I sense a sea-change in the attitude of Church members toward these issues and a great renewal of interest in Church history and the Book of Mormon. The more people read the Book of Mormon, and the more people there are who read the Book of Mormon, the better.
That part is the Valentine's Day message.
The rest of this post is equally positive and optimistic and joyful, but not as obviously.
One of the best parts of the endeavor is the opposition. A lot of people have asked me what I think of the critics. I've addressed this before but maybe now is a good time to do it again.
Trigger warning: if you believe in, teach, or promote a non-New York Cumorah, please don't read the rest of this post.
First, I want to emphasize that anyone can believe whatever they want. I have no problem with that.
Second, I have no problem with people likening the scriptures to themselves, even if that means convincing themselves that the Book of Mormon took place in their particular part of the world. The Book of Mormon is for everyone. If believing it took place in Chile, or Peru, or Baja, or Guatemala, or Panama, or Malaysia, or anywhere else, is important to someone's faith, that's fine with me. Just don't also teach that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.
Third, I genuinely like everyone I've met who works on issues of Church history and Book of Mormon geography and historicity. None of my comments are personal or are directed at any particular individual(s).
But fourth, I do have a problem with academic arrogance, obfuscation, bullying and suppression of alternative ideas.
Recently I read a statement that I could relate to.
Stephen Miller: "Anytime you do anything hugely successful that challenges a failed orthodoxy, you're going to see protests. In fact, if nobody is disagreeing with what you're doing, then you're probably not doing anything that really matters in the scheme of things." http://time.com/4657665/steve-bannon-donald-trump/
I'm not claiming anything I've done here is "hugely successful," but I have challenged what I consider to be a failed orthodoxy, including all the non-New York Cumorah theories (the Cumorah deniers who advocate Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Chile, Malaysia, Eritrea, etc.), as well as the those who insist Joseph wrote the Bernhisel letter, the anonymous 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons, etc.
And I have definitely seen protests and disagreements.
Naively, I expected LDS scholars and educators to embrace new paradigms that supported what Oliver and Joseph said from the beginning. Generally, historians have been very open and eager to look at things from a new perspective. Historians, in my experience, want to get things right. They seem to enjoy the pursuit of truth, even when--I should say especially when--it means correcting or modifying previous conclusions.
Not so with many other LDS scholars and educators who have been promoting a non-New York setting for Cumorah and a non-North American setting for the Book of Mormon. Instead, sad to report, many of them have been more concerned with stubbornly protecting their own ideas and publications.
For which I'm grateful on two levels, ironically. First, some of the critics have given me some good material that I have incorporated in second editions and other books. Second, many of the critics have advanced such poor arguments that they reaffirmed my initial suspicion that the non-New York Cumorah theories are, essentially, houses of cards, based on semantics and sophistry and questionable assumptions. It became obvious to me why anti-Mormon arguments have persuaded so many people, including investigators, former members, and inactive members.
It also became obvious to me why these LDS scholars and educators have gone to such lengths to suppress information about the North American setting.
Think of this: when your theory of Book of Mormon geography and historicity is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah, just how persuasive do you think your theory really is to those of us who accept these men as prophets and apostles who translated the Book of Mormon, entertained heavenly messengers, and visited the repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York?
The only way these theories have succeeded is by obfuscating the premise about Joseph and Oliver and by suppressing information about what they said, including Letter VII (which has never even been translated outside of English, has never been published in the Ensign, etc.).
These non-New York Cumorah theories ultimately rely on people accepting an awful lot of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, if not outright denial. I think we'll all be better off when these theories are nothing but a footnote in history.
When I first started inquiring into questions of Book of Mormon geography and historicity, I was surprised at how incestuous LDS scholarship was. I referred to the various LDS publications as the citation cartel. Having been told that term was offensive, I stopped using it. I never intended to offend; I'm only interested in getting at the truth, and I thought that was an accurate description of scholarly LDS publications and co-dependent offshoots, such as Meridian Magazine and Book of Mormon Central.
From the outset, I was told by people who had experience with LDS scholars and educators that I would face a lot of opposition because these LDS scholars and educators had reached a comfortable consensus about the Mesoamerican theory, their view that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and merely speculated about its setting, that Joseph expected scholars to settle the question, etc. That approach is unbelievably self-serving, of course, but no one seemed willing to point it out.
True to form, members of what were formerly known as the citation cartel published lengthy and sarcastic criticisms of my books. These consist entirely of confirmation bias, meaning they are persuasive, if at all, only to those who want to adhere to their particular non-New York Cumorah theories. If you've read these criticisms, you know what I mean.
When these same publications refused to publish my responses and censored my comments on their web pages, I posted my detailed replies on my blog,
http://interpreterpeerreviews.blogspot.com/. Many people have asked me about the criticism, having read it on Book of Mormon Central (America), BMAF, the Interpreter, etc. When I refer them to my responses, they come back and ask how the citation cartel could have published such nonsense in the first place. I just shrug.
By now, I've published eight books and hundreds of pages of blog posts on these topics. I think the case for the New York Cumorah is so convincing that I'm not bothering with the critics any longer (although I'd welcome a dialog with them if they were willing, which they haven't been for the last two years). I have dozens of tabs in the publications of (for lack of a better term) the citation cartel that I could write about, but it's all more of the same. People will believe what they want to believe. Pointing out even more logical thinking errors in these publications isn't going to change anything.
I'm moving on to some more important projects.* If readers have specific questions about Church history or Book of Mormon geography, email them to me. If enough people ask about a particular thing, I'll address it.
Based on past experience, I fully expect the citation cartel to publish more critical articles. They never discuss the issues with me ahead of time, despite my repeated requests to do so. That's why they're a citation cartel, and that's how they end up making such poor arguments that consist mainly of semantic dances and allusions to illusory "correspondences."
(And it's not only on issues of Church history and Book of Mormon geography. The citation cartel is impervious to alternative perspectives on nearly every issue.)
Anyway, I'll probably post only once a week or so from now on.
It's been a lot of fun getting to know so many readers, and I look forward to ongoing interactions and exchanges of ideas.
*I've explained before that one of my main motivations for getting into this arena was to bring unity on the issue of Book of Mormon geography and historicity. It makes no sense to present the Book of Mormon to people when we give them inconsistent explanations about where it took place. Five seconds on the Internet tells anyone in the world that there is a mass of confusion in the Church about this issue.
On one hand, Joseph and Oliver (and all of their successors) were clear about Cumorah being in New York.
On the other hand, the illustrations in the blue missionary edition itself claim the Book of Mormon occurred in Mesoamerica. The North Visitors center on Temple Square, the ubiquitous paintings of Christ visiting Chichen Itza, and the LDS scholarly "consensus" are all telling the world that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.
This is really such as simple question. From this point forward, I'm working on projects based on the assumption that Joseph and Oliver were correct. People are free to disagree, of course, but unless and until someone brings forth strong evidence and rational argument that Joseph and Oliver were, in fact, ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah, I reject that premise, even if it is on display at Temple Square.