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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

2 levels of M2C

This is a long post that, hopefully, will clarify the M2C problem and put all my previous posts in context.

There are two levels of M2C to consider. One is harmless; the other is disastrous.

Level 1. There are lots of theories of Book of Mormon geography, and that's fine. People can believe whatever they want. So long as their belief in the Book of Mormon brings them closer to Christ, it doesn't matter what they think about the geographical setting and historicity. 

Level 1 is neutral. This is the position taken by the current iteration of the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography. This is the level at which the geography "doesn't matter" to those who accept the Book of Mormon on faith.

All theories of Book of Mormon geography fall into one of two categories, and at Level 1 it doesn't matter which you believe:

1) The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.
2) The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is not in western New York. (This category includes those who accept the Book of Mormon as metaphorical; i.e., not a real history of real people in a real setting.)

Faithful believers in the Book of Mormon can be found in both categories. At this level, M2C is harmless. It's just one of many theories that claim the Hill Cumorah is not in New York, along with Peru, Chile, Panama, Baja, and even theories in other parts of the world.

Alternatively, people can believe in the Heartland theory, or the New York theory, or any other theory that keeps Cumorah in New York. These are all faith-based theories, supported in some sense by extrinsic evidence but not driven by such evidence.

At level 1, there is no reason to debate the geography issues.

People can consider the evidence that supports the various theories and choose what makes sense for them. What matters is how the book changes their lives and brings them closer to Christ.

Level 2. Level 2 involves physical evidence, textual interpretation, the teachings of the prophets, etc.

Truth claims are different from beliefs based on faith. 

Most people in the world don't accept the Book of Mormon on faith. As Moroni 10 teaches, great faith is only one gift of the Spirit. Most active members of the Church, by definition, have great faith. But there are other ways the Spirit can manifest the truth to us, and some of these involve wisdom and knowledge.

In other words, it is appropriate to consider extrinsic evidence in assessing the Book of Mormon. For those without the spiritual gift of great faith, such evidence is essential.

(And those who have the spiritual gift of great faith should never judge or denigrate those who have a different gift, as we should have learned long ago from 1 Cor. 12:21.)

We could say that Level 1 is mostly faith-based, while Level 2 is mostly evidence-based.

At Level 2, M2C is a disaster because it expressly and openly repudiates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. This takes it out of the realm of just another theory.

M2C asserts, as a fact, that the prophets are wrong.

(M2C intellectuals like to frame this more smoothly by saying the prophets were merely expressing their private opinions so the fact that they were wrong doesn't impact their prophetic mantle. They apply this framing even to members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. Of course, that same reasoning can apply to everything the prophets teach, so while the "opinion" argument may appear more palatable, it teaches the same bottom line; i.e. that the prophets are wrong.)

As Joseph Fielding Smith warned long ago, M2C causes members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

In our day, the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah have been "de-correlated," meaning they have been largely censored. The Saints book, for example, censored the term Cumorah to accommodate M2C by creating a false historical narrative. The 2020 Come Follow Me manual also censors Cumorah.

Anyone who learns Church history by reading Saints or the Come Follow Me manual will never know what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah and why it was such a central point for Church members during the lifetime of Joseph Smith.

But those who study Church history on their own will learn the truth. They will wonder why the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah have been "de-correlated." In many cases, they will first learn the truth from critics of the Church who pose these obvious questions to missionaries and members.

De-correlating the teachings of the prophets to accommodate M2C is an unmitigated disaster.

M2C is also a disaster at Level 2 because it has become the de facto position of the Church, despite the announced position of neutrality.

M2C on display at Temple Sq
M2C is on explicit display in the Visitors Center on Temple Square. It is being explicitly taught by Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, and other Church-sponsored organizations.

M2C is portrayed in Church media and manuals, including the illustrations in the 2020 Come Follow Me curriculum.

As we just discussed, M2C is accommodated in the Saints book which de-correlated the term Cumorah from Church history.

ScripturePlus replaces Gospel Library
ScripturePlus, the new app from Book of Mormon Central that uses the official scriptures licensed from the Church, teaches M2C expressly and exclusively. ScripturePlus is designed to entice Church members away from the Church's Gospel Library, which is (relatively) neutral on the question of Book of Mormon geography.

Soon, even more than it is already, M2C will be enshrined as the only "acceptable" explanation for the Book of Mormon.

Students throughout the Church are being taught the M2C interpretation of the text by the use of so-called "abstract" maps, which are nothing less than fantasy maps. This practice imprints the M2C interpretation as the only "approved" interpretation.

