Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Schools of thought and movies

If you are interested in, or merely curious about, Book of Mormon historicity and geography, you probably have noticed that there are two basic schools of thought on the issue. Everyone agrees on some basic facts; the two schools of thought differ on how to interpret those facts.

The School of Athens by Raphael (1509-1511)
Many, if not most, religions have multiple schools of thought. There are two main Buddhist schools of thought, and two or more smaller ones. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism--all have multiple schools of thought as followers choose to believe one or the other interpretation of scripture, precedent, tradition, etc.

Among Latter-day Saints, differing schools of thought have been discouraged. We feel uncomfortable with the idea that Church members can have different views on basic doctrines. The correlation program was developed to help standardize doctrine and practices. However, with the new emphasis on home-centered, Church supported gospel learning, we are likely to see more, not less, variation of thinking among Latter-day Saints in the future.

This development is inevitable because going forward, Church members will experience a great variety of education in the gospel.

For that reason, it will be important to understand how people reach different opinion and why uninformed opinions are especially problematic.
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The question of Book of Mormon geography and historicity is not a basic doctrine, in terms of gospel doctrine. Many people claim the question is irrelevant and unimportant. While that may be true for those individuals, for most people in the world, Book of Mormon geography and historicity are prerequisites for even considering the book.

For that reason, having two schools of thought may be problematic, but not as problematic as pretending the question doesn't matter. Scientists are comfortable with the idea of having multiple operating hypotheses that compete in the search for truth and understanding reality. Until and unless the two schools of thought can be reconciled, this is probably the best approach we can hope for.
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The phenomenon of reaching two different conclusions from one set of facts has been compared to seeing two movies on the same screen.

In this case, the images on the screen that everyone sees and agrees exist are the consistent and persistent teachings of the prophets that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.

(Some Church members are unaware of these teachings, leaving them with uninformed opinions that no one should rely on or defer to. If you're uninformed, you can start by reading this link:
http://www.lettervii.com/p/byu-packet-on-cumorah.html)

Movie 1. In one movie, these teachings are merely speculation and opinion by people who were well-meaning but wrong. This is the "real" movie, according to the intellectuals at Book of Mormon Central and other like-minded individuals.

Movie 2. In the other movie, these teachings are the product of (i) personal, first-hand experience  and (ii) inspired faith in the early testimonies. This is the "real" movie, according to the so-called "Heartlanders" and other like-minded individuals.

Movie 3. There are a lot of people out in the lobby, eating popcorn and nachos, just waiting for people to come out of the theater and tell them about the movie. They aren't interested in watching the movie themselves, so they trust their friends to tell them what to think. They will accept movie 1 or movie 2 based entirely on what their friends tell them.
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Let's set aside those who linger in the lobby. Their opinions and beliefs are worthless.

For those in the theater, watching the facts unroll on the screen, there are faithful Latter-day Saints among viewers of each movie. Most of these cannot see the other movie; many are unaware that another movie even exists.

Ask yourself, which movie are you seeing?

To some extent, the movie you see depends on your education and traditions. If you have seen one movie from a young age, and everyone around you says they see the same movie, you are likely to interpret the reality on the screen as the same movie as everyone else.

You find yourself in the school of thought you are comfortable with.

But it's possible to take another look at the screen. With some effort, it is possible to see the information on the screen from the perspective of those who see a different movie.

If you are not yet well educated enough to see both movies, you are not yet well educated enough to make an informed decision.

Are you satisfied with that situation?
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Proponents of each movie support their views by referring to (i) their respective interpretations of the text of the Book of Mormon and (ii) their respective interpretations of the physical evidence (archaeology, anthropology, etc.). They also cite teachings of Church leaders involving matters other than Cumorah.

About two years ago I posted a comment about what is official doctrine of the Church. I've updated it for the new link. Here it is.
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What is official Mormon doctrine


There's an important official explanation of Mormon doctrine here:

https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

"Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

Let's consider how this applies to the question of Cumorah.

"Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine."

This is axiomatic, given the variety of statements Church leaders make, ranging from formal addresses in General Conference and formal published statements to off-hand comments to associates or statements in talks to specific groups.

"A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church."

Notice the distinction between isolated statements by one Church leader compared with multiple statements by multiple leaders. 

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications."

Let's consider this in light of Letter VII's teachings about Cumorah.
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In 1835, when Letter VII was published, Joseph Smith was President of the Church and Oliver Cowdery was Assistant President. 

Many people today don't know what the Assistant President was because it was discontinued after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, so let's look at what it entailed.

Joseph ordained Oliver as Assistant President in December, 1834. Notes from the meeting explain:

"The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole Church, and to officiate in the absence of the President, according to his rank and appointment, viz: President Cowdery, first; President Rigdon Second, and President Williams Third, as they were severally called. The office of this priesthood is also to act as spokesman, taking Aaron for an example. The virtue of the above priesthood is to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven or of the Church militant."

