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.

Friday, February 4, 2022

FAIRLDS, Cumorah, and plain and precious things

Nephi said "there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book" (1 Nephi 13:28), referring to the Bible. Readers wonder what things were taken and how were they taken away. Various authors have offered possible answers.

It's even more interesting to observe the process playing out in our day among the Latter-day Saints.

Presumably, the ancient scribes thought they had good reason to edit the scriptures.

In our day, we have a group of LDS apologists, many of whom manage and contribute to an organization  now known as FAIR (aka FAIRMORMON and FAIRLDS), who are determined to take away plain and precious things from our well-documented Church history. 

Presumably, these equivalents of ancient scribes also think they have good reason to revise Church history. But really, there are no good reasons for what they're doing. 

Simply put, these LDS apologists will not "understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be." (2 Nephi 32:7)

This is a timely topic because critics of the Church have recently pointed out how these LDS apologists have changed their narratives, leaving faithful Latter-day Saints wondering who is more honest and accurate: the critics or FAIR?

One of the "plain and precious" truths regarding the Book of Mormon relates to its divine authenticity as an actual history.

In 1835, President Oliver Cowdery spelled out this truth "as plain as words can be" when he wrote the first detailed history of the Restoration with the assistance of Joseph Smith. Responding to critics who claimed the Book of Mormon was fiction, President Cowdery emphasized the fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill where Moroni had deposited the plates; i.e., the hill Cumorah in western New York. 

We can all read this account right in Joseph Smith's own history, here:

The contemporaries of Joseph and Oliver knew about Cumorah because Moroni had identified the hill as Cumorah when he first met Joseph. Moroni explained that the record had been "written and deposited" not far from Joseph's home. Church leaders who knew Joseph and Oliver, as well as those who succeeded Joseph, reiterated the truth about Cumorah repeatedly and consistently. A partial list is here: https://www.mobom.org/modern-prophets-on-cumorah

Because they have convinced themselves that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, groups such as FAIRLDS have by necessity repudiated the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. 

Instead of heeding the teachings of the prophets as their guide, they adopted the Mesoamerican/two Cumorahs theory (M2C) originally invented in the early 1900s by RLDS scholar L.E. Hills. M2C claims the "real" Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico while the "so-called Cumorah" in New York was merely a false tradition that Joseph, along with his contemporaries and successors, adopted in their speculative ignorance.

We wouldn't care what these apologists think--people can believe whatever they want to believe--except that they have been teaching M2C to generations of young Latter-day Saints.

When I was at BYU, I fell for M2C because I trusted my professors who were presented as "experts" on the Book of Mormon. I read all the FARMS newsletters and books, attended the conferences, etc. 

Scholars such as Royal Skousen and Jack Welch have deliberately manipulated Church history to eliminate any references to Cumorah. 

The editors at the Joseph Smith Papers consistently purge Cumorah from the historical context (although they can't change the actual historical sources, fortunately). 

Even the Saints book, Volume 1, censored Cumorah.

By now, the "plain and precious" truth about Cumorah has been all but lost. Only those "engaged learners" who still study the teachings of the prophets know about the New York Cumorah.

This topic was highlighted in social media recently, as we'll see below. I blogged about it five years ago, here.

It has to do with a letter dated October 18, 1990, from the Office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded to an inquiry from a Church member in Oklahoma City. The letter reads: 

“I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgement and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.

The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.”

There is (or should be) nothing controversial about that letter. It merely states a well-known fact from Church history, which anyone can read. 

Just 15 years earlier, in the October 1975 General Conference, President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency had explained the New York Cumorah in detail, with language "as plain as words can be." 

Three years later, in the October 1978 General Conference, Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve reiterated it once again. Nothing had changed by 1990. No one claimed any new revelation to usurp what Moroni told Joseph Smith in 1823 or any of the ensuing teachings that corroborated the New York Cumorah. 

However, a group of M2C-advocating apologists sought to discredit the 1990 letter, the way they had been discrediting the previous teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. They are affiliated with FAIR, which rejects the credibility and reliability of all Church historical sources and statements by LDS General Authorities that teach the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York. 

The 1990 letter was signed by F. Michael Watson, Secretary to the First Presidency, a common practice, so FAIR focused on Elder Watson. FAIR's position is set forth on its webpage, here: 

In January 2022, the podcast Mormonism Live, which often pokes fun at LDS apologists, released two episodes, one on the "Two-Cumorah theory" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoTsWIbTy2M (8,000 views) and one on "Mormon Apologist Skullduggery - The Mystery of the Second Watson Letter" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4tYNWFkO6o&t=5s (8,300 views). 

The podcasts explain the tactics FAIR uses to persuade the Latter-day Saints to disbelieve the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. They cleverly use the apologists' own arguments to deconstruct the New York Cumorah, and then point out how the Mesoamerican setting is not credible. 

It seems obvious to me that FAIR (and other M2C promoters) and Mormonism Live are essentially collaborating on creating a false narrative about Church history regarding Cumorah (as well as other issues). 

I don't object to anyone believing whatever they want to believe, but both FAIR and the critics at Mormonism Live refuse to consider, let alone present, the faithful alternative narrative that corroborates the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Their readers and listeners are left with the mistaken sense that they have been told the whole story.

We can expect critics to present only one interpretation of the evidence. That's what critics do, and it's popular because it's entertaining and confirms the biases of their audience.