At level 2, M2C presents a "take it or leave it" approach to the Book of Mormon. 

For years, Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the M2C citation cartel have framed M2C as the only plausible and acceptable theory of Book of Mormon geography. That's why they censor alternative views and evidences, including the teachings of the prophets.

If you don't accept M2C, you're not welcome at Book of Mormon Central, or FairMormon, or the Interpreter, or Meridian Magazine, or even BYU Studies.

Not only are you not welcome, but employees and followers of the M2C citation cartel will ostracize you and criticize you on social media and in person.

Now that M2C has infiltrated Church media, manuals, and visitors centers as the only acceptable interpretation, the M2C message is expanding beyond the M2C citation cartel to the Church as a whole. I've received reports from faithful Church members being openly criticized and ostracized at Church meetings solely because they don't accept M2C.

That alone would make M2C a disaster.

But that is not the only reason why Level 2 M2C is a disaster.

At Level 2, when M2C is presented as the only acceptable setting for the Book of Mormon, M2C invites close scrutiny.

For those outside the M2C bubble, whether inside or outside of the Church, such scrutiny exposes M2C as a hoax.

At Level 1, we don't care whether M2C is a hoax because it's just another faith-based theory that works for some people. Facts and evidence are irrelevant; people believe the Book of Mormon is true purely because they received a spiritual witness. And that's wonderful.

But at Level 2, now that M2C has become the quasi-official position of the Church, it matters a great deal that M2C is a hoax.

Before discussing the hoax problem, let's look at a fundamental theological problem with M2C.

Once M2C is established as the only acceptable setting for the Book of Mormon, one's faith in the Book of Mormon requires one to accept three premises that many members of the Church find unacceptable.

Premise 1: the prophets who taught the New York Cumorah misled the Church.
Premise 2: there is only one way to interpret the text, and that is to make it fit M2C.
Premise 3: the extrinsic evidence supports only M2C.

Premise 1. The problems with Premise 1 should be obvious. We already saw how M2C has led to the de-correlation of the teachings of the prophets, but that's not the only, or even the most serious, impact.

Once the M2C intellectuals persuade Church members (and nonmembers) that Church leaders misled the Church about the New York Cumorah, it is easy to persuade people that the prophets could be wrong about lots of things.

Currently, the most glaring ramification of repudiating the prophets is the peep stone-in-a-hat narrative, which, like M2C, claims that Joseph, Oliver and all their successors misled Church members. In this case, the intellectuals say Joseph and Oliver were wrong about the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Now we're expected to believe that, instead of translating the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, Joseph simply read words that appeared on a peep stone he put in a hat. The words were provided by an unknown "intermediate translator" and the peep stone acted as a metaphysical teleprompter. Joseph didn't even use the plates. When he and Oliver consistently said that Joseph used the plates and the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates, they misled the Church, just like they did with the New York Cumorah.

The peep stone theory originated in the early 1830s and was expressly contradicted by Joseph and Oliver, but, as with M2C, certain intellectuals in the Church have persuaded people to accept the peep stone theory anyway.

For many faithful Church members, this is a big problem. For others, it's not a problem because their spiritual testimony trumps everything else; they put questions "on a shelf" and proceed as if the questions didn't exist. And that's fine. That's the same approach taken by most people in the world who adhere to their beliefs. But fewer and fewer people (especially younger generations) are satisfied with putting obvious questions "on a shelf" to be ignored.

For skeptical Church members (as well as almost all non-members) the peep stone theory requires an enormous leap of faith that few are willing to make. The peep stone theory is, in a word, unbelievable. It undermines everything the scriptures teach about the importance of the plates and introduces this mysterious "intermediate translator" that supplants Joseph Smith as translator.

Premise 1 of M2C has other ramifications that we'll discuss in upcoming posts.

Premise 2. The M2C claim that there is only one way to interpret the text is absurd on its face. Biblical students have long known there are many ways to interpret passages of text. The legal system daily confronts different interpretations of statutes and regulations. Interpersonal communications are complicated by misunderstandings of common language.

There are always multiple interpretations of a text. I've written this long post to clarify my previous writings and to put them in context, but surely some critics will take even this post out of context or interpret it to mean something other than what I've intended.

While the M2C proponents claim there is only one way to interpret the text (i.e., to make it fit Mesoamerica), they also claim the "intermediate translator" made mistakes by Americanizing the original Mayan references. That's why the text refers to horses instead of tapirs, for example, and towers built in a day instead of massive stone pyramids. The "intermediate translator" also forgot to mention volcanoes, jungles, jaguars, and jade.

