Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Perfect Storm-Part 1

There's a perfect storm coming. It involves M2C.

Definitionperfect storm is an event in which a rare combination of circumstances drastically aggravates the event.

The event is the “de-correlation” of the New York Cumorah, which is nearly complete. For some time now, the visitors centers have taught M2C. Last year, volume 1 of Saints created a false historical narrative to completely censor the New York Cumorah from Church history. Book of Mormon Central is spending millions of dollars to promote M2C and suppress the teachings of the prophets, including the development of the ScripturePlus app

This fall, a series of events is creating a perfect storm to mop up any lingering traces of the teachings of the prophets.

Four specific items are combining to aggravate the impact of M2C.

1. Article on the fantasy map.
2. Sidney Sperry Symposium
3. Lecture on Mayan wars at BYU
4. Thrive Day 2019

We'll discuss one each day this week.
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The fantasy map
Part 1 of our Perfect Storm of M2C involves the BYU fantasy map of the Book of Mormon that we’ve discussed here many times.

An article titled “Visualizing the People, Places and Plates of the Book of Mormon” seeks to explain and justify the fantasy map currently being taught to all BYU students. The map is a variation of the similar CES map taught to all seminary and institute students.

The article appears in the print version of the Winter 2019 edition of BYU Religious Education Review. It’s not online yet, but it will be soon. When it is posted, you can read it here:

The BYU fantasy map has been around for several years now. As you read the article, see if you think it successfully justifies teaching young Latter-day Saints to think of the Book of Mormon--no, to study the Book of Mormon--in a fictional, fantasy setting.

It's no wonder that more and more Latter-day Saints (to say nothing about non-LDS) are concluding the Book of Mormon is fiction. That trend will continue to accelerate as we see the rest of the perfect storm this week.
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The title of the article focuses on the key point: visualizing.

Psychologists know that visualizing information is the most persuasive technique. Once you imprint a particular concept on the minds of people using specific images, it is difficult for people to “unsee” that image.

The fantasy map instantly conveys a specific interpretation of the Book of Mormon: a land northward, a land southward, and a “narrow neck” between them. As we’ll see below, this is not a “neutral” depiction; it is a specific interpretation of the text developed to support a specific geography.

Most people outside of the M2C bubble realize this, but this article is intended for educators who presumably are unaware of this map and who, instead of reading the article critically, would likely defer to their colleagues who developed the map. 
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The article cites the most recent version of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography. (This essay has been substantially changed once without notice and could be changed again at any moment, as we’ve discussed before.)

The article includes these excerpts from the essay: “The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas” and “All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.”

The connotation of "contention" in that statement is surely "heated disagreement." This is wisdom because some people have an emotional, intellectual, or financial interest in a particular position that clouds their judgment and their ability think critically. 

I operate instead on the premise that "By proving contrarieties truth frequently appears." In my view, it is not contention to critically examine and discuss important issues and claims. There is no room for ad hominem attacks or other logical fallacies. Everyone who loves the Book of Mormon is a beloved brother and sister regardless of their opinions and interpretations. None of this discussion involves relative intelligence, faithfulness, etc., so there is no need or excuse for any contention. But we also have to be realistic and serious.
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With that in mine, let’s look at how the guidance from the Gospel Topics Essay is implemented in this article and in the project it discusses. Original text in blue, my comments in red.

p. 26. “To not promote anyone’s personal theories regarding exact locations of Book of Mormon events, VirtualScriptures.org includes a geography-neutral Book of Mormon map.”

Neither element of this sentence is true. That should be obvious to everyone who reads this article, but I suspect it's not, so let's discuss it.

First, the map necessarily promotes the personal theories of the creators because they used their own interpretation of the text to design the graphics. Are we to infer that the creators actually believe their interpretation is "objective" in any sense? Or, worse, that they believe their interpretation is "correct" in some sense? 

Maybe they're drawing a semantic distinction by referring to "anyone's personal theories" (i.e., any one person's personal theory) when it was actually a committee who interpreted the text to develop the map. But no matter how they spin it, this map is nothing but personal theory regarding exact locations of Book of Mormon events. The entire purpose of the map is to label exact locations. Putting them on a fantasy map instead of in the real world does not dissolve the personal theory component.
   
