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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Perspectives, inside and outside

Some months ago a PowerPoint slide made the rounds of the Internet.


This graphic purports to be part of a presentation to LDS General Authorities on the topic of what issues and ideas lead people away from the Church (notice the slide says "Gospel" instead of "Church"), organized from "Far Left" to "Far Right." I can't vouch for its authenticity, of course, but it does reflect what I've seen and heard over many years, coming from the perspective of leaders and active members in the Church. I call this the "active LDS" perspective. 

A corresponding graphic was prepared and circulated also showing what purports to be the issues and ideas leading people away from the Church, but this one is from the perspective of people who are not active LDS (inactive, former members, nonmembers).


This one, too, reflects what I've seen and heard over many years, coming from those who are not active in the Church (whether nominally members or not) for whatever reason. I call this the "non-LDS perspective."

I have lots of thoughts on each component. For example, the "non-LDS" chart cites "Church lies about its history," but that's an anachronistic objection now that we have access to original documents. I still hear people repeat the canard that Brigham Young changed Lucy Mack Smith's biography of Joseph, or that the text of the Book of Mormon was changed x number of times, but we all have access to the original documents, so those objections seem silly, at best. 

Another one that stands out on the "non-LDS" chart is "Poor apologetics backfire." I couldn't agree more with this one, of course; I think the citation cartel has done some good, but far more harm because of their insistence on certain ideas, especially their two-Cumorahs theory that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who deceived the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

For now, on this blog, I want to point out something that stands out to me.

Notice that on the "non-LDS" chart, one of the largest circles is "Book of Mormon is not ancient."

On the "active LDS" chart, the Book of Mormon isn't even mentioned.

These are both accurate representations of the respective points of view, IMO. The "active LDS" chart doesn't mention the Book of Mormon because active LDS don't think (or admit) that Book of Mormon geography and historicity are important. They implicitly believe the book regardless. (Even that's an overgeneralization, because many active LDS I know have problems with this topic. Some don't even believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient document; they just don't see this as a deal breaker for ongoing activity.) Active LDS don't understand why someone who believes the Book of Mormon would entertain doubts about its authenticity. 

It's essentially self-selection; i.e., if they did entertain doubts or questions, maybe they wouldn't be active LDS.

From the outside (non-LDS) perspective, the historicity of the Book of Mormon is a fundamental issue. If, as they believe, the Book of Mormon is not ancient, then why should they believe it? Of course, this line of thinking leads to the corollary that Joseph was not a prophet, etc. 

In my view, the geography and historicity of the Book of Mormon are fundamental questions for everyone who reads the text. I think both have been well established by the North American setting. Some active LDS may set aside their questions in the interests of the greater good, meaning the other reasons for faith, but it seems unlikely that anyone who reads the Book of Mormon does not wonder, sooner or later, where it took place. 

It is for this reason that I've been writing this blog.

I think the traditional answers of the LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory directly undermine faith, for all the reasons I've discussed. These two graphics reflect that. 

I also think that if/when the LDS community converges on unity in supporting what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah in New York, at a minimum, the problems of geography and historicity will diminish. Inactive, former, and prospective LDS will take another look at the Book of Mormon. In so doing, they will respond to the spiritual messages.

But I have to say, I don't think the current generation of Mesoamerican promoters will change their minds, regardless of the evidence. It will take the cumulative experience of Church members over an unfortunately long period of time to change the so-called consensus that has led to the problems depicted in these two graphics. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend

This memorial day, I'd like to also remember people who died to preserve freedom in this land anciently.






Thursday, May 25, 2017

FairMormon helps anti-Mormons

For a reason I won't get into right now, I'm going to revisit an ongoing and serious problem. FairMormon (https://www.fairmormon.org/) purports to be "the world's largest database of faithful answers to critical questions."

It may be the "largest database," but since it misleads members of the Church, what good is a large database? A smaller, accurate database would be more effective.

