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.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Intellectual curiosity and geography

People often ask how and why I changed my mind about Book of Mormon geography and the translation process. I've explained it a few times, but I'll summarize it again here regarding the geography and later regarding SITH (the stone-in-the-hat).

These are important issues because of the well-known impact they are having in creating the "faith crisis" epidemic that we're all familiar with. 

Basically, I've gone from accepting the New York Cumorah in the hemispheric model, to rejecting the New York Cumorah in favor of M2C (the limited geography Mesoamerican setting with Cumorah in southern Mexico), to re-accepting the New York Cumorah in a limited "Heartland" model that encompasses the eastern half of North America. In my view, the evidence for the Heartland model is compelling in several ways. 

First, the teachings of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are unambiguous and intentional, as are the teachings of their contemporaries and successors. While the M2C scholars rationalize away those teachings, anything can be rationalized away in the pursuit of bias confirmation, and the M2C arguments resort to the type of logical and factual fallacies we expect when driven by bias confirmation.

Second, the text of the Book of Mormon is vague about geography but specific enough to describe a variety of possible settings that incorporate the New York Cumorah.

Third, relevant sciences of archaeology, anthropology, geology, and geography corroborate many of the models based on the New York Cumorah.

Fourth, the refusal by M2C scholars to engage in serious, respectful dialog about the Heartland model, their continuing misrepresentations and even personal antipathy, and their ongoing efforts to censor the teachings of the prophets argues strongly against the validity of their theories. 

I'm happy for people to believe whatever they want. I just oppose the actions of LDS intellectuals who use their positions of power and influence to denigrate the beliefs of others and set up impediments for everyone, including other Latter-day Saints, to make informed decisions about these topics. 

When I was a young Latter-day Saint, we were taught that the Book of Mormon took place over the entire western hemisphere, from Chile to Canada. This was the Orson Pratt model that he outlined in his footnotes in the 1879 Book of Mormon, although he distinguished between fact (Cumorah in New York) and theory (Lehi landing in Chile, Zarahemla in Colombia, etc.). 

I had a seminary teacher tell me that all the Native Americans were descended from Lehi and that the idea these people crossed the Bering Strait was a lie. 

Then, when I went to BYU, I had a change in paradigm when I took a class from John Sorenson, who taught M2C (the limited geography model based in Mesoamerica that also teaches Cumorah is in southern Mexico and the "Cumorah" in New York was a false speculation by early Latter-day Saints). FARMS also taught M2C, claiming there was all kinds of evidence coming out to validate the Mesoamerican setting. I attended the conferences, read the newsletters, etc. I trusted Jack Welch, John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, etc. because I figured they knew a lot more about this than I did and, given the information they provided, it made sense.

Life (family, career, etc.) intervened and I didn't spend a lot of time assessing M2C for many years. But after visiting Mesoamerica a few times, I found the M2C theory didn't align with reality on the ground. In addition, many people I knew were leaving the Church, including former missionary companions, family members, and friends, mostly because of disbelief in the Book of Mormon.

I had a second change in paradigm several years ago when a mutual friend introduced me to Rod Meldrum, who told me about the Heartland approach to geography/historicity. Naturally, I did my "due diligence" and read what FAIRLDS, BMAF, and others had to say. I was surprised at how antagonistic the M2C scholars were toward the Heartland ideas. Their arrogance led me to further investigation. 

I went on a tour with Rod  and Wayne May. The sites and museums in Ohio are full of artifacts that fit the Book of Mormon better than what I'd seen in Mesoamerica. 

Returning to the M2C scholars, their arguments relied primarily on the 1842 Times and Seasons articles, which they claimed were written by Joseph Smith. The M2C scholars said Joseph didn't know much about the Book of Mormon or the Nephites, but he learned about them from the Stephens and Catherwood books.  

When I went back through Sorenson's work, such as Mormon's Codex, it soon became apparent that the whole thing is transparent bias confirmation. The M2C scholars to this day are trying to validate and corroborate what they think Joseph taught, even though they had to reject the New York Cumorah and rationalize away other statements Joseph actually made. 

I started pulling on the M2C thread and its components unraveled, starting with the Times and Seasons articles, then the M2C interpretation of the text of the Book of Mormon, then the M2C rejection of the New York Cumorah, and so forth. 

I wrote a few books, articles and blogs about M2C and why people should reconsider M2C and look at the Heartland alternative.

The reactions have been fascinating. The M2C scholars turned out to be incredibly closed-minded and self-satisfied, while the "Heartlanders" have been open-minded and eager to learn. It's the exact opposite of what we ordinary people might think, because intellectuals often tout their supposed open-mindedness and fairness.

There are exceptions from both sides, of course, but overall, the M2C scholars continue to refuse to engage the Heartland ideas seriously while also refusing to address the problems with M2C.

Next I'll discuss the SITH saga.

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