Second, the map is the antithesis of geography-neutral. It depicts two very specific claims that are at the core of the discussions about Book of Mormon geography: Cumorah and the neck of land. The map places Cumorah outside of New York--it depicts a setting that could never be New York--and it conflates the narrow neck, the small neck, and the narrow neck of land as one feature. A "neutral" map would not take a position on either point. A "neutral" map wouldn't even take a position on whether terms such as "land northward" are proper nouns or relative references that depend on a given author's physical location at a point in time.

“It is intentionally not linked to any modern maps of the Americas.”

Think about this a moment.  This map is teaching LDS students, both overtly and subliminally, that the best explanation of Book of Mormon geography is fiction and fantasy. 

It's one thing to say that we don't know for sure where the events took place, but it's something entirely different to teach that the Book of Mormon describes a fictional setting.

We all get the concept of creating an "abstract" map not tied to the real world. Some people think creating an "abstract" might convey a sense of neutrality and objectivity, but that's a delusion. Two-and-a-half years ago I discussed the inherent problem with "abstract" maps of this sort. The proponents always claim to be objective, but at every step of the way, they make a subjective decision about how to interpret a passage or word.

We also get the problem of identifying any "real world" setting that would necessarily exclude alternatives. That's why "neutrality" has to refer to alternative real-world settings. Implying that the Church position on "neutrality" includes fantasy as an option undermines the fundamental claim of historicity. 

Maybe that's exactly the point. 

Maybe, as long as we're going to completely de-correlate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, we might as well teach the youth using a fictional fantasy map. 

Students at BYU and seminary/institute tell me at least some of their teachers still believe the Book of Mormon is a real history, but those teachers all believe M2C. In the last several years, not a single student has told me his/her CES/BYU teachers still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah. (Very few students have any idea about what the prophets have taught, of course.) That doesn't mean there are no such teachers, but if there are, they wouldn't be teaching these fantasy maps.

It's also easy to understand why Book of Mormon Central would support the use of this fantasy map. The fantasy map is based on the M2C interpretation of the text, so it's an easy transition for people to make from the fantasy map to the Book of Mormon Central M2C theory.

No matter how you look at it, this M2C-approved fantasy map is not neutral. And there's nothing wrong with that, when the M2C bias is fully disclosed. But in this article, it is framed as neutral.

“Our map is a relational one, based on details found only within the text itself.”

This claim of relying on "the text itself" is another way of claiming the map is neutral and objective. The "text itself" is not objective, and an "objective interpretation" of the text is not a thing. 

It's all subjective.

Then why assert that the map is based on "the text itself" here?

This claim is the pretext all M2C scholars use for rejecting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Letter VII, General Conference addresses, declarations in books published by the Church--all of these are outside "the text itself" and therefore can be ignored, reframed, and repudiated.

(Ironically, the second part of the article discusses Mormon's cave. It relies on the teachings of the prophets, including Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Wilford Woodruff and David Whitmer. Each of these men also taught that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the same Cumorah referred to in Mormon 6:6. Oliver stated it was a fact. Heber C. Kimball visited the site and saw the embankments still around the hill. Yet this article (and the visualizing project overall) rejects what the prophets said about Cumorah’s location.)

Attempts to visually represent geographical features in the Book of Mormon will naturally lead to judgments that may not always match other interpretations of the same passage.

Exactly. This sentence acknowledges the falsity of the previous claim that the map doesn't reflect anyone's personal theories. The map necessarily reflects the creators' subjective judgments. 

This is why neutrality makes sense, and why implementing a particular interpretation does not. 

VirtualScriptures chose to implement a particular interpretation, but they didn't have to. They could have chosen neutrality, as we'll see in a moment.

“For example, we represent wilderness references in the book as mountains on our map.”

Wilderness as "mountains" is the specific M2C interpretation from John Sorenson, Book of Mormon Central, and other M2C proponents. 

I once had well-known M2C scholars tell me the Book of Mormon refers to "a narrow strip of mountainous wilderness." I asked them to show me the passage in the text. Of course, they couldn't. They were referring to Alma 22, but they had read John Sorenson's version so many times they thought the text actually said that.