Not to mention the Mayans themselves.

And yet, the M2C proponents claim the "intermediate translator" was perfect when it came to references about geography that (they claim) describe Mesoamerica. Except that he/she made a mistake by using different terms for the same feature; i.e., there was only one "narrow neck of land" even though the text refers to a narrow neck, a small neck, and a narrow neck of land in different places.

When you read a book such as Mormon's Codex, the contorted M2C interpretations are all too apparent to anyone outside the M2C bubble. The book is riddled with logical fallacies as well, and yet the Foreword was written by one of the most famous intellectuals in the Church today, who claimed this book represented the high water mark for Book of Mormon studies.

Sadly, he was correct.

M2C has become the de facto position of the Church only because the M2C intellectuals, their employees and their followers, have persuaded so many Church members that there is only one way to interpret the text, and that interpretation fits only M2C. It's circular reasoning at its worst, reinforced by Church media, manuals and Visitors Centers (not to mention the Saints book and Come Follow Me manual that de-correlated Cumorah completely).

Those of us outside the M2C bubble are not saying the M2C interpretation is irrational or insupportable.

We're saying it's not the only, or even the best, possible interpretation.

We're saying that the M2C intellectuals should stop censoring other ideas about Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

We're saying that the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah should be re-correlated in Church media, manuals and visitors centers.

We're saying that M2C should not be established as the de facto position of the Church.

Otherwise, those who reject M2C will tend to also reject the Book of Mormon and the Church itself, as we'll see below. That's a worst-case scenario that is already playing out, and will become even worse the more entrenched M2C becomes.

The Church's policy of neutrality is the only one that makes sense at the present time, but it is not being followed by Church employees, or else we wouldn't see the teachings of the prophets being de-correlated, M2C presented in the manuals, media and visitors centers, M2C taught in the Church Educational System, etc.

Premise 3. M2C intellectuals claim the extrinsic evidence (archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.) leads only to the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. Then they rationalize that Mesoamerica is too far from New York for the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 to be located in New York, so the "real" Cumorah must be in southern Mexico, contrary to the teachings of the prophets.

Re-read that last paragraph and you'll see how nonsensical the whole M2C idea is. It's nothing but a hoax.

Not long ago I spoke with a well-known General Authority about this. He told me his own brother, who is an actual expert in Mayan studies, left the Church over this issue because he knew there was nothing in Mayan culture that even resembled the Book of Mormon, but the Church teaches M2C so therefore it couldn't be true.

I replied that his brother was correct about the first two points, but not the final conclusion.

There is nothing in Mayan culture that fits the text of the Book of Mormon. It is only the M2C interpretation of the text that fits. Because that interpretation is driven by the prior assumption that the text must describe Mesoamerica, it is pure circular reasoning.

This brother's belief that the Church teaches M2C is a rational conclusion based on the manuals, media, and visitors centers, as well as the de-correlation of the actual teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

But this brother's conclusion about the truthfulness of the Church was not correct because (at least so far) M2C has never been taught in General Conference or explicitly by any of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Instead, every one of them who has addressed the issue has reaffirmed that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

(Teachings that current inhabitants of Latin America have Lamanite ancestry are irrelevant to the Book of Mormon setting because of migrations post 400 AD).

This example is one of many we could cite of people who have become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon because of M2C, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

Hence, the disaster of establishing M2C as the de facto position of the Church on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, as Book of Mormon Central has done.

Most people in the world, and more and more people in the Church, are being driven away because, on a Level 2 basis, they don't accept M2C.

Hence, M2C is a disaster at Level 2.

Now, let's discuss how M2C is a hoax.

In the early days of the Church, everyone knew the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was in western New York because of Letter VII and other teachings, such as Oliver's account of multiple visits to the depository of Nephite records inside the hill Cumorah in New York.

Some early Mormon writers assumed that any evidence of ancient civilizations in the Western Hemisphere was evidence of the Book of Mormon.

