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, June 9, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 2

When you have two different interpretations of historical events, current events, scientific facts and models, etc., one or both may be a product of trying to minimize cognitive dissonance CD.

One way to tell which side is experiencing the greatest CD is the side that bases their argument on what someone was thinking in their inner thoughts. If your argument is not fact-based, or based on something you can observe, but is based instead on what a stranger you may not have ever met was thinking in his secret thoughts that have not been revealed by his/her actions, then you're far more likely to be further from the truth and relying on CD.

Actions including writing. One way to tell if you are relying on "inner thoughts" instead of facts is if you interpret a stranger's writings to mean something different from the plain language.

The entire premise for Mesomania is that the scholars know what Joseph Smith was secretly thinking. This is how they deal with the extreme CD they experience when they confront Joseph's actions.

Here is an example. In 2005, BYU and the Library of Congress sponsored a two-day academic conference to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth. I blogged about it here. The conference proceedings included these statements about what Joseph was thinking in his inner thoughts:

- Joseph Smith did not fully understand the Book of Mormon.
- One thing all readers share with Joseph is a partial understanding of the book’s complexities.
- Over the last sixty years, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and other scholars have shown the Book of Mormon to be “truer” than Joseph Smith or any of his contemporaries could know.
- Consequently,  what  Joseph  Smith  knew  and  understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions.  Thanks  in  large  part  to  his  critics,  it  is  becoming  clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book.
- In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there.
- Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were... he considered their location  an  important  question  addressable  through scholarship.

Of course, the author never mentions Letter VII, which Joseph helped Oliver write and which unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is, in fact, the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Notice that while ignoring what Joseph actually said and wrote, the author relies on anonymous articles to conclude that "Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located" in Central America.

Instead of speculating about Joseph's undisclosed inner thoughts, how about looking at what Joseph actually did?

- He had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history.
- He authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint Letter VII.
- He gave Letter VII to his brother Don Carlos to have it printed in the Times and Seasons.
- In D&C 128, he referred to Cumorah among other sites in New York and Pennsylvania.
- In D&C 28, 30 and 32 he identified the Indians living in New York, Ohio and Missouri as Lamanites.
- In the Wentworth letter, he declared that the remnant of Book of Mormon people are the Indians living in this country.
- He wrote to Emma from the banks of the Mississippi, explaining he had just crossed the plains of the Nephites (referring to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois).
- He identified Zelph as the person whose bones they dug up from a mound in Illinois, declaring he had fallen in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites. Joseph said Zelph (or the prophet he served under) was known from the Hill Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains. (For more detail, see Donald Q. Cannon's excellent summary here.)

The Mesomania scholars and educators have tried to handle their CD by rationalizing away Joseph's actions so they can speculate about his inner thoughts. 

One of the most insightful articles on this topic is "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography," published here. It deals with a few of Joseph's actions that I listed above, such as the letter to Emma and the Zelph account.

Of course, the article never mentions Letter VII or the revelations in the D&C.

Instead, it relies on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, erroneously attributing them to Joseph and then using them to reinterpret the plain language of what Joseph actually wrote.

Here's how the article handles Joseph's letter to Emma and his revelation about Zelph: "The individuals and geographic features that are named in these accounts are nowhere to be found in the text of the Book of Mormon. They are external to its history."

Joseph explained that he had learned about the Book of Mormon people even before he translated the plates, and his mother confirmed this, but the Mesomania scholars reject what he said. Instead, they insist Joseph knew nothing except what he translated.

The reason they take this position is obvious: it puts them not only on an even playing field with Joseph (because they're both limited to interpreting the text), but (in their minds) it makes their interpretations superior to Joseph's because they have PhDs and decades of more recent archaeological, linguistic, and other research.

When you consider theories about Book of Mormon geography, consider whether the proponents are relying on actual evidence, or instead on their subjective interpretations of what they think Joseph's inner thoughts were.

I think you'll soon see which theories are suffering from the worst CD.

BTW, next to the LDS Mesomania scholars and educators, the critics of the Book of Mormon are suffering the worst CD, as I'll discuss in an upcoming post.

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