“The wildernesses could have just as easily been unclaimed land, swampland, jungle, desert, or any combination of those or other natural features.”

This axiomatic statement leads us to ask, then why does the fantasy map depict the wilderness as mountains? The answer is simple: the creators and proponents of this map work with Book of Mormon Central and they're promoting the specific M2C interpretation.

Had they wanted to, the map's creators could have portrayed a generic “wilderness” instead of depicting and specifying mountains. However, the M2C interpretation requires mountains to work, so that's what this fantasy map shows.

“It is intended that readers will be able to take our internal map and stretch it, compress it, and modify it to fit whatever model they prefer for their own study purposes.”

I've been hearing this rationalization for years, but it makes no sense. How can anyone take the image of this fantasy map and stretch, compress, or modify it? One could print the map and use scissors to “modify” it somehow, or use image manipulation software to cut it up virtually, but of course the outcome would be useless. Maybe the “intent” was for readers to print the fantasy map on silly putty and manipulate it that way? That's not a facetious question. How else could someone modify this map?

Because I’ve worked extensively in computer animation and I still use the same software as VirtualScriptures, some time ago I asked the developers if I could adapt their work for an alternative interpretation of the text. They were favorable, but their bosses said absolutely not. Perhaps that policy has been relaxed, but I doubt it. After all, the people who promote this fantasy map work closely with Book of Mormon Central, the ultimate enforcer of M2C.

Even if the developers were willing to make their code available, most people don’t have computer animation software they could use to “stretch, compress and modify” the fantasy map. Given the constraints of fixed images, a truly “neutral” approach would offer at least some variations of this map that represent alternative interpretations.

That’s not going to happen so long as Book of Mormon Central has veto power and the allegiance of the developers and managers of VirtualScriptures.
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Chapter-by-Chapter App.

The article goes on to discuss a “Chapter-by-Chapter App” that could be quite useful. "When a user selects a chapter that mentions a city or other geographic feature for the first time, that feature will appear on the map." This sounds great, but because it relies on the fantasy map, it's merely another tool for enforcing the M2C interpretation.
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Mormon's Cave.

The next section of the article discusses "Mormon's Cave." It includes this classic M2C talking point:

We have ten different secondhand accounts from people who saw this cave in vision.7

[This statement is factually incorrect, and it's impossible to know if it was a poor editing job or just carelessness by the author. None of the people who gave the secondhand accounts claimed they saw the cave, in a vision or otherwise. That's why they are secondhand accounts. The only ones who entered the depository were Oliver, Joseph, two of Joseph's brother, and possibly others. None of these claimed the experience was a vision.]

Footnote 7 goes to the article by Cameron Packer that we've discussed before. Here's a link so you can read it for yourself.

https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1360&context=jbms

If you can't get the link, send me an email and I'll send you the .pdf.

The knowledge of the "cave" in the Hill Cumorah came from Oliver Cowdery, who told Brigham Young that he and Joseph visited the site on at least two occasions. That is consistent with David Whitmer's testimony about the divine messenger taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah. David also said Oliver told him about visiting the depository.

Oliver's account is also consistent with Brigham Young's statement that Joseph returned the plates to the Hill Cumorah.

Why are M2C scholars so eager to frame this experience as a "vision" instead of a literal visit?

We can't read minds; doing so would be contentious anyway. Instead, we look at what the scholars have written and make rational, conservative inferences.

M2C scholars reject Oliver's Letter VII testimony about the Hill Cumorah in New York, so to be consistent they have to also discredit the testimony about Mormon's depository in the hill.

IOW, if Oliver visited Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, then he had every reason to declare it was a fact that this was the very Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

And if Oliver told the truth in Letter VII, all the prophets who reaffirmed the New York Cumorah were also correct.

That would mean the M2C scholars, including the ones who created the fantasy "VirtualScriptures" map, are wrong.

You can see where this is going. These scholars have a very powerful incentive to portray the prophets as ignorant speculators who misled the Church by declaring, in General Conference and elsewhere, that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

You can read about this in the publications of Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, etc.

You can also read the statements and decide for yourself whether Brigham Young and the others were relating an actual experience or a "vision."

