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, February 2, 2021
The M2C/SITH continuum
Sometimes a graphic helps explain complex topics. Here's one that explains the continuum from what the prophets taught to what unbelievers teach.
(click to enlarge)
Once we understand that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, it's easy to see how undermining faith in the prophets who brought forth the Book of Mormon leads to disbelief in the Book of Mormon itself.
To be clear: It is of course true that people can be faithful Latter-day Saints while still embracing M2C and SITH.*
I don't write these blogs for people who believe M2C and SITH. I'm not trying to persuade them to change their beliefs because I don't think it's likely, or even possible, for them to do so.
In my view, accepting the teachings of the prophets and validating them with external evidence is far preferable to relying on scholarship by academics who reject the teachings of the prophets.
I write for people who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah and the translation of the Book of Mormon, and who want to understand how external evidence supports those teachings.
I also write for people who have trouble reconciling the positions that (i) the prophets were wrong (and modern scholars are correct) about the translation of the Book of Mormon and its setting, but (ii) we should believe the prophets about everything else.
1. The first step to undermining the prophets was to repudiate the New York Cumorah. This started over 100 years ago when RLDS scholars decided Cumorah couldn't be in New York because they believed the Book of Mormon events took place in Central America.
Over the objection of LDS prophets, LDS scholars gradually adopted the RLDS position. They tried to soften the blow by framing it as a "two-Cumorahs" solution, claiming that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith innocently (but ignorantly) misled the Church by speculating that the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was in New York, while assuring us that as credentialed scholars, they figured out that Cumorah was actually somewhere in southern Mexico.
Our current LDS M2C citation cartel, particularly Book of Mormon Central, now spends millions of dollars annually to enforce M2C, actively teaching LDS youth (and the entire world) that the prophets were wrong. M2C is embedded in their logo.
Despite their efforts, there are many Latter-day Saints who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. How do we explain this?
Building on the teachings of the prophets, we interpret the text in light of external evidence including anthropology, archaeology, geology and geography to see how the New York Cumorah makes sense.
Notice: we don't reject any possibilities about Book of Mormon settings other than Cumorah because the prophets haven't identified any and the external evidence supports multiple working hypotheses.
Even those LDS scholars (and their employees and followers) who reject the words of the prophets as inadequate or unreliable could do the same. But they won't, because they prefer to confirm their bias for M2C. And they will continue to prevent other people from making informed decisions for themselves by censoring Church history and the teachings of the prophets that contradict M2C.
2. The next step to undermining the prophets was to repudiate the Urim and Thummim. Although Joseph and Oliver consistently and repeatedly taught that Joseph translated with the Nephite interpreters that Moroni put in the stone box, LDS scholars have decided Joseph and Oliver misled the Church.
Instead, our scholars are teaching the youth (and the entire world) that Joseph didn't use the Nephite interpreters. They say Joseph didn't even use the plates. Instead, they say Joseph merely read words that appeared on a seer stone he put in a hat. This is the stone-in-the-hat theory, or SITH.
SITH is based on historical accounts given by (or attributed to) David Whitmer and Emma Smith, long after Joseph and Oliver had died. Strangely, some of our scholars claim that when Joseph and Oliver used the term "Urim and Thummim" they really meant the seer stone Joseph found in a well. Of course, that contradicts the historical record--including the statements by David and Emma they cite to support SITH!
Despite their efforts, there are many Latter-day Saints who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the translation of the Book of Mormon with the Urim and Thummim (U&T). How do we explain the discrepancy between U&T and SITH?
Some say that everyone who taught SITH was a liar, but that's not a credible position. Plus, it characterizes important witnesses to other events, including David Whitmer, as a liar. There's a big difference between what someone says they observed vs what they inferred or interpreted based on what they observed. David could accurately report what he observed and simultaneously make erroneous inferences about what it meant.
An alternative explanation for SITH that reconciles all the accounts, and preserves the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver, is that Joseph used a stone in a hat to demonstrate the process, and David, Emma and others referred to the demonstration to defeat the prevalent Solomon Spalding theory.
SITH scholars (and their employees and followers) won't accept this explanation, and they will continue to prevent other people from making informed decisions for themselves.
But open-minded people can evaluate the evidence for themselves and reach their own conclusions.
3. The final step, once our LDS scholars have persuaded people to disbelieve the prophets about Cumorah and U&T, is for unbelievers to build on that process.
It's easy for them.
All they have to do is tell faithful members of the Church that their own scholars have repudiated what Joseph and Oliver taught about the translation of the Book of Mormon and its setting in New York.
These same scholars claim they've been hired by the modern prophets to "guide the Church" in these matters. Their theories permeate Church media, manuals, visitors centers, etc.
As if this wasn't bad enough, Book of Mormon Central now spends millions of dollars to promote "evidence" that the prophets were wrong.
Really, there's not much difference between what CES Letter and MormonStories say and what Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter say.
Both groups claim scholars are more reliable than prophets.
But if the Restoration boils down to which scholars are "right," is it likely that our M2C and SITH scholars will prevail?
*People can believe whatever they want and thanks to the psychology of bias confirmation, people always find evidence to support whatever they believe. Every group (religious, political or otherwise) has a core of believers who are impervious to alternative evidence and arguments.
The difference with the Restoration is that it's supposed to convince "Jew and Gentile" that Jesus is the Christ. If the Restoration devolves into a group of people who repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the translation and setting of the Book of Mormon in favor of the teachings of the scholars, it's not going to convince many people outside that bubble of anything--especially when scholars outside that bubble disagree with the scholars inside the bubble. Scholarship is a weak reed to support faith.