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/account-of-meetings-revelation-and-blessing-5-6-december-1834/1

[Note: some intellectuals claim we shouldn't believe Letter VII because Oliver wrote it instead of Joseph, but the nature of his calling as Assistant President was to "act as spokesman." Oliver explained that Joseph helped write the letters, but he had the responsibility of writing, editing and publishing them. Think of that. Our M2C intellectuals are sowing distrust of Oliver Cowdery because he was fulfilling his responsibility as Assistant President of the Church.]

In February 1835, pursuant to D&C 18, the Three Witnesses (including Oliver Cowdery) called the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/joseph-smith-and-doctrinal-restoration/23-calling-twelve-apostles-and-seventy-1835

For the next few months, Oliver continued to publish the historical letters he wrote with Joseph Smith, including Letter VII, which was published in July 1835. That fall, Joseph's scribes copied the letters into his own history, which you can read here: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/83

Later, on April 3, 1836, Joseph and Oliver, together, as President and Assistant President of the Church, received the keys of the gathering of Israel and the keys of this dispensation from Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Lord Himself. (D&C 110)

In January, 1841, Joseph ordained Hyrum Smith to the same position, pursuant to D&C 124:94-5, which gives an additional explanation of the role Oliver fulfilled as Assistant President:

"And from this time forth I appoint unto him [Hyrum] that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph; That he may act in concert also with my servant Joseph; and that he shall receive counsel from my servant Joseph, who shall show unto him the keys whereby he may ask and receive, and be crowned with the same blessing, and glory, and honor, and priesthood, and gifts of the priesthood, that once were put upon him that was my servant Oliver Cowdery."

Here is another explanation of the office: "As holder of the keys of the priesthood, the Assistant President of the Church was intended to be the person who would succeed to the presidency of the church upon the death of Smith.[Bruce R. McConkie (1966), Mormon Doctrine (2d ed., 1966, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft) p. 56.] The Assistant President ranked higher than the counselors in the First Presidency and the President and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[Bruce R. McConkie (1966), Mormon Doctrine (2d ed., 1966, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft) p. 56.] Like the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve, the Assistant President was accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator."

When LDS intellectuals tell you to disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver wrote in Letter VII about Cumorah, they are telling you to disbelieve the ordained President and Assistant President of the Church.

But that's not all.

Look again at what the Church's explanation says:

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications."

Not only did Joseph and Oliver counsel together when they wrote these historical letters, but Joseph saw that the letters were "consistently proclaimed in official Church publications." The letters were first published in the Messenger and Advocate. Then Joseph gave them to Don Carlos to publish in the Times and Seasons. He gave express permission (along with Sidney Rigdon) to Benjamin Winchester to publish them in the Gospel Reflector. The Pratt brothers published excerpts of them in the Millennial Star and other pamphlets. Joseph's brother William published them in the Prophet (an 1844 Church newspaper in New York City). The letters were published again in the Improvement Era after the Saints moved to Utah.

Letter VII originated with the First Presidency and was consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. Remember this when LDS intellectuals try to persuade you to disbelieve Letter VII.

Now, the conclusion of the explanation of Church doctrine.

"This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted."

The Pearl of Great Price contains an excerpt from Letter I.

Letter VII itself is not included in the standard works, but it was written by the First Presidency in 1835 to explain an important point about the Book of Mormon; i.e., the specific location of the Hill Cumorah. Joseph and Oliver were responding to anti-Mormon claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction. They wrote from their personal experience and knowledge. The statements in Letter VII were republished so often and they are so specific and detailed that their original meaning cannot be distorted, although LDS intellectuals try to do so by claiming Joseph and Oliver were merely ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah.
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Letter VII does not exist in a vacuum. Every Church leader (First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) who has ever officially addressed the question of Cumorah has reaffirmed the New York site as the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. No member of those quorums has questioned, let alone repudiated the teachings of his predecessors.

Early Church leaders heard Oliver Cowdery describe entering the depository of Nephite records in the Hill Cumorah in New York on multiple occasions. Lucy Mack Smith heard Joseph refer to the hill as Cumorah before he even obtained the plates; he could only have learned the name from Moroni. Parley P. Pratt emphasized that it was Moroni who referred to the New York hill as Cumorah anciently. David Whitmer heard a divine messenger claim he was going to Cumorah. These eye-witness accounts corroborate Oliver's statement that it is a fact that the hill in New York is the very Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

Of course, these are raw facts projected on the screen. Your interpretation of them is your movie, and you can see whatever movie you want.

Just make sure it is not someone else telling you what's on the screen.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Why M2C?

People often wonder, why do so many LDS intellectuals continue to promote M2C?

Specifically, people wonder why Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars to promote M2C.

M2C is not based on facts, whether facts of Church history, of the teachings of the prophets, or of anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, linguistics, or any other science.

M2C is purely an outcome-oriented rationale for interpreting facts to fit a specific narrative and agenda.

We can understand the M2C narrative and agenda by referring to this diagram:



























Everything Book of Mormon Central publishes about Cumorah, Mesoamerica, and Church history is designed to justify their repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

That's because M2C is based on the ideas that:

- the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica,
- the real Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in southern Mexico,
- the "hill in New York" had nothing to do with the Book of Mormon events,
- Moroni hauled the plates from southern Mexico to New York,
- Joseph Smith and his contemporaries merely speculated in Letter VII and other statements and they were wrong, and
- every prophet/apostle who has taught the New York Cumorah has misled the Church by teaching and testifying about his own private but erroneous opinions, without explaining that they were merely opinions.

