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.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

BMC, 43, and the future

Today I saw a web page that epitomized what is happening in the Church. I've discussed this before, but this web page provided such a stark demonstration that I had to share it.

I don't usually post on weekends, but I'm making an exception because long-time readers will find this quite interesting. Today we're going to see how Book of Mormon Central (BMC) is doubling down on M2C, using the Internet to spread its message that the prophets are wrong.

And they're enlisting General Authorities to cooperate, contrary to official Church policy.

(Go to the end of the post to see that point explained.)

There are a lot of exciting, positive developments throughout the world, but if we're realistic, we also recognize serious problems, especially in areas where the Church is well established. Many factors contribute to declining attendance, activity, conversions, etc., but the historicity of the Book of Mormon is among the most significant. The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, but intellectuals in the Church are undermining its message daily.

Relatively few English-speaking investigators who search the Internet join the Church because they quickly learn from sites such as CES Letter and UTLM that our own CES and BYU scholars claim the prophets are wrong about Cumorah. Combine that with the framework the intellectuals have constructed to support M2C and the claims of revisionist Church historians, and people face a nearly insurmountable obstacle to even giving the restored gospel a chance.

I've shown before how the intellectual tipping point in the 1980s (when M2C replaced the prophets' teachings about Cumorah) led directly to decreases in conversion rates (baptisms per 1,000 members).

These results are inevitable and will probably accelerate. Already, 50% of Millennials in the Church do not believe the Book of Mormon is an authentic history, and that number is sure to decline in the future among students of CES and BYU who are taught to understand the Book of Mormon by referring to the fantasy maps. I discussed this here.

My twitter feed led me to Jana Reiss' latest article. It was accompanied by two ads from Book of Mormon Central (BMC).


If you go to that page, you probably won't see the BMC ads because Google rotates ads based on what web pages you visit. But at the left is a screen capture of the page I saw when I went there.

I realize that's a small image so I'll provide close-ups below.

In her thoughtful article, Reiss described the need for safe spaces. But she also made this observation about her home ward. (The screen capture is small so I copied the text below, in blue.)

Because I study religion and disaffiliation, I get asked sometimes what the Church can do to stem the tide of people leaving. And while there are many, many factors that contribute to disaffiliation—not least of which is that our little Church is swept up in what’s going on in American religion more generally, in which the fastest-growing religion is to not have a religion at all—I know something that would help. And that is the concept of church as a safe space.

Maybe my ward is good at creating safety because we are small and, frankly, struggling. We had 43 people in sacrament meeting last Sunday. That’s low even for us—it was a holiday weekend—but the truth is that most of our trend lines are heading down. If someone walks in the door who has a less than perfect testimony or who smells like cigarette smoke, I think our response would be Oh my gosh there is a breathing person, a new person, and did we mention they have a pulse? We are so excited!

Recently I have visited several areas of the United States that report declining attendance. One location now has 80 people attending compared with 120 less than a year ago. Another location combined wards of about 80 each and put one of the chapels up for sale. I mentioned recently that last year (2018), 10 states (plus D.C.) lost LDS membership.

I reiterate that M2C is not the only reason for these developments. But it is a major factor because repudiating the teachings of the prophets in one area undermines faith in the teachings of the prophets in all areas.

Here is a close-up of the BMC ads.

First, we have the M2C logo that uses a Mayan glyph to teach viewers that the Book of Mormon is a Mayan codex. (The logo shows Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian and Mayan characters.)

Next, we have two ads that both state "The Book of Mormon evidences are clear and convincing."

I assume the ad has been A/B tested, and I like this effort at persuasion. Stating something as a fact when it is really just an opinion can be effective. But I doubt anyone actually believes this claim.

For example, I'm a long-term, committed believer in the Book of Mormon, but I recognize the evidence is anything but "clear and convincing" except to those who already want to believe.

And for sure, once we get into the BMC web page and discover there are hundreds of articles attempting to offer evidences, most of which rely on semantics and bias confirmation, we see that the evidences are neither clear nor convincing--especially because so much of the material is designed to persuade readers that the prophets are wrong.