Brigham Young related the account just two months before he died. It was one of his last sermons, and he related it because he was afraid that otherwise the account would be lost. He prefaced his remarks by explaining that he lived in the area and knew it well. Like the others who spoke about the room, Brigham described the contents in physical terms, such as "many wagon loads" of plates.

The scholars rely on Heber C. Kimball's word choice; i.e., he spoke of a "vision" that Joseph and Oliver had. While that could refer to a supernatural experience, the 1828 Webster's dictionary defines the term to include "the act of seeing external objects" and "Any thing which is the object of sight." I've discussed all of this previously.
http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2018/02/getting-real-about-cumorah-part-5b.html

Recall that Heber testified he visited the Hill Cumorah in New York and saw the embankments around it. He referred to the depository on at least one other occasion. He said there were more plates than ten men could carry. Heber spoke about this more than once, etc.

This is a good example of the two movies on one screen that I've discussed before.

2. Visit to the Nephite repository.

Movie 1. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, David Whitmer and others said Oliver told them about occasions when he (Oliver) and Joseph visited the repository of Nephite records inside the Hill Cumorah. Oliver must have been speaking of visionary experiences because the Hill Cumorah is a drumlin that could not contain a natural cave such as Oliver described.

Movie 2. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, David Whitmer and others said Oliver told them about occasions when he (Oliver) and Joseph visited the repository of Nephite records inside the Hill Cumorah. They were familiar with the area and emphasized the physical reality of Oliver's description. Kimball reported visiting Cumorah and seeing the embankments around it. Oliver never said it was a natural cave, and photos of an actual room in the hill show walls built up with cut stones.
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I actually like the interactive cave because it shows the "Small plates" as distinct from the "Gold plates," although it also depicts them both in the compilation graphic, which as we all know by now doesn't make sense. Still, you should download the cave and explore it.

http://virtualscriptures.org/mormons-cave/

The end of part 1.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Great Wall and M2C

Last week I hiked along the Great Wall at Juyongguan, where the wall goes through a steep valley. Genghis Khan broke through the wall here twice (he was the only one to breach the wall during its 2,700 year history).

Genghis Khan used a clever "stratagem" comparable to the Nephite stratagem in Alma 56. In the year 1211, he lured the defenders out of the fortress to battle in the field, then surrounded them and captured the pass.*

There's a lesson here.
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The founding prophets set up a solid wall of defense regarding the critical events of the Restoration. Two of the most important fortresses are (i) the translation of the Book of Mormon and (ii) the historicity of the record.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery declared in no uncertain terms that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by using the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

The divine authenticity of the record is evidenced, in part, by the fact that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York. This was unambiguously established in Letter VII and other teachings of the prophets.

These facts were well known for decades and held up against innumerable attacks. The prophets repeatedly reaffirmed the truth and maintained the wall and these fortresses.

But then a few intellectuals were persuaded to abandon the fortresses in favor of revisionist history and M2C. They taught their theories and persuaded many, if not most, of their students and readers.

They've torn down the fortresses completely.
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According to these intellectuals, the prophets were wrong about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. Instead, it's somewhere in southern Mexico. They claim there are "two Cumorahs" (hence, M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory). They explain that the hill in New York is not the one referred to in Mormon 6:6. The New York Cumorah was a false tradition that originated in the early days of the Church.

The intellectuals claim the prophets misled the Church when they persistently and consistently taught that Cumorah was in New York. The prophets were expressing their personal, and incorrect, opinions, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

But now the intellectuals have rescued the Church by figuring out that the "real" Cumorah is in southern Mexico. The New York Cumorah has been de-correlated. None of the rising generation knows anything about the teachings of the prophets on the topic.

The intellectuals are still searching Mexico for Cumorah, of course. They've got their maps and expeditions and LIDAR and all the rest, to no avail. And even though the Church is "neutral" on the subject, the employees are making sure that only M2C is being taught, as we'll see later this week.
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According to the intellectuals, the prophets were also wrong about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Instead of translating the engravings on the plates with the Urim and Thummim, as Joseph and Oliver repeatedly explained, Joseph didn't even use the plates. He didn't even translate anything. He just read words that appeared on a stone he put in a hat.
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Fortunately for us, the Great Wall metaphor is personal. 

