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.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Lazy learners and the M2C citation cartel

In the April 2021 General Conference, President Nelson used the term "lazy learners." He encouraged each of us to "Become an engaged learner." He pointed out that "It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion."

There are lots of implications for his message, but I'd like to apply it to the ongoing problem of deference to the credentialed class of LDS scholars who purport to be "Interpreters" for the rest of us. 

One category of "lazy learners" are those who don't study, but another category is those who think they are studying when they read/watch the teachings of scholars instead of original source material, particularly the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Deferring to an intellectual because of his/her credentials, affiliation with BYU or CES, résumé including Church service, or popularity, is a form of lazy learning because all we're doing is learning what that intellectual thinks. We're not thinking for ourselves.

This is particularly true when we defer to the M2C citation cartel who have been promoting their M2C theory for decades and continue to do so. They enforce their M2C theory through a variety of rhetorical techniques we have discussed many times on this blog.

The members of the M2C citation cartel are all fine scholars, faithful Church members, nice people, etc. They are all doing what they think is right. But that doesn't entitle them to assign your opinions to you. And they shouldn't have to bear the responsibility for your choices.

Fortunately, Church leaders have made it clear that individual members are not only entitled to, but are responsible to, make up our own minds on these issues.

We can each chose to be "engaged learners" by studying original sources for ourselves. Then we can make informed decisions. Faithful, informed Latter-day Saints end up supporting the teachings of the prophets instead of repudiating teachings they happen to disagree with.

Presumably, that's why you read this blog.

The alternative to being "engaged learners" is choosing to be "lazy learners" by reading and watching the words of the intellectual "interpreters" in the M2C citation cartel who digest and filter the original sources to promote their own theories.

From time to time, I still hear objections to the term "M2C citation cartel."

Let me explain once again. 

I didn't invent the term "citation cartel," although if you google "citation cartel" images, you'll see several images of the M2C citation cartel among the first results. The term is widely used in academic circles to describe an ongoing problem with published scholarship. The term does not refer to drug or criminal cartels. 

A citation cartel is any group of like-minded scholars (and their followers) who cite one another to bolster the impression that their groupthink is both widely accepted and the best theory regarding whatever topic they write about. It can be considered "peer approval" masquerading as "peer review."

Here's one way to identify a citation cartel:

In our experience, a citation cartel differs from the ordinary in that it usually involves one or more or all of the following: 

i) a small number, often just two or three, journals are involved; 

ii) similarly, the diversity of authors involved is small, i.e., smaller as one would expect for a healthy research community; 

iii) often there is a large overlap of editors in the journals that sustain a particular cartel. 

The M2C citation cartel easily satisfies these criteria. 

i) We are dealing with two basic journals: (i) BYU Studies, and (ii) the various publications that arose from FARMS, including the current Interpreter, which Dan Peterson started after he was removed from FARMS, but which continues publishing the same type of material that the FARMS journals, led by Brother Peterson, did. 

To the extent Book of Mormon Central could be considered a journal because of its "kno-whys" and other content, it is merely another branch of FARMS anyway.

Both BYU Studies and the FARMS publications have long promoted M2C exclusively. We could hardly expect otherwise, since Jack Welch founded FARMS and was the long-time editor of BYU Studies. The FARMS logo included a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon. 

Now Book of Mormon Central, also led by Brother Welch, uses the same M2C logo. 

This logo demonstrates the antithesis of academic inquiry by imposing the outcome--M2C--on anyone who hopes to publish in these journals. That's why we see peer approval in these journals instead of actual peer review.

ii) The research community publishing in these journals consists of a handful of influential authors, all of whom promote M2C, plus their students and followers. Anyone who proposes an alternative to M2C, especially anyone who still believes and corroborates what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught, is not only unwelcome, but the target of derision and censorship.

iii) The overlap of editors in the journals is obvious. Now Steven Harper edits BYU Studies, but as we've seen, he continues to promote M2C, both at BYU Studies and through his other work, including the Saints book. 

I've referred to the M2C citation cartel as a Potemkin village because the same content surfaces in other venues, such as FairMormon (nkn FairLatterdaySaints), Meridian Magazine, and various blogs. But at the core, all of this content originated from the handful of M2C scholars we know and love. 

We cannot expect them to adjust, let alone change, their views on M2C. We can only humor them, try to sift out the M2C influence in their content (because they have produced some fine research on other topics), and let them continue to confirm their biases while the rest of us move on to better understand and corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, the translation of the plates, and related topics.


Most LDS members think most LDS intellectuals have accepted the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). They may be right, but I've heard from enough LDS intellectuals who disagree with M2C but dare not challenge the M2C citation cartel to know that, despite the image of consensus conveyed by the Potemkin village, plenty of people have peered around the corner and have seen that M2C is little more than wishful thinking.

Of course, people can believe whatever they want. I'm not trying to persuade anyone to reject M2C. My hope is for everyone to make informed decisions instead of having their opinions assigned to them by dogmatic members of a citation cartel.

I have no problem with people who embrace M2C with full knowledge of all relevant facts. 

The problem I see is that people embrace M2C based on incomplete knowledge, just as people leave the Church because of incomplete knowledge (combined with poor apologetics, a topic for another day). In both cases, people think they know everything on a given topic, but even cursory discussions with them shows they have huge gaps. I've spoken to many M2C believers who have never heard of Letter VII and its content, let alone its pervasiveness during the lifetimes of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.


The reason the M2C citation cartel has dominated is not because of careful analysis of Church history; as we've seen repeatedly, the opposite is true, because M2C is based on rejecting early Church history about the Hill Cumorah and related topics.

The reason is also not because of careful analysis of the text of the Book of Mormon, or of careful analysis of archaeology, anthropology, etc., because the opposite is also true in those cases. The M2C advocates continually revise their interpretation of the Book of Mormon text to align with whatever the latest science tells them about Mesoamerica. They've admitted they "can't unsee" Mesoamerica when they read the Book of Mormon. They read into it all kinds of Mesoamerican culture that no one else sees.

M2C was originally developed by the RLDS scholar LE Hills, who published the basic M2C map in 1917. 

LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Jack Welch, and Dan Peterson adopted the Hills map and began promoting it as the only approved setting for the Book of Mormon.

Then, through FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, FairMormon/FairLDS, Meridian Magazine, and Book of Mormon Central, these scholars created the M2C citation cartel to promote and reinforce M2C. 

They taught it to generations of LDS students.

Now, BYU and CES formally teach M2C, all the while proclaiming "neutrality."

To repeat: The members of the M2C citation cartel are all fine scholars, faithful Church members, nice people, etc. They are all doing what they think is right.

Fortunately, Church leaders have made it clear that individual members are not only entitled to, but are responsible to, make up our own minds on these issues.

We can each chose to be "engaged learners" making informed decisions based on all the evidence instead of "lazy learners" who consume the digested and filtered opinions of agenda-driven intellectuals.

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