For example, a popular book by Alexander von Humboldt, published in English in 1806, referred to Panama as a "neck of land." Naturally, early Church members (but never Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery) equated Panama with the "neck of land" mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

Orson Pratt spent several pages of his 1840 missionary pamphlet describing how the native people in Central and South America were Lamanites. When Joseph wrote the Wentworth letter, he borrowed from this pamphlet, but when he came to Orson's description of the Lamanites, Joseph replaced it with the statement that "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

(This passage was de-correlated (censored) in the Joseph Smith manual because it contradicts M2C, especially when we compare it to the Orson Pratt pamphlet. See http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2017/07/editing-wentworth-letter.html)

It's easy to see why early members jumped to their conclusions. They had no idea that many of the ruins in Central America that they claimed were "Nephite" actually dated to well after 400 AD. They also had no idea about the sophistication of the earthworks created by the Adena and Hopewell Indians in North America. They didn't even know there were two separate ancient civilizations in North America that corresponded in time and space to the Jaredites and Nephites. Those distinct civilizations wouldn't be identified until decades after the Book of Mormon was published.

Throughout the 1800s, there were lots of opinions about Book of Mormon geography, but everyone admitted they were speculative with the exception of one spot: the Hill Ramah/Cumorah in western New York. Everyone agreed on that point. Heber C. Kimball even visited the site after he joined the Church and reported he could still see the embankments at the hill.

M2C originated with RLDS scholars in the late 1800s. Coincidentally, President Joseph F. Smith at the time was seeking to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York. The RLDS were in an ongoing theological battle with the LDS in Utah over polygamy and other issues. The Cumorah issue was one of several sources of conflict.

M2C proponents relied on anonymous 1842 articles in the Times and Seasons, while they completely ignored Letter VII, which was first published in 1836 and republished at the direction of Joseph Smith in all LDS and LDS-related newspapers through 1844--including the Times and Seasons. It was intellectually dishonest to suppress Letter VII while promoting the anonymous articles that didn't even mention Cumorah, but their tactics were successful.

These RLDS scholars moved Cumorah from New York to southern Mexico.

In the early to mid 1900s, LDS scholars began accepting the RLDS ideas about M2C, despite the objections of LDS leaders including Joseph Fielding Smith, James E. Talmage, and LeGrand Richards. The debates continued throughout the 1900s. In the 1970s, President Marion G. Romney and Elder Mark E. Peterson reaffirmed the New York Cumorah in General Conference, just as LDS intellectuals were becoming more vocal about M2C.

In 1990, the First Presidency reaffirmed the New York Cumorah in a letter written to a Bishop who had raised the question, but M2C intellectuals continued to assert M2C through the Church Educational System.

The tipping point was in the early 1980s when M2C was published in the Ensign and more M2C books appeared. Over the next 40 years, LDS students throughout the Church have been taught to understand the Book of Mormon through the M2C lens.

Once M2C has been imprinted on a person's mind, especially in the context of the Church Educational System, that person is inside the M2C bubble. He/she has difficulty interpreting the text and the evidence in any way contrary to the M2C interpretation.

I know because I was inside that bubble for decades myself.

This ad from Book of Mormon Central exposes the M2C bubble.

It features the Mayan logo, conveying the message that you have to believe M2C. It claims the "evidences are clear and convincing," yet the evidences for M2C are neither clear nor convincing to anyone outside the M2C bubble.

To adherents of every religion, the evidences are "clear and convincing" or they wouldn't adhere to their religion. It's a nonsense claim to anyone who doesn't already accept the belief.

Worse, the slogan make a promise that M2C can't keep.

Instead, the M2C evidences are transparent circular reasoning, based on tortured interpretations of a text that is anything but Mayan in nature. The M2C evidences aren't even convincing to many who believe the Book of Mormon is an actual history. These evidences are completely unconvincing to actual Mayan experts or the world at large who can compare Mayan civilization to the descriptions in the text.

Outside the M2C bubble, the extrinsic evidence points to anything but M2C.

We would like to leave M2C alone. At Level 1, we would ignore it and let people believe whatever they want, no problem.

But at Level 2, now that M2C is entrenched and ScripturePlus is about to supplant the Church's own Gospel Library, and with the ongoing de-correlation of the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, it is important for those who cannot accept M2C to know there is an alternative.

Those who see the logical and factual fallacies of M2C should not reject the Book of Mormon or the Church on that basis.

Whether you are inside or outside of the Church, you don't have to accept M2C to accept the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. 

There are many of us who accept the Book of Mormon but reject M2C.

I've discussed the M2C evidence in some detail before, and we'll do so again, but as long as M2C continues to be the default take-it-or-leave-it position of the Church, we can expect to see more of what Joseph Fielding Smith warned: Saints will become confused and disturbed in their faith.

And the rest of the world will find the Book of Mormon less and less credible.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic report. It all makes sense. Jonathan has done us a great service in explaining Church History.