Monday, June 27, 2022

Under the Banner of the Interpreter, episode 1

Under the Banner of the Interpreter
As expected, Dan "the Interpreter" Peterson published a review of Infinite Goodness last Friday under the banner of the Interpreter.

[I don't know whether they will also publish a review of my book Between these Hills: a case for the New York Cumorah (although they should).]

It's fitting that these reviews were published "Under the Banner of the Interpreter" during June 2022, the month when the final episode of FX's Under the Banner of Heaven first aired.* 

The Interpreter has again revealed itself as the self-appointed arbiter of permissible thought that it has been since its inception.

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With these two reviews, we've now come full circle with the Interpreter, as I'll explain below after my introduction to this series of discussions about LDS apologetics. 

As always, this post is subject to revision pending better information and ideas.

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In all my writings, building Zion is my primary interest. 

There are many ways to accomplish this. For example, yesterday I participated in an awesome zoom training with President Brian K. Ashton of BYU Pathway Worldwide. He emphasized that the Pathway program is an important part of building Zion. 

He quoted this passage, with which I completely agree: 

If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard. It will be necessary (1) to become unified in one heart and one mind; (2) to become, individually and collectively, a holy people; and (3) to care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us. We cannot wait until Zion comes for these things to happen—Zion will come only as they happen.

(2008, October, D. Todd Christofferson, ‘Come to Zion,’ Ensign, November 2008, ¶ 18)

My wife and I are Pathway missionaries. We conduct weekly gatherings and we train Pathway missionaries throughout South America (except Brazil). Separately we teach Institute classes on zoom, serve in our ward and stake callings, etc.

Another important aspect of building Zion is becoming unified in one heart and one mind. How can we do that when there are so many different beliefs and backgrounds, even among faithful Latter-day Saints?

President Dallin H. Oaks has explained that "we seek unity in diversity." Elder Quentin L. Cook taught "With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity." 

Such unity flourishes when people who have a diversity of views and backgrounds unite through mutual respect and even enjoyment of alternative perspectives while pursuing a common goal--the establishment of Zion. I feature aspects of this on my HowToZion blog. 

https://howtozion.blogspot.com/

Unity comes from seeking to understand and exchange views instead of insisting on compliance with someone's particular interpretation of history and doctrine. For that reason, I encourage people to consider a wide range of views--multiple working hypotheses--including those published by the citation cartel. As I've said, around 80% of what the cartel publishes is great. Even the Interpreter sometimes publishes good work.

I'm happy for people to believe whatever they want. I trust people to make the best decisions for themselves when they have "good information."

In my experience, most Latter-day Saints--actually, most people everywhere of whatever religious persuasion--feel the same way. While confirmation bias is a ubiquitous obstacle to achieving unity of belief, it doesn't prevent people from allowing others to think whatever they want without feeling compelled to demand compliance with their own beliefs.

After all, it's one of our articles of faith: "11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

The exceptions arise when motivated reasoning sets in. 

In the arena of politics, we see tremendous efforts to create narratives to elicit support for one political agenda or another. Businesses use advertising to tout the benefits of their products and services compared with the competition.

In the context of the Restoration, we have critics who are highly motivated to reject the truth claims for various reasons. But we also have intellectuals who are highly motivated to defend their own theories and agendas, particularly when they are reinforced by insular groupthink.

That's inimical to both the 11th Article of Faith and the establishment of Zion.

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By assuming for themselves the title and role of "the Interpreter," the intellectuals in the Interpreter Foundation have formally declared their opposition to the very concept of "unity in diversity." 

That said, we can't fault them for their sincerity. Some of them I've met, others I haven't, but I assume they are all awesome, faithful, devoted Latter-day Saint who want to help build Zion. 

I just disagree with their approach, which in my opinion is counterproductive. Instead of strident advocacy, they could hosts respectful exchanges among faithful Latter-day Saints who have a variety of interpretations. That would be a valuable service that would contribute to unity in diversity.

But they won't.  

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Here's what I mean about coming full circle. It was the work of certain LDS apologists involved with these articles that led me to embark on a detailed study of Church history and Book of Mormon historicity. While I thought they made some good points worthy of consideration and discussion, I was appalled at both the tone and content of their publications. 

Most disturbing was the way their work led people I know to question their faith and, in some cases, leave the Church. 

