, including Wilford Woodruff.

The M2C advocates cite Heber C. Kimball's statement about a "vision" to justify their claim that the real Cumorah is in Mexico:

In response to a Brother Mills’s statement about the handcart pioneers, Heber C. Kimball said:
How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments.

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets interpret this use of the term "vision" to mean a view or sight.

Consider this. If Kimball's statement was a vision, what about Joseph's statement about his experience with Martin Harris?

"We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view; at least it was again to me, and I once more beheld, and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparantly in ecstacy of joy, “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld,” and jumping up he shouted, hosanah, blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly."

The M2C interpretation of Heber C. Kimball's statement relegates Martin Harris' experience as one of the Three Witnesses to a purely spiritual experience.

Which is exactly what critics such as the CES Letter also claim.