Every member of the Church makes a personal decision about whether to retain the wall built by the founding prophets, or to tear down that wall in favor of the philosophies of the intellectuals.

It's a clear choice. The choice does not involve intelligence, integrity, faithfulness, etc. Intelligent Church members can choose the prophets or the intellectuals regarding these two issues and remain completely faithful. No one should conflate testimony with personal preferences regarding prophets vs scholars.

For many people, though, the destruction of these two fortresses has been devastating.

We can all choose to believe whatever we want.

Hopefully everyone will at least make an informed decision.
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*Here's one account:

Also in 1211, after Genghis Khan captured Huailai in Hebei and Yanqing in Beijing, he chased the Jin army all the way to the Juyongguan Great Wall. Seeing the solid pass, Khan gave up the idea of attacking directly, but decided to lure the Jin soldiers out for a field battle. After several small-scale strikes, the Mongol soldiers threw down their weapons, left their horses and “escaped”. As expected, the Jin soldiers on guard left the pass to chase them. Suddenly, numerous Mongol soldiers appeared from nearby mountains and surrounded the Jin soldiers, defeated them and captured Juyongguan Pass.

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/military-defense/genghis-khan.htm


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Only when...

Only when things are investigated is knowledge extended; 
only when knowledge is extended are thoughts sincere; 
only when thoughts are sincere are minds rectified; 
only when minds are rectified are the characters of persons cultivated; 
only when character is cultivated are our families regulated; 
only when families are regulated are states well governed; 
only when states are well governed is there peace in the world.

The Classic of Rituals
https://asiasociety.org/education/confucianism

Monday, October 14, 2019

Mental prisons and Loserthink

Once Church members understand the origins of the M2C* hoax and the logical fallacies that sustain it, they wonder why it remains so influential for so many of their fellow Saints.

People live in mental prisons. Among Latter-day Saints, M2C is a common example.

Because the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, the mental prison of M2C is a serious matter.

M2C has been imprinted on the minds of the Latter-day Saints from an early age.

They have been deliberately groomed to interpret the Book of Mormon through the M2C lens. The M2C scholars claim they "cannot unsee" M2C. They carefully guide their students and followers so they, too, are unable to "unsee" M2C when they read the text.

The teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah have been de-correlated, as we saw in Volume 1 of the Saints book, replaced by the theories of M2C intellectuals which are now being taught throughout CES, BYU, etc.

Book of Mormon Central (BMC) is reinforcing the walls of the M2C mental prison.

As a front for the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, BMC spends millions of dollars to disseminate M2C through the new ScripturePlus app that is designed to replace the Gospel Library with colorful graphics, videos, articles promoting M2C.

Fortunately, people can escape their mental prisons, but it's not easy.
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A new book discusses mental prisons and why they are so difficult to escape. It is called Loserthink and will be released in early November. You can read an excerpt here:

https://randomhouse.app.box.com/s/o8rzbgx360caww41x8mn7dweqr89ez8d

Here's an excerpt of the excerpt:

"Once you learn to see the walls of your mental prison, and you learn how to escape, you will have better tools to help usher in what I call The Golden Age... This is an incredible time in human history. Most of our problems with resource shortages are solved, or solvable, so long as we get our mental game in order."

I paraphrase that to apply to the Church context.

Once you learn to see the walls of your mental M2C prison, and you learn how to escape, you will have better tools to help usher in what I call The Golden Age... This is an incredible time in human and Church history. There is abundant evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon--but not in Mesoamerica.

In the world, most of our problems with resource shortages are solved, or solvable, as long as we get our mental game in order. In the Church, our problems with faith crises are also solvable, as long as we get our mental game in order.

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*M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory. This is the theory that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

M2C intellectuals claim that the prophets who have taught that the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York have actually misled the Church by teaching and testifying about their own incorrect opinions.

The M2C intellectuals teach instead that Cumorah is in southern Mexico. They teach students in CES and BYU to believe them instead of the prophets.

The most prominent M2C organization is Book of Mormon Central, which is spending millions of dollars to teach M2C to members of the Church and to the entire world.

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.
_____

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.