A surprising aspect of the work of these apologists was (and remains) how they agree with the harshest critics; i.e., that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled everyone about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon.

Thus, we have both John Dehlin (Mormon Stories) and the Interpreter agreeing that Joseph never really translated anything and never even used the plates or the Nephite interpreters that came with the plates.  

I thought there must be a better path through the thickets of controversy, with clearer, more rational reconciliation of what appeared to be inconsistencies in the historical record. 

Soon enough, I found what, for me, was a much better path than the one the apologists and critics shared. I wrote my first book about it, titled The Lost City of Zarahemla. The apologists, particularly those at the Interpreter, objected vociferously. And they still do, as we've seen in the last two weeks.

Which is fine. I'm happy to have a discussion and exchange of views with just about anyone. As I frequently reiterate, I favor the presentation and consideration of multiple working hypotheses.

But the "credentialed class" at the Interpreter don't. They claim, like the Lafferty brothers, to be doing the work of God by exterminating what they perceive to be threats to their agenda.

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As I mentioned above, we have the prevailing narrative from both the Interpreter and Mormon Stories that Joseph and Oliver misled everyone about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon. 

I disagree with the prevailing narrative because I believe Joseph and Oliver both told the truth and that the historical record, as well as extrinsic evidence, corroborates what they taught.

I'm fine with people disagreeing with me; after all, I'm not trying to persuade anyone. I just share what I've found because people ask me about these things all the time. I eagerly embrace better information and explanations whenever I encounter them. 

A healthy market for ideas depends on competition. I emphatically favor the idea of multiple working hypotheses. As a starting point, everyone should be able to agree on the basic facts. Based on any given set of facts, however, people have various assumptions, inferences, theories, and hypotheses (the FAITH model). When the alternatives are laid out for everyone to see, people can intelligently and fairly choose among them, or offer yet another alternative.

As President Nelson taught, "Good inspiration is based upon good information." People can only make informed decision when they have good information. This is why I object only to censorship and other efforts to control narratives by depriving people of the ability to make informed decisions.

It's on that basis, and that basis alone, that I object to the citation cartel, including the self-appointed "experts" at the Interpreter.

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It was a decade ago this month when Dan Peterson was dismissed as editor of Mormon Studies Review, then published by the Maxwell Institute.

His colleague, William Hamblin, who was deeply offended by the action, explained:

I note, for the record, that none of the editors except Dan has had any direct communication with Bradford about this decision.  They were never informed that they have been dismissed.  Indeed, Lou Midgley is out of the country on vacation, and does not have internet access, and has no idea what’s going on.  Even if this change is a good idea, treating people this way, after years of service, is simply shameful.

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/enigmaticmirror/2012/06/22/dans-dismissal-is-official/

Gregory L. Smith, whose draft article about John Dehlin and Mormon Stories apparently was a major factor in Peterson's dismissal, later published his version of the events in the Interpreter. In that account, he described the tactics employed by Dehlin. 

Not knowing either individual personally, I assume Dehlin is well-intentioned from his perspective, the same way I assume Smith is well-intentioned from his perspective. That's not to say I consider them equivalent; I'm far more aligned with Smith than with Dehlin, based on Smith's analysis of Mormon Stories that was withheld from publication. It makes a lot of good points and holds up pretty well. 

In my view, however, Smith has assumed a role as a "defender of the faith" that leads to friendly fire.

Looking back over the ensuring decade, Smith's explanation of what happened served instead as a roadmap for the editorial course of the Interpreter

In the following quotation from his article, I've substituted some of the names to show how he set out the agenda.

Mormon Stories’ [the Interpreter's] need for a foil against which to define itself, however, can be amply filled by a subgroup within Mormonism—the apologists [Heartlanders] for whom Dehlin Smith makes his disdain so clear.20 Those who support the Church and offer substantive disagreement with Dehlin’s [the Interpreter's] claims can play the oppositional role for Mormon Stories [the Interpreter], many of whose sympathizers are certainly engaged in a disturbing period of change as they navigate their own individual crises of faith. Marginalizing those who differ also protects Dehlin’s [the Interpreter's] narrative from challenge. Silencing members of the putative opposition is not just excusable by Dehlin’s [the Interpreter's] account, but sometimes good and noble.21

Such tactics are hardly unique to Mormon Stories [the Interpreter]. Sociologists have long described “cult awareness groups” and their tactics. Such groups can be either sectarian or secularist, and aim—as Mormon Stories [the Interpreter] does—to align themselves in the public mind with science, reason, rationality, and socially approved views. They attempt to shape the public discussion and narrative surrounding a religious group and its views, and so prefer to silence or discredit any who differ with their portrayal. 

https://interpreterfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SMITH2-Return-of-the-Unread-Review.pdf

Readers can review Smith's article to see for themselves how well the Interpreter has followed his roadmap. 