FairMormon does some good work in many areas, but they also contribute to the confusion and loss of faith that we see happening in many cases because of their strict adherence to the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography.

Take a look at this part of the "largest database of faithful answers." FairMormon is a gift to anti-Mormon web pages in several respects, but especially when it comes to Book of Mormon geography.

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/New_World/Hill_Cumorah#Question:_Where_is_the_Hill_Cumorah.3F

The first thing they do is say "The Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon." To support this, they cite the phony fax from the "Office of the First Presidency," here:
https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Book_of_Mormon/Geography/Statements

I've previously shown here http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/11/how-to-create-some-doctrine.html that this "fax" is plagiarized from the entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. That entry was written by David Palmer, who cites his own book to support the article. It's classic citation cartel practice, and you'll see more from Brother Palmer in this FairMormon article.
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As you read the FairMormon article on Cumorah, you'll notice a few key points.

1. FairMormon never cites Letter VII because they don't want members of the Church to know that Joseph and Oliver unequivocally identified the New York hill Cumorah as the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites. This is why you can't trust FairMormon, and why so many members of the Church go to anti-Mormon web sites, which do explain Letter VII and how the LDS scholars and educators repudiate Joseph and Oliver to promote their Mesoamerican theories.

2. FairMormon claims David Whitmer, one of the 3 witnesses, was a liar (they use the euphemism to explain their rejection of his oft-repeated statement by saying "some historians question its accuracy"). This is the same approach that has led to the suppression of David Whitmer's testimony in other media, as I've shown and will show again soon.

3. FairMormon refuses to quote modern prophets and apostles who have spoken about Cumorah being in New York and instead claim that "Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same." FairMormon and many other LDS scholars and educators frequently claim the scholars know more than the prophets and apostles, so this is not unusual. Here, they quote Elder Dallin H. Oaks, as if he supports the two-Cumorahs theory!

4. FairMormon refuses to quote what President Joseph Fielding Smith said on at least two occasions. Referring to the two-Cumorahs theory that FairMormon promotes, President Smith said, "This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon." Instead of quoting President Smith, FairMormon quotes criticism of him by a Mesoamerican proponent, and then supports it with 40-year-old hearsay from a student in a class at BYU.

5. FairMormon quotes Brother Palmer's "geographic conditions" for the Hill Cumorah that include the self-serving requirements for volcanoes and no cold or snow. The Mesoamerican theory depends on its own retranslation of the text anyway (i.e., horses are tapirs, towers are huge stone pyramids, etc.), but these "requirements" for Cumorah have led to the comical search for Cumorah in Southern Mexico that has consumed the time and effort of many people for over 100 years. Worse, these requirements rely on the premise that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.
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You can read the rest of the article and see the other logical and factual fallacies, but I point out the five above to explain why, if you have people who want to know about the Church, or people who have questions about the Book of Mormon, you should not send them to FairMormon.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A fair chance

Accepting and living the gospel can be a challenge, so I continue to wonder why we make it harder for investigators (and members) than it needs to be.

The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories are ubiquitous in the Church, thanks to the Arnold Friberg paintings and Christ Visiting the Americas featured in meetinghouses, temples, and the missionary and foreign-language editions of the Book of Mormon itself.

It's not just the illustrations. These theories have been taught at BYU (all campuses) and throughout CES (Church Educational System) for decades. They have been featured in the Ensign, New Era, Friend, and Liahona. They are in all the visitors centers, etc. They are the "consensus" among LDS scholars even today.

Look at what these theories ask investigators (and members) to believe.

1. Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God.
2. The Book of Mormon is an actual history of real people.
3. We don't know where the Book of Mormon took place, but we do know that Joseph Smith was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church when he and Oliver taught that Cumorah was in New York.

I realize that sounds harsh, but that's the reality of what is going on right now. 