Once everyone understands this, everyone can assess the work of the M2C intellectuals and make an informed decision about what to believe.


Monday, September 30, 2019

The mark of M2C

Sometimes people are confused by who is saying what.

Here's a short guide.

If you see this mark, it's the mark of M2C.















The mark of M2C is identifiable by the Mayan icon in the upper right. It is used to let people know that anything published under or by this mark will promote M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).

There's nothing wrong with M2C. People can believe whatever they want. This mark is actually quite helpful for identifying the editorial position involved.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A process of indoctrination

Another relevant tweet from Thomas Sowell:

In the schools and colleges, the intelligentsia have changed the role of education from equipping students with the knowledge and intellectual skills to weigh issues and make up their own minds into a process of indoctrination with the conclusions already reached by the anointed.

Monday, September 23, 2019

September 22, 1828


Today is the 191st anniversary of the day when Joseph obtained the Harmony plates from Moroni for the second time. This was after Martin Harris lost the 116 pages.

Exactly one year previously, Joseph opened the stone box on the Hill Cumorah in western New York and retrieved the abridged plates, the breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim. This was in a department of the hill separate from the depository of Nephite records (Mormon 6:6).

Joseph took the plates to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to translate them. He translated all of them, except a sealed portion, when he was in Harmony. Then, as indicated by D&C 10, he went to Fayette and translated the second set of plates; i.e., the plates of Nephi that the messenger brought to him from the hill Cumorah.

Maybe by the 200th anniversary, in 2027, everyone in the Church will accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah in Letter VII.

Actually, I hope that day arrives sooner. Maybe in 2023, the 200th anniversary of the date when Joseph first saw the plates?

Or 2020, the 200th anniversary of the First Vision?

Think of what a difference it would make in the Church and in the world if all of our LDS scholars and educators decided, finally, to embrace what Joseph and Oliver and all of their successors taught?

Friday, September 20, 2019

Closing their eyes

There are many parallels in Church history for the current situation in the Church.

The Seer, a Church magazine from the 1800s, has a relevant article that I've excerpted below.

Right now, we have leading intellectuals in the Church, including those who manage Book of Mormon Central, who, because of their belief in M2C, look down upon and oppress those faithful members who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah are happy to have other faithful members believe whatever they want. However, we think every member of the Church should be enabled to make informed decisions about these issues by being fully educated.

We encourage people to read what these intellectuals teach, but we also encourage them to read what the prophets have taught and to learn about the evidence that supports the teachings of the prophets.

We would like to see the New York Cumorah re-correlated, but the prophets have always taught that we should heed the teachings of the prophets, regardless of how intellectuals tell us to think.

The M2C intellectuals take a different approach.

Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars to divert members of the Church away from the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and toward their own theory that the "real" Cumorah is in southern Mexico (hence M2C: the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory). Their database contains articles that attack those of us who still believe the prophets, and it has been purged of any material that explains why we still believe the prophets.

Book of Mormon Central uses their millions of dollars to:

1. Develop ScripturePlus, the app that teaches M2C exclusively and uses colorful graphics and videos to entice Church members away from the Gospel Library;

2. Promote M2C through social media advertising; and

3. Castigate fellow Church members on social media for still believing the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

By now, this is all well known and obvious to everyone who looks at the Book of Mormon website. What is less known is how the practices of the M2C intellectuals follow a pattern we've seen before in Church history.
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While working on another project, I came across this passage from The Seer, Vol. II, No. 1, January 1854. It reminded me of the way the M2C citation cartel treats those who still accept the New York Cumorah.

THE TREATMENT OF THE UNITED STATES TOWARDS THE SAINTS.

Question.—First, In what manner have the people of the United States treated the divine message contained in the Book of Mormon?

Answer.—They have closed their eyes, their ears, their hearts and their doors against it. They have laughed at, ridiculed, derided, and treated it with the utmost contempt. They have scorned, rejected, and hated the servants of God who were sent to bear testimony of it. They have invented the most abominable, wicked and malicious lies, and published the same against it. Their priests have hypocritically and piously read these lies from the pulpit, and warned their congregations from one end of the Union to the other, to neither hear, read, nor investigate it, nor any thing in favor of it. They have denounced it as “a most vile and wicked imposition;” “a horrid blasphemy;” “a soul-destroying and most damnable doctrine, emanating from the bowels of hell.” Their editors have for years reiterated, through the columns of their papers, these abusive unjust denunciations and vile falsehoods, without giving any chance in their columns for a reply or correction of these bare-faced and foul misrepresentations.
(Seer II.1:193 ¶2–3)

So long as Book of Mormon Central continues to push M2C exclusively, while simultaneously criticizing and censoring those faithful Church members who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, "without giving any chance in their [web page] for a reply or correction," we will continue to see members of the Church being deprived of the chance to make informed decisions.