For the Interpreter and its affiliates in the citation cartel (Book of Mormon Central, FAIRLDS, etc.), the target "subgroup within Mormonism" consists of faithful Latter-day Saints who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon. They portray this subgroup of "Heartlanders" as delusional, ignorant, and even apostate, and they assiduously "prefer to silence or discredit any who differ with their portrayal" of this subgroup of faithful Latter-day Saints. 

In additional excerpt, Smith complains about Dehlin's attacks on "Mormon apologists" including himself, Dan Peterson, and other followers whom Dan took with him to the Interpreter. In so doing, however, Smith acknowledged that Dehlin's point was valid--that "mean-spirited or ad hominem-laden review is clear an ill"--albeit inadequately demonstrated. 

In the same vein, Dehlin repeatedly attacks Mormon apologists—his oppositional foil—for being mean-spirited, nasty, and engaging in ad hominem. Writing a mean-spirited or ad hominem-laden review is clearly an ill—to society and scholarship generally, and particularly within the micro-society of the Saints. Some apologists somewhere have likely done so. But, if it is pervasive, institutionalized, or systemic, this must be demonstrated, not just asserted. My review ought not to be condemned simply by association, even though such condemnation may prove convenient to those being reviewed.

In the ensuing decade, however, the Interpreter has demonstrated exactly what Smith claimed would be "clearly an ill."

Smith claimed that "the evils of defamation, nastiness, ad hominem, and the rest are not nearly as widespread in Mormon apologetics as Dehlin’s narrative implies and requires."

Yet it was actually Gregory Smith's own "mean-spirited, ad hominem-laden review" that prompted me to start looking into the work of the M2C apologists in the first place.

BMAF logo depicting M2C

Smith published an article in the FARMS Review in 2010, which is now found on the infamous BMAF.org site. [Note that BMAF is the corporate owner of Book of Mormon Central, another example of the Potemkin village nature of the citation cartel.]

The title of Smith's article exemplifies his approach: 

"Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA"

While I hardly recommend the article, if you're interested in seeing his tone and approach you can read it here: http://bmaf.org/articles/often_error_seldom_doubt__smith

Thus, we don't have to condemn Smith's review "simply by association." We can read his work for ourselves.

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In his article about Mormon Stories, Smith wrote something that I completely agree with:

My working assumption has been that readers’ judgment about Mormon Stories—or any topic—will be more nuanced when they have accurate information which they can verify for themselves.

Neither Smith nor the Interpreter (nor the rest of the citation cartel) embraces this "working assumption" in practice. 

Not to belabor the point, but the name of the journal speaks for itself: the Interpreter. Readers of the Interpreter have long been conditioned to defer to the "experts" and the credentialed class. 

If you've a regular or even occasional reader of the Interpreter, ask yourself why you've never read an article making a case for the New York Cumorah. Ask why you've never read an article making a case for Joseph Smith as the actual translator of the plates, or making a case that Joseph did actually use the Nephite interpreters and not the stone he found in a well.

Maybe I'm wrong about this. I don't read everything published by the Interpreter. As I've shown in my blog InterpreterPeerReviews, much of the work they publish is a waste of time. 

If the Interpreter has published articles that make a case for the New York Cumorah and/or the translation of the plates with the Nephite interpreters, someone send me a link. I'll happily edit this post accordingly.

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In the decade since Dan Peterson took those who followed him and started the Interpreter, and in the five year since Gregory Smith published his "Review of 'Mormon Stories,'" what has happened to LDS apologetics?

That will be the topic of episode 2 in Under the Banner of the Interpreter.

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*NOTE: the phrase "under the banner of heaven" was attributed to John Taylor by the Salt Lake Tribune, but that may have been a paraphrase because the phrase does not appear in the Journal of Discourses.  See https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/2022/06/08/about-the-phrase-attributed-to-john-taylor


 




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