As long as this continues, I don't think investigators (and members who have questions) have a fair chance to evaluate the Book of Mormon, Joseph as a prophet, and everything else that flows from there.
_________________

A basic gospel principle recognizes that people are free to choose. But freedom to choose is premised on meaningful alternatives. Imperfect alternatives are one problem inherent in mortality, but what if none of the alternatives available to you are viable?

Let's say you're diabetic and the only food source available to you is a candy store. Does it really make any difference which candy you choose?

What if you grow up in a society that presents choices that are mostly "evil" in terms of the gospel, but some are less evil than others? As a society degenerates to the point where all choices are evil, maybe free agency becomes an illusion and you end up with a Noah's flood scenario.
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Now, think of the choices available to an investigator.

Choice 1. You can stick with one of the many beliefs put forward by the world, all of which contradict Mormonism--including the beliefs you grew up with.

Choice 2. You can consider Mormonism.

Let's say you're one of a tiny percentage of Earth's inhabitants who chooses Choice 2.

If you're already Christian, you accept the general idea of God and Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible. So far, so good.

But if you're Christian, you probably have trouble with the idea of Joseph Smith as a modern prophet. And if you're not Christian, you have the same trouble.

The missionaries ask you to read the Book of Mormon to find out if it's true. If it is, they say, then Joseph was a prophet and all is right in the world of Mormonism.

The first thing you do is open the book and see the illustrations. You recognize the Mayan motifs and ask the missionaries where the Book of Mormon people lived.

"Central America," one companion says. "We don't know," the other says. Or, if the investigators are lucky, one missionary will say "North America, with Cumorah in New York."

The confusion is apparent to the investigator even before he/she starts reading.

Worse, the more the investigator learns, the more he/she comes to recognize the basic inconsistency of what the missionaries expect him/her to believe. 

Investigator: "If Joseph was a prophet, why would he mislead everyone about Cumorah being in New York?"

Mesoamerican promoter: "He didn't."

Investigator: "But I saw this article about Letter VII online and--"

Mesoamerican promoter: "You're not supposed to read that."

Investigator: "But it's right here, Look." (pulling it up online)

Mesoamerican promoter. "Okay, since you insist, I admit it's true that Oliver Cowdery explicitly said Cumorah was in New York in his Letter VII. It's also true that Joseph helped write the letter and fully endorsed it on multiple occasions. But later Oliver left the Church. Joseph changed his mind and said the Book of Mormon took place in Central America."

Investigator: "He did? Where?"

Mesoamerican promoter: "In a series of anonymous letters in the Times and Seasons. But don't read those, either, because Joseph identified Quirigua as Zarahemla, which obviously can't be correct, so Joseph simply didn't know what he was talking about."

Investigator: "I thought you said he was a prophet."

Mesoamerican promoter: "He said he was only a prophet when he spoke as a prophet. When he spoke about Cumorah, he obviously was not a prophet."

Investigator: "That sounds... doesn't that seem to bring everything he said into question?"

Mesoamerican promoter: "No. Joseph was a prophet about everything except about things our scholars disagree about. Our scholars have a consensus that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. That's why you see the illustrations in the book we gave you. That's why they're hanging up at the chapel. You don't need to worry about a thing. When Joseph Smith was wrong about something, our scholars have corrected him."

Investigator: "I see... Thanks for your time, but I won't be needing this."
(hands the Book of Mormon back).





Friday, May 19, 2017

Expectations and art - missionary work

Because there are so many new readers here, I'm going to repost some of the most popular posts from the past that they might have missed. This one is the most popular (so far) from the consensus blog.

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Expectations and art - missionary work

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but here I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. I suspect that far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. Probably 100 times more.

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text,they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography two-Cumorah Mesoamerican model that modern scholars support. For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the New York Cumorah, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

I suggest it's time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.
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I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.








In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.









The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at right now.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


___________________________

The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on lds.org here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.









If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it endorses the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I have to believe the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. And when the answer to my obvious questions about Cumorah is that there are actually two Cumorahs, I'll become even more confused.

