Saturday, February 15, 2020

Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Some people have wondered why I'm not posting as often lately. We've been traveling for six weeks and have more places to go. Hardly enough time to get on the Internet, let alone write blog posts.

We have lots to discuss here once we settle down, though. Plus,, while driving through the outback in Australia, we recorded some videos that we'll post on youtube soon.


One place we visited in January was Hanoi, Vietnam.

The Hanoi Hilton, as it's commonly called (real name Maison Centrale), was a prison originally built by the French to detain and punish Vietnamese rebels against French rule.

During the Vietnam war, the Vietnamese used it as a prison for Americans.

The perspectives of the Vietnamese are quite different from the perspectives of most Americans who lived during that war. (I was a kid in the Philippines who watched B-52s take off every day on bombing missions to Vietnam.)

From the perspective of many (if not most) Vietnamese, they fought any foreign invader that wanted to control their country, whether it was the French or the Americans.

From the perspective of many Americans (unknown how many were for or against the war), they fought that war to prevent the spread of Communism.

Your opinion about the Vietnam war is mostly a function of what you choose to read, watch, and listen to. There are no objective facts that lead to only one "correct" opinion. It's all a matter of interpretation of the facts, which usually includes selective acceptance of certain facts and rejection of others.

Our guide told us that most Vietnamese have no idea of the difference between communism and capitalism. They just want to make a living for their families and live in peace.

The Hanoi Hilton is a dramatic example of how the same sets of facts can lead to different conclusions. This produces what some call "two movies on one screen."

We have a similar situation with the Book of Mormon.

Most people have no idea what the issues are with respect to Book of Mormon historicity, the location of Cumorah, or even what the prophets have taught. They just want to make a living for their families and live in peace. They seek validation for their beliefs, whatever they are (whether they are LDS or not, active or not, etc.).

Some active, faithful LDS look at the facts and see Book of Mormon events taking place in a limited area within Mesoamerica. Others look at the same facts and see Book of Mormon events taking place in North America, essentially east of the Mississippi.* Others see the events taking place in Panama, or Chile, or Peru, or in Africa or Southeast Asia.

Some former LDS and critics look at the same facts and see the Book of Mormon as fiction. Even some active LDS see the Book of Mormon as fiction.

After all, BYU and CES are teaching the Book of Mormon to students using fantasy maps that portray the Book of Mormon in a fictional setting.

The point to consider is that we each think our beliefs are "correct." Otherwise, we'd change them to adopt another belief.

This is why, IMO, it is so foolish for Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, the Interpreter, and the other M2C advocates to insist that only M2C is a valid option for believers.

I'm still hopeful that the day will come when they will adopt the Church's policy of neutrality and embrace, or at least accommodate, the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

Maybe they'll even accommodate the beliefs of those members of the Church who still believe Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon...

Based on my years of experience with the LDS M2C intellectuals, I doubt they will ever embrace neutrality, let alone change their minds.

But we are each responsible for our own beliefs, and we are all free to believe whatever we want. I find that most people, when given a choice, seek to make informed decisions.

And most people who make informed decisions about Book of Mormon historicity choose to accept what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah.

We'll be discussing the implications of all of this in upcoming posts.

*Ignore those M2C proponents who try to confuse the issue by saying Mesoamerica is in North America because all of "Central America" is technically in North America. We call the theory M2C-the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory because the issue is really about the location of Cumorah. It's either in New York as the prophets have taught, or its in southern Mexico as certain intellectuals have taught.

More of my photos from the Hanoi Hilton:

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Did Joseph and Oliver tell the truth?

We're spending some time in Western Australia, golfing and writing. The Church is awesome here; there's a temple in Perth and about 15,000 members in this area (out of a population of 2.4 million.

Perth is the an international city; about 40% of the residents are not native Australians. People come from the UK, India, Malaysia, South Africa, and other countries around the Indian Ocean.

According to census records, the largest religious affiliation is none, followed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.

When we attended President Nelson's visit to Singapore a few months ago, he mentioned that President Benson had said Singapore would be a center for taking the Gospel to other countries in the area. With its international character, Perth could provide a similar introduction to the Gospel.

However, that's not exactly happening.

In the census records, LDS come in 26th place, at 0.3%.

Members here tell me the same thing I hear everywhere I go; i.e., people aren't joining the Church or staying active because their lives are so good they don't need religion.

That may be true in many cases (a topic for another day), but it seems to me there is a more fundamental problem.

Everyone has implicit faith in his/her own beliefs. That's axiomatic, because otherwise they would change those beliefs. In most cases, people inherit the beliefs of their parents, peers, and society. Facts don't matter. It's basic psychology that people filter out facts that contradict their beliefs.

That's why the Restoration required something different. It required evidence of God's involvement, which came through the Book of Mormon, an ancient text about real people that was translated into English by the gift and power of God.

The fundamental premises for the Restoration rely on the testimonies of two men, primarily: Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. They were the principals involved with the translation of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Priesthood, and the committing of the keys of the gathering and temple work.

Ultimately, this is a question for everyone in the Church and everyone in the world:

Did Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery tell the truth?

My answer is yes.

But I keep being told, even by members of the Church, that the answer is really no regarding some key points.

President Nelson extended an invitation to all members of the Church for 2020 that included this paragraph:

Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Act on any of these invitations to prepare yourself for sharing the important messages of the ongoing Restoration. As you seek Jesus Christ in these efforts, God will prepare you to receive further light. It is your personal preparation that will help April’s general conference become for you not only memorable but unforgettable. The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church, and your part is vital. 

For the last few years, I've selected several questions and designed my own plan to better understand the ongoing Restoration. I've shared some of the answers on this and other blogs, in my books, and in various presentations.