Maybe I'm viewing it from a legal perspective because "clear and convincing" is a standard of proof in court that is more strict than "preponderance of the evidence" (but less strict than "beyond a reasonable doubt.") Nevertheless, it is obvious that the vast majority of the 1 billion people who have heard the gospel do not think the evidence satisfies even the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, let alone the "clear and convincing" standard.

Still, let's say the ad is provocative enough to arouse curiosity. Let's see what happens when we click on the ad.

We come to the home page of BMC.

Today, it features an article titled "Why Does the Book of Mormon Warn Against Seeking after Riches?"

That's not exactly what we expect, based on the ad. On its face, this is not "clear and convincing" evidence of the Book of Mormon.

But the article asks a question, which is good persuasion. Naturally, we click on the link.

That takes us to this page.

Here, we have a video/article combination.

We have a Soundcloud file.

We have a link to youtube.

We have a video download link.

We have share buttons.

All of this suggests a great social media presence. BMC has the potential to do tremendous good this way. It spends millions of dollars to create content, hire smart young scholars, and disseminate its message throughout the world.

Here is the problem: BMC is teaching people to disbelieve the prophets.

Start with the video.

The first frame is a depiction of Mayans paying tribute to their king.

The message is not even subtle. It is overt. Explicit. Unmistakable.

The "evidence" we are about to learn is that the Book of Mormon is a Mayan Codex (or, as John Sorenson framed it, Mormon's Codex).

The Nephites were Mayans.

And the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Mayan Jacob teaching in a
Mayan/Nephite temple
As if the video image isn't enough, the text reaffirms M2C.

The message has little to do with the purported title of the article, and everything to do with imprinting M2C on the minds of the readers. Here are excerpts from the text in blue, with my comments in red.

Brant Gardner has identified a plausible social context for Jacob’s teachings in pre-Columbian America.2 

Brother Gardner is a member of BMC's research and writing team, hence a member of the M2C citation cartel, so we naturally expect him to be cited by BMC. He is a long-time M2C advocate who also works with The Interpreter, another member of the M2C citation cartel.

(BTW, it's fascinating how the M2C citation cartel has multiple organizations to give the appearance that there are diverse groups who all agree. In reality, it's the same people in all these groups, and they coordinate. They don't only dominate CES and BYU. A couple of years ago, representatives of Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, and FairMormon spent a day with the Quorum of the Twelve, persuading the Brethren that they could provide faithful answers. That's why you see these M2C advocates everywhere in Church materials, including the Gospel Topics Essays, the notes in the Joseph Smith Papers, the Saints book, etc. It's all M2C, all the time. But despite the efforts of the M2C intellectuals, none of the Brethren have ever repudiated their predecessors' teachings about the New York Cumorah.)

As in most ancient economies, Mesoamerica used a barter economy where “various commodities served as currencies to ‘even out’ a bartered transaction.” 

This points out the illusory nature of the M2C "evidence" and why such evidence is both unpersuasive to outsiders and insufficient justification for repudiating the teachings of the prophets. Barter economies are ubiquitous in human societies. Even today, people in advanced western societies trade commodities outside the formal monetary system. Any purported link between the Book of Mormon barter economy, and the Mesoamerican barter economy, is evidence of exactly nothing.

These commodities included precious stones and ore, carved jewelry, cloth, salt, and even cacao beans.3 

Already we have a disconnect. The Book of Mormon says nothing of salt or cacao beans.

In this context, it is interesting that Jacob didn’t just mention gold and silver but the accumulation of “all manner of precious ores” and costly apparel as being a sign of wealth for the early Nephites. Elsewhere the Book of Mormon speaks of the Nephites becoming rich from “precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood” (Jarom 1:8), 

Notice what BMC omits from Jarom 1:8. "... in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war—yea, the sharp pointed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all preparations for war." This is a problem for M2C because there is no evidence from this period (399-362 B.C.) that Mayans used iron, copper, brass or steel. Of course, there is evidence of metalworking in Ohio during this period.

and from an “abundance of flocks and herds . . . and also abundance of grain . . . and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of goodly cloth” (Alma 1:29).4

Same problem. Here's what Alma 1:29 says in full. "an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth." We have all of these, including silkworms and cloth, in ancient Ohio, Tennessee, etc.

