long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 1 - Geography

I'm concerned about how missionaries are handling the common questions about the Book of Mormon. 

Missionaries (lds.org)
I love the missionaries, and I love missionary work. I go on splits with the missionaries in our stake and I try to follow what's happening elsewhere. I talk to returned missionaries, read their blogs, etc.

We all know how difficult it is to prepare teenagers to go on missions. Some are more ready than others. In many cases, missionaries encounter questions in the field they've never been asked before.

Often their own Mission President doesn't want them to answer or even discuss these questions.

Now of course the missionaries are not "defenseless" in the broad sense of the term. They have the Lord with them. They are protected, as we all know, and the Spirit guides and directs them, touches the hearts of the people they meet, etc. But they are defenseless when it comes to answering and even discussing some of the most common questions they get from investigators and former Mormons.

And instead of being defenseless, they could be using these questions to bring people to Christ.

Before addressing these questions, I need to review the background from which missionaries come.

More and more I'm hearing from people afflicted with Mesomania that the geography doesn't matter. "People either get a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon or they don't," the reasoning goes, "and geography has nothing to do with it."

In fact, that's sort of the rationale for the disastrous BYU "abstract" video-game map that puts the Book of Mormon into a fantasy setting. At BYU now, the setting for the Book of Mormon is wherever you want it to be, so long as you can pull and stretch it from an interpretation driven by Mesomania.

I think we all know the writing is on the wall: the Mesoamerican theory (and all non-New York Cumorah theories, aka "two-Cumorahs" theories) are dead men walking. 

Proponents of these theories will increasingly claim that the geography doesn't matter because that's the easiest way for them to minimize their cognitive dissonance, but that approach is exactly what is causing missionaries so much trouble.

The geography issue is directly linked to the history issue, which boils down to whether or not you accept Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer as credible and reliable witnesses. As more LDS people become fully informed and aware of the issues, fewer and fewer are sticking with Mesoamerica.* 

It is to prevent fully informed decisions that FairMormon, BYU Studies, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine and the rest [aka, the Conclave]** refuse to educate the Saints about Church history and the alternatives to the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theories. For the same reason, BYU uses an "abstract" map instead of teaching students what Joseph and Oliver taught.

How does this affect the missionaries?

Missionaries relate that two of the most common questions people ask are, "Where did the Book of Mormon take place?" and "What about the DNA?"

These are natural questions for anyone who reads the Book of Mormon. 

The question of setting arises as soon as people read about Lehi leaving Jerusalem.

Despite their natural curiosity, some people don't care about the setting. They accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon on its face. They don't even want to think about the geography issue lest it raise questions that don't have answers.

This is basic psychology, and it's true of adherents to every religion and nonreligion. On my first mission, I met Catholics every day who said they had their religion and they didn't want to know about mine, even when they didn't know what their church taught or didn't believe it when they did.

Most people resist ideas that might cause them to change. That's what makes missionary work difficult. (Google "people resist change" to see explanations for why people resist change.)

Lots of LDS people--maybe the majority of active LDS--are also in this category.

This is why BYU's "abstract" map works. It's easy and familiar to students raised on video game fantasy worlds. Apparently most students don't know or care about the implications of thinking of the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting that teaches Joseph and Oliver were mistaken.

Resistance to change is a wall. It keeps most people safely inside the traditions they grew up within and protects them from outside challenges and threats. Only a few members of a community climb the wall and venture outside. Some return, but others are never seen again.

Every person a missionary meets is surrounded by such a wall of varying height. The wall is built of bricks such as inertia, uncertainty, loss of control, defensiveness, peer pressure, etc.

Christian ministers recognize the threat of Mormonism. The wall between traditional Christianity and Mormonism is lower because of common beliefs in the Bible and in Christ.

For that reason, anyone who attends a Christian church has probably been told to ask Mormon missionaries these questions. I've seen it in their ministry materials. I've been with the missionaries when these questions were asked, and I've had them tell me about other times when people ask these questions.

Let's look at the first common question missionaries get and the natural follow-ups.

"Where did the Book of Mormon take place?" 

If you're a missionary, how do you answer? Something along these lines:

1. We don't know.
2. The Lord has not revealed it yet.
3. Central America (based on the artwork in the Book of Mormon they gave the investigator).
4. Mesoamerica (if they've been educated by the Conclave).
5. Wherever you want it to be, aka Fantasyland (if they've been educated at BYU recently).

An investigator who has been prepped (or who has read the Introduction) will ask, "Isn't the Hill Cumorah in New York?"

If you're a missionary, how do you answer? Something along these lines:

1. We don't know.
2. The Lord has not revealed it yet.
3. (If educated by the Conclave or at BYU recently) That was a false tradition started by unknown early Saints and embraced by Joseph Smith for a while, but then he changed his mind and said it was up to scholars to figure out.

An investigator who has been prepared by any of numerous Christian ministries will ask, "Didn't Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery say the Hill Cumorah is in New York? Don't you accept them as prophets? And what about all the other prophets and apostles who have affirmed that, including in General Conference?"

If you're a missionary, how do you answer? Something along these lines:

1. Yes, but... I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?
2. Yes, but... I'm sorry, I'm not sure about Oliver Cowdery. I'll have to get back to you on that.
3. (If educated by the Conclave or at BYU recently) That was just Oliver's opinion. Like Joseph, he embraced a false tradition started by unknown early Saints. Our modern scholars know better than Joseph and Oliver did. Plus, every speaker in General Conference who affirmed the New York Cumorah was expressing his own opinion and was wrong.

You get the idea. Missionaries are defenseless when they encounter these questions.

I'm told that in many areas, they have been instructed to drop investigators who pursue this line of questioning. 

To me, these sound like honest, sincere, reasonable (and inevitable) questions anyone would have when they read the Book of Mormon and Church history. The Christian ministries don't have to make up quotes to cause trouble; they simply cite our own history.

Eliminating investigators who have these questions serves only to restrict the pool of potential converts. Apparently, that's a risk many Mission Presidents are willing to take because they, themselves, can't answer the questions and they want to protect the missionaries from entertaining these questions when investigators pose them.

Here's the tragic part: the answers provided by our LDS scholars and educators raise more warning flags than the investigators (and missionaries) had already. 

Even missionaries find it difficult to accept the idea that Joseph and Oliver were honest, credible and reliable about everything except this one detail: the New York location of the Hill Cumorah.

(Actually, most members find it difficult to accept that idea, too. Most just are ignorant of the facts, thanks to the Conclave.)

When we have situations where investigators and former Mormons are asking missionaries questions that the missionaries have never asked themselves, and the missionaries have no viable answers, where does that leave the missionaries?

Is telling them to drop the investigators who have these questions a viable long-term solution?

Or is this approach contributing to the 40% of returned missionaries that leave the Church or go inactive within three years of coming home?

Tomorrow I'll post comments about the second common question.

*(Recap: If you still believe in the Mesoamerican, "two-Cumorahs" setting, you are taking the position that (i) Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the location of Cumorah, (ii) we should trust modern LDS scholars and educators more than Joseph and all of his contemporaries and successors, and (iii) we can't even rely on General Conference talks when they contradict what our LDS scholars and educators are teaching now.)

**Collectively, I've labeled these the "citation cartel" in the past. I've agreed to stop calling them this if they can provide another term for the collective, but so far they haven't. I don't want to call them the Borg. I don't know a non-pejorative term for Groupthink, but if anyone has one, I'd be happy to use it instead. For now, I'll call them the "Conclave."

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