I've been surprised at some of the answers. They've fortified my faith and confidence in what Joseph and Oliver claimed.

I've also been surprised at some of the opposition certain intellectuals and their employees and followers have expressed.

Because of my interest in how the Restoration is rolling forth outside the U.S., I'll explain it again.

Basically, I believe Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery told the truth. In some intellectual circles in the Church today, that amounts to heresy.

I believe Joseph and Oliver told the truth about the translation; i.e., that Joseph translated the plates using the Urim and Thummim that Moroni provided with the original set of plates.

I believe Joseph and Oliver told the truth about the New York Cumorah; i.e., that the hill near Palmyra where Joseph found the plates was also the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6, the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites, and the location of the repository of Nephite records.

I don't believe Joseph and Oliver misled the Church (or the world) about either of these topics.

But apparently I'm supposed to believe they did, according to certain intellectuals, lesson manuals, articles, and other materials.

It's difficult to imagine a more confusing and unbelievable way to present the Restoration than the way it is being presented in these materials.

The stone-in-a-hat narrative from the Ensign
For example, I'm being told I should believe Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on a stone he found in a well and then put into a hat.


I'm supposed to believe it wasn't really a translation process at all. It was merely a reading and dictation process.

I'm supposed to believe Joseph didn't even use the plates because they were covered with a cloth throughout the dictation process.

And why am I supposed to believe this?

Because David Whitmer said so in a pamphlet he wrote to persuade people to believe that (i) the Book of Mormon is true but also that (ii) Joseph Smith fell into serious errors after he dictated the Book of Mormon and (iii) the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are false.

The pamphlet is cited in footnote 8 in the Ensign article.

Anyone who accepts the Whitmer quotation in the Ensign as an accurate first-hand account should at least read it in context by reading Whitmer's entire pamphlet, here:

Now, imagine you're a investigator (friend) meeting with missionaries. They give you the Ensign (or the Saints book, volume 1, or the Gospel Topics Essays, all of which approvingly and uncritically quote David Whitmer's pamphlet). As a serious investigator, you look up the references. You read Whitmer's pamphlet.

What are you going to conclude?

The logical conclusion of David Whitmer's version
By now, we all know the answer provided by certain intellectuals in the Church. They say Joseph and Oliver used substitute words.

When they wrote about the Urim and Thummim that Moroni provided with the plates, they actually meant the peep stone Joseph found in a well years earlier.

When they wrote "translation" they didn't really mean translation; instead, they meant that Joseph merely read English words that appeared on the stone in a hat.

When they wrote about the engravings on the plates, they really meant Joseph didn't use the plates at all.

When Joseph said the Title Page was a literal translation of the last leaf of the plates, we don't know how he knew that because he didn't use the plates.

And now some of them are saying that the text itself was composed by an unknown author/translator in the 1500s. 

Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion about all of this, of course. But is it intellectually honest to revise the testimonies of Joseph and Oliver to fit what David Whitmer said?

Most readers here know that I think David Whitmer was relating his experience with a demonstration that Joseph conducted. I wrote a book about it.

My point in this post is that it is unrealistic to expect investigators (and youth) to believe one paragraph out of Whitmer's pamphlet while rejecting the rest--especially when that one paragraph contradicts everything else Joseph and Oliver said about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

I'm also being told I should believe that Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, Lucy Mack Smith, Parley P. Pratt and others misled the Church by teaching that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

[See my summary here:]

I'm supposed to believe that all the prophets and apostles who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah were wrong. I'm supposed to believe that even members of the First Presidency, speaking in General Conference, misled the Church by expressing their own private incorrect opinions and testifying to their truth.

Why am I supposed to believe this?

Because a handful of LDS intellectuals embraced the so-called Two Cumorahs theory developed by RLDS scholars in the late 1800s. They taught this for decades until by 2020, most members of the Church have accepted it.

I'm supposed to believe these intellectuals because they are the "experts" hired by the prophets to guide the Church.

I'm supposed to trust these intellectuals and their employees and followers because they have advanced degrees and therefore are the only ones who can correctly interpret the scriptures.

I'm supposed to passively accept their sophistry and manipulation of the text of the Book of Mormon as they try to impose a Mesoamerican setting as the only "correct" interpretation of the text.

(I call this M2C for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.)

And I'm supposed to donate money to Book of Mormon Central to add to the millions of dollars they are spending to promote these ideas throughout the world.

Fortunately we still have an Article of Faith that allows us to each follow the dictates of our own conscience.

No one is obligated to accept M2C. We are all free to choose instead to believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. 

But M2C is specifically depicted in the Visitors Centers. CES and BYU teach the Book of Mormon to LDS youth by using maps that depict M2C. Church historians changed Church history in the Saints book to accommodate M2C by censoring the New York Cumorah.

What are investigators (and youth in the Church) supposed to conclude when they learn how the prophets, starting with Joseph and Oliver, misled the Church about the one specific touchstone between the Book of Mormon and the real world?

I think we'd all be much better off to stick with the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, including Joseph Smith--History, instead of relying on David Whitmer's pamphlet and the efforts of intellectuals to conform the scriptures to match what David wrote.

I also think that we'd be much better off to accept and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah instead of promoting M2C.

But I'm just an ordinary member of the Church. I'm not trying to persuade anyone about anything, except I encourage everyone to make informed decisions about these issues.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

update on Phoenicia

Many readers of this blog know about the Phoenicia expedition, but for those who don't, here is an important press release:

Long-time readers know about Isaiah 18, 1 Nephi 18, and all the facts and circumstances that support the narrative of Lehi crossing the Atlantic to reach the promised land. I won't rehash that all now, but it's fascinating on many levels.

For more info, see: