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, December 12, 2022

Narrative Poisoning

I have a section in my upcoming book (The Rational Restoration) on "narrative poisoning." 

While I favor the approach of multiple working hypotheses, the implications of each hypothesis must be recognized as people make informed decisions.

The concept of narrative poisoning goes like this.

Certain LDS scholars adopted a narrative about Book of Mormon geography (the limited Mesoamerican setting invented by L.E. Hills in the early 1900s, aka the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, or M2C).

Why did they do this?

Because they honestly (and not unreasonably) believed M2C would help demonstrate the historicity of the Book of Mormon. They thought Joseph Smith taught that Mayan ruins in Central America were Nephite ruins because of anonymous editorials in the 1842 Times and Seasons, so they ran with it. They rationalized that a Mesoamerican setting precluded a New York Cumorah, so therefore the "real Cumorah" must be somewhere in Mexico. