Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Good Information and unity

Tomorrow is the 190th anniversary of the first announcement that the Book of Mormon was published and available for sale (which I will discuss tomorrow). This is a good time to consider what sources of information we rely upon as we study the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets.

In his second General Conference talk as President of the Church (April 2018), titled "Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives," President Nelson said, "I know that good inspiration is based upon good information."

He modeled that important principle as he explained:

Because I know that good inspiration is based upon good information, I prayerfully met one-on-one with each Apostle. I then sequestered myself in a private room in the temple and sought the Lord’s will. 

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/04/revelation-for-the-church-revelation-for-our-lives?lang=eng

President Nelson went on to explain the importance of unity.

In our meetings, the majority never rules! We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost is spine-tingling! We experience what the Prophet Joseph Smith knew when he taught, “By union of feeling we obtain power with God.”

This is, or should be, a model for all members of the Church. If we seek unity, we should first obtain good information and then seek good inspiration, through prayer and deliberation with others.

Readers here know that I write often about M2C and SITH. I think these are critical issues to discuss because they both directly pertain to the keystone of our religion, the Book of Mormon. IMO, Church members should be united on these issues, but we all know there are deep differences of opinion.

Many faithful Church members are deeply attached to these ideas. M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography and historicity) and SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory of translation) are prevalent among many LDS intellectuals and their followers. They are depicted in Church media, manuals, visitors centers, etc. 

Nevertheless, many faithful members of the Church reject M2C and SITH because they think both theories contradict the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets.

Both sides cite Church history sources, the teachings of the prophets, and extrinsic evidence to support their views. 

How is this possible?

One's views on M2C and SITH are not a test of faithfulness or intelligence. To a large degree, what one believes about these matters is a function of what one was taught. 

Few people make informed decisions about these theories. Because we can't be experts in everything, we defer to people we trust. I know I did. When I attended Seminary and BYU, I trusted my teachers and professors.

But that is the opposite of what President Nelson taught. 

He did not say "good inspiration comes from deferring to others." 

Instead of deferring to my professors, I should have considered their views along with the "good information" that is widely available to anyone who seeks it. It took me a long time to realize my professors had misled me. Hopefully you can learn faster than I did.

I hope we can heed President Nelson's counsel about good information and good inspiration and thereby, hopefully, we can seek and achieve the unity that we all want as members of the Church.
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How can we find and consider good information?

Here are a few steps to consider.

1. First, check your ego. If studying and discussing these issues makes you angry, defensive, or upset, ask yourself why. Do you have an investment in your preferred theories? You might have a financial, psychological, social, professional, emotional or other investment that is preventing you from thinking clearly.

2. Second, check your sources. If everything you know about Book of Mormon geography/historicity and the translation of the Book of Mormon comes from a source that has an agenda, consider additional sources. Because every source has an agenda, you should consider original sources. Focus on the scriptures (not someone's interpretation of the scriptures), original documents, and the teachings of the prophets from the beginning through today. When you  seek interpretations of those sources, be sure to get a variety of interpretations.

3. Third, check your thinking. We are all susceptible to bias confirmation, logical fallacies, etc. Here's a test: if you are unable to articulate a different perspective, you cannot understand that perspective, which means you are merely confirming your own biases. You don't have to agree with another perspective, but if you can't understand and articulate that perspective accurately then you are applying a mental filter that leads you to think those who disagree with you are stupid, blind, ignorant, evil, or have some other defect. Such filters prevent you from considering good information.

4. Fourth, check your own intentions. If you seek the truth, regardless of consequences, and you consider good information, you will be able to obtain good inspiration. This is as simple and true as "Seek and ye shall find." As President Nelson has taught, this is how we receive revelation. Another way to describe this process is making informed decisions. This is how we ultimately achieve unity. 

With respect to M2C and SITH specifically, look for sources that provide references to the teachings of the prophets and original sources. See if they offer detailed comparisons of the various alternatives.
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I would leave it there except we have a serious problem in the Church. I've described it as the Academic Cycle. It is merely the latest manifestation of the age-old conflict between prophets and scholars.

We recognize it in the scriptures. Some examples:

2 Nephi 9:28–29 When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

2 Nephi 9:42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches

Alma 10:15 Now these lawyers were learned in all the arts and cunning of the people; and this was to enable them that they might be skilful in their profession.

Alma 32:23 And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.
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There are several well-known sources of information about M2C and SITH on the Internet that many people are familiar with, including FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central (BMC), CES Letter, and Mormon Stories. Each portrays itself as unbiased and objective, but each has a strong bias that drives their content.

If you consult any of these, be cognizant of their biases. FairMormon and BMC strongly advocate M2C and SITH. CES Letter and Mormon Stories agree with FairMormon and BMC on many issues and share many of the same assumptions, but seek to undermine faith overall.

In my opinion, none of them accept the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah or the translation of the plates with the Urim and Thummim. You can read their web pages and see for yourself.

Lately, BMC may be the best known to Church members because the organization spends millions of dollars each year to promote its agenda. Many Church members go to BMC or FairMormon to find answers about M2C and SITH. Like most sources, BMC offers good and bad information. As long as you're aware of the organization's objectives, you can find a lot of useful information there.

The problem with BMC is it claims to be a repository of information about the Book of Mormon, and it claims to follow the Church's policy of neutrality, but in reality it's merely an advocacy group, dedicated to promoting M2C. It raises and spends millions of dollars to pursue enforce M2C.


BMC is not a serious academic institution; it is merely a front for its corporate owner, BMAF, which has been promoting M2C for decades. This is evident in its logo, which incorporates a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon, in conjunction with with Hebrew (Old Testament), Greek (New Testament) and Egyptian (Pearl of Great Price).

BMC is the intellectual descendant of FARMS, which has been promoting M2C since its inception in 1979. (which is why BMC retained the FARMS logo.)

Like FARMS, BMC is not only uninterested in the pursuit of truth regarding these matters, but it actively opposes and censors good information that contradicts M2C.

Lately, it has also embraced SITH.

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the plates with the Urim and Thummim have been excluded from any dialog with the scholars at BMC and related organizations. 

Employees and affiliates of BMC actively oppose and seek to censor any discussion of the teachings of the prophets and other original sources that contradict M2C.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with BMC or any other group promoting its message. Advocacy groups are entitled to promote their views, and it is beneficial for everyone to hear various messages.

Just be sure that when you read information, you use discretion to distinguish between advocacy and facts. 

If you're interested in comparison tables, I've posted several that most readers here are already familiar with. You can email me for links, etc.

 A final thought from President Nelson:

We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious. The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle bombard us with relentless messages. If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.

I've discussed this before:

https://presidentnelsonspeaks.blogspot.com/2018/11/good-inspiration-and-good-information.html

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