The kind of wealth the men in Jacob’s small settlement were seeking would likely have been not just gold and silver ore, but also jade and semi-precious stones, the feathers of exotic birds, and other material goods that could be used to justify social segregation. 

The citation cartel uses this tactic throughout M2C literature. The Book of Mormon somehow omits the three J's (jade, jaguars and jungles) one expects in a Mayan Codex, so the M2C intellectuals supply the missing terms with their own interpretation; i.e., they supply the terms Joseph somehow forgot to dictate. 

In ancient America, “one displayed wealth by wearing it–––precisely Jacob’s complaint about some of his people,” observed Gardner. “This visual display of wealth highlighted differences among individual access to the exotic trade goods and led to the social inequality that lies behind Jacob’s condemnation.”7

This is another example of illusory evidence. Wearing wealth is as ubiquitous as barter economies. It is as much evidence that the Nephites were Mayans as it is evidence that the Nephites were Chinese, or Africans. 

All of this is just normal M2C citation cartel material. I have documented this for several years now. We don't expect it to change because the M2C intellectuals and their followers live in a bubble, engage in bias confirmation, and don't realize how obvious the fallacies of M2C are to

(i) those of us who still believe what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah and

(ii) those who are investigating the claims of the Book of Mormon.

There are two differences from ordinary M2C material here that caused me to comment on this article.

First, the aggressive BMC effort to take M2C to the world through social media and the Internet.

Second, the explicit endorsement of M2C by a General Authority, contrary to the Church's policy of neutrality as expressed in the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography.

At the end of the article we see this:

In case you can't read it, it says:

This KnoWhy was made possible by the generous contributions of Elder Lynn G. Robbins.

The Gospel Topics Essay expressly states:

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.

BMC published this article that explicitly promotes the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of geography and added the endorsement of a current General Authority.

Whether or not Elder Robbins believes M2C, and/or intended to promote M2C, doesn't matter. He's entitled to his personal opinions like everyone else.

The point is, if we accept the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay as official Church policy, no leaders or members should be advocating their personal theories in a matter that implies Church support for those theories.

Public financial support for M2C by a General Authority does more than merely imply Church support. 

Again, this is nothing new.

The M2C citation cartel has long claimed prophetic and Church support for M2C. 

BMAF, the corporate owner of BMC, lists General Authorities on their Advisory Board.

FairMormon, another adamant promoter of M2C, touts its close affiliation with General Authorities, some of whom speak at FairMormon events and encourage members of the Church to donate.

We all know that, through the academic cycle, M2C employees at BYU, CES, and COB have effectively persuaded members throughout the Church to accept M2C. M2C has become the default position of the Church, as we see in curriculum, Visitors Centers, the Joseph Smith Papers, etc.

But at least as of now, M2C is still not the official position of the Church.

And the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah, itemized here, have not yet been repudiated.

The Gospel Topics Essay was apparently intended to undo the damage caused by the M2C academic cycle. It is supposed to level the playing field so that members of the Church do not feel institutional pressure to accept M2C.

Pursuant to the Gospel Topics Essay, Church members can study the teachings of the prophets, as well as the scriptures themselves, and form their own opinions about Book of Mormon geography.

No member of the Church is obligated to, or even expected to, accept the teachings of intellectuals, especially when those intellectuals directly repudiate the teachings of Church leaders.

I hope this is the last time that a Church leader explicitly and publicly endorses M2C. 

It would be even better if M2C were replaced throughout the Church with the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

That would eliminate one of the major obstacles that confront members (both active and less-active) and investigators.

If, some day, members of the Church unite behind the teachings of the prophets about the New York Hill Cumorah, we could see a revitalization of faith in both those prophets and the Book of Mormon itself.

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