But it continues to astound faithful Latter-day Saints that organizations such as FAIR refuse to acknowledge and respect alternative faithful narratives about such a basic, plain and precious teaching as the New York Cumorah. 

Elder Watson released a public statement in January, 2022, to clarify the facts to avoid further misunderstanding and confusion. It has been posted various places, but you can see it here:

If you look at the attachment to Elder Watson's response, you'll see screen captures of the FAIR response as it was in January.

FAIR received a copy of Watson's January 2022 statement but declined to put it on their website. Instead, they inserted a new paragraph (without explaining or dating the insertion).

(Some have complained that the fax was private and should not be cited--but why would Watson send a private note to FARMS if it was not anticipated that it would be used to answer the questions being put to FARMS? The letter has long been available publicly, since its text was published by FARMS soon after its receipt.)

That paragraph is typical of the FAIR apologists. It casts aspersions without addressing the issues or explaining the context. 

Few people will take the time to compare the FAIR website to the podcasts on Mormonism Live (and I don't recommend either source), but it's easy to see which one is more historically accurate. 

Regardless, both FAIR and the critics teach basically the same thing; i.e., that the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah.

At some point after I blogged about this in 2017, FAIR added two paragraphs that deserve comment. The first cites Saints, Volume 1.

More recently, the Church has issued other statements and taken further action

Saints: Vol. 1 (2018): The Church's official history does not name the hill in which Joseph found the plates.

The Church's official history, Saints, tells the story of Joseph's recovery of the plates from the hill near his home. The account does not, however,  ever use the label "Cumorah" for the hill. This is an odd omission if the official prophetic stance on the Hill Cumorah is fixed on the New York site.[3]
This is hardly an "odd omission." It's an entirely predictable omission, given the agenda of the editors of Saints, as I discussed here:

FAIR must think their readers are fools to make this argument. When the problem is FAIR seeking to take away the "plain and precious things" about Cumorah, it hardly bolsters their argument for them to point out another egregious example of manipulating Church history to create a false historical narrative present.

To summarize: 

1. Saints creates a false narrative present; i.e., characters in the book do not have 1827-1844 ideas about the New York Cumorah that is well established in original sources. 

 2. Instead, the characters in Saints know nothing about Cumorah, a reflection of the late 20th century "two Cumorahs" theory created by M2C intellectuals.

 3. In responses to criticism, the editors of Saints published an essay that seeks to explain their censorship of Cumorah with a series of inconsistent and counterfactual justifications.

 4. The editors of Saints ultimately admit they censored the term Cumorah to "uphold" so-called "neutrality," a euphemism for accommodating the M2C theory of Book of Mormon geography. 

That FAIR gets away with this type of apologetics indicates that FAIR readers are lazy learners who merely want to be told what to think.

Now, let's look at the next addition to FAIR's post about the 1990 letter (below). They quote from the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography.

Here, we should all remember that what is posted on the Church web page now is not the original version of this entry. The original version repeated much of the FAIR apologetic rhetoric. After I pointed out that some of it was misleading and incorrect, the Church released a revision three weeks later that corrected some, but not all, of the errors.

It's also important to note that the entry does not even mention Cumorah. Thus FAIR uses it to perpetuate the M2C apologist effort to conflate two separate issues:

1. The New York Cumorah, which has been well established as a fact by the teachings of Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors.

2. The uncertainty about other locations, which has also been well established by the teachings of Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and successors.

The entry refers to "numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book." Those opinions have ranged from South to Central to North America. Orson Pratt's footnotes in the 1879 Book of Mormon reflected the opinion nature of those ideas.

However, the New York Cumorah was never expressed as an opinion. Oliver Cowdery explicitly stated it was a fact. Lucy Mack Smith related it as a fact, based on what Joseph told her about Moroni's visit. David Whitmer stated it as a fact. In all the teachings of Joseph's contemporaries and successors as Church leaders, the New York Cumorah was never proposed as an opinion. Orson Pratt's footnotes in the 1879 Book of Mormon showed that Cumorah was a fact, in contrast to the other possible sites for Book of Mormon events.

Thus, the Gospel Topics entry on Book of Mormon Geography doesn't even address Cumorah.

Finally, notice the last paragraph of FAIR's addition. They claim neutrality on Book of Mormon geography. This is the same rhetorical trick employed by Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, etc.

Yet every reader of these publications can see that they promote M2C exclusively and attack the New York Cumorah whenever they are forced to mention it. 

M2C is embedded in the very logo of Book of Mormon Central and FARMS, which are two of the facades of the Potemkin village along with FAIR.

FAIR is so brazen that right on the same page where they claim neutrality, they include the M2C logo and a link to another anti-New York Cumorah article!

It's awesomely amazing that anyone falls for this duplicity.

With all of this in mind, read FAIR's explanation and see what you think. 

The Church also addressed issues of Book of Mormon geography in the Gospel Topics essays available on the Church's official website

Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon—with the exception of the events in the Near East—occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas. ...

The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Speculation on the geography of the Book of Mormon may mislead instead of enlighten; such a study can be a distraction from its divine purpose.

Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.[4]

In accordance with this request from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve apostles, FAIR's only position is that the Book of Mormon is a genuine ancient record, whose events occurred somewhere in the ancient Americas.

the end


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