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. This is a reasonable inference from the text. (I like to think the clouds represent North America, but it would be far better to show something actually from North America, such as an earthwork, that is described in the text. Of course, the text never mentions pyramids, stone buildings, or even high mountains where the Nephites lived.) The biggest problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on lds.org, for example. If the webmaster at lds.org misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? More confusion, especially when the explanation I'm given is the two-Cumorah theory.

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My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:

Awesome.


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.



Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.










Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.


Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.


Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.


Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.














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Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Zombie geography at BYU

Some ideas just won't die. They're zombies. They don't know they're dead, and they are mere shells of living beings, but they keep on coming.

The Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is a zombie. It continues to prowl around BYU.

The textbook definition of a zombie is: a will-less and speechless human held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated.

In the world of software, a zombie is "A process or task which has terminated but was not removed from the list of processes, typically because it has child processes that have not yet terminated."

The Mesoamerican theory is like zombie software. It is dead, but it has child processes that still live, like little zombies.
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Here are some of the reasons why the Mesoamerican theory died.

1. Its origin--the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, wrongly attributed to Joseph Smith--has been exposed as a historical mistake.

2. Thanks to Letter VII, few people even try to defend the two-Cumorahs theory any more. (The Mesoamerican theory claims the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, so it was a mistake to give the hill in New York the name Cumorah.) Once members of the Church realize that accepting the Mesoamerican theory requires you to also believe that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, most members reject the Mesoamerican theory quickly.

3. The illusory "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the text of the Book of Mormon are really just ordinary characteristics of most human civilizations that are not evidence of the purported link between Book of Mormon peoples and the Mayans.
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Although the Mesoamerican theory is dead, Mesomania lives in its children. Once we finish them off, we will be rid of the zombie geography. But to finish them off, we have to first identify them, starting with BYU connections.

1. BYU Studies, "the premier Mormon academic journal since 1959," continues to promote the zombie Mesoamerican setting, right on its main page.
https://byustudies.byu.edu/
Go to the bottom of the page under "Popular Pages" and click on the first one, titled "Charting the Book of Mormon." Scroll to section 13 and read the entries, including 13-161, here.

Presenting BYU's zombie geography map of Mesoamerica!

2. Officially, BYU is supposed to be neutral about Book of Mormon geography. And that would be fine, in a vacuum. But for years, BYU promoted the Mesoamerican theory, including taking faculty to Mesoamerica on educational "Book of Mormon" trips. The zombie theory was widely taught for decades. To claim "neutrality" with this history would be like a strip mining company suddenly claiming "neutrality" after cutting all the trees and shearing the mountaintops. It's not neutral when the damage is not remediated. The zombie children of the Mesoamerican theory are present throughout the University (on all the campuses). Besides, faculty are not really neutralHere is a discussion of an article by a BYU Professor who claimed BYU destroyed Ancient (Mesoamerican) Book of Mormon Studies:
http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2015/09/how-byu-destroyed-ancient-mesoamerican.html
Other current BYU Professors have written extensively about the zombie Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

3. BYU students are taught to understand the geography of the Book of Mormon as presented by the abstract map I blogged about here: 
http://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2017/04/update-on-abstract-maps.html

It is obviously designed to look like Central America, because it interprets the text according to the Mesoamerican theory. 


That map is not Central America!
Faculty have been told not to link the text to any real-world site. Instead, they came up with this "virtual reality" version. But it teaches the same thing as the two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., Cumorah is not in New York and Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.  

4. Let's say BYU finishes off the on-campus zombie geography somehow. Will that solve the problem? 

No.

The children of the zombie Mesoamerican theory live in the minds of most of the students who have been educated at BYU for decades. That's why we see the Arnold Friberg Mesoamerican paintings everywhere. It's why Mesomania is ubiquitous.

Whenever you see these books and paintings, you are looking at zombie Mesomania.







It's up to each of us to help deal with the zombie geography of Mesoamerica.