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.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Gospel Topics Essay problems

I keep hearing complaints about the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography. Although I think the essay is a step in the right direction because it takes the perceived thumb of the Church off the M2C scale, I'm not oblivious to the problems it raises.

I've proposed changes that I think will improve the essay. You can see a table of these changes here:


That is a "nice" link that you can share without all the baggage of the M2C controversy in this blog.

Here are a couple of serious problems with the essay.

1. Supports critics. As written, the essay supports the arguments of the critics, beginning with Mormonism Unvailed, the 1834 anti-Mormon book that claimed the Book of Mormon was fiction, and continuing to the present with the CES Letter.

Joseph and Oliver responded to Mormonism Unvailed by writing the eight essays on Church history and priesthood, including Letter VII. Joseph and Oliver declared that facts would overcome innuendo and speculation; they cited the fact of the hill Cumorah being in western New York among other facts. Their approach in these essays was to establish the restoration of the Priesthood and the setting of Cumorah as real world facts to counter the assertions that everything they testified of was fiction, including the Book of Mormon.

The Gospel Topics essay takes a different approach. It ignores the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and conveys the message that the Church has no idea where anything took place. From the perspective of the critics, that's tantamount to conceding the Book of Mormon is fiction.

2. Represents one POV. Although framed as neutral, the essay represents the long-established views of the M2C intellectuals. I've pointed out that certain employees in the Church Office Building, CES, and BYU like to make decisions for the Brethren by giving them limited alternatives to choose from. This essay epitomizes that problem.

I don't think anyone believes the Brethren would have issued this Gospel Topics Essay in its current version had they been informed of all the facts. The misleading paraphrase of President Ivins' General Conference talk alone is inexcusable, but combined with the omission of his preceding talk about the Hill Cumorah, the presentation in the essay is simply deceptive. The treatment of the anonymous Times and Seasons articles is equally deceptive because it converts the inferences of a few M2C scholars into a claim about what Joseph Smith was actually thinking.

The problem of employees making decisions by limiting the options presented to their bosses is common in all large organizations, but it is even worse in the context of the Church.

Unless corrected, this essay conveys inferences and out-of-context statements that will mislead members of the Church and friends/investigators everywhere. It feeds the M2C narrative that Joseph Smith was ignorant and confused, that he learned about the Book of Mormon from popular travel books, and that he misled the Church about the New York Cumorah and the identity of the Lamanites. Building on that foundation, the M2C intellectuals teach their students that all the prophets and apostles who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah have also misled the Church.

The M2C intellectuals have taught this narrative for decades because it puts them in a position superior to Joseph, Oliver, and the other prophets and apostles. It goes like this: if the Cumorah question is purely an academic issue, the M2C intellectuals have more education and more "facts" than the prophets, so they are correct and the prophets are wrong.

This means Joseph Smith was wrong when he told his mother the name of the hill before he even got the plates; that David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were wrong in their accounts; and that all the prophets and apostles who have formally taught the New York Cumorah were wrong.

Does anyone think the Brethren intended to convey this message to the world?

Yet, because of the careful framing of this essay, and the censorship of the teachings of the prophets, that is exactly what message is currently being taught by this essay.

All this said, I still think the essay is an important step toward correcting the M2C errors that have crept in. Prohibiting the advocacy of M2C in "Church settings" is significant, especially if the policy is enforced to eliminate M2C artwork.

Let's all be patient and see how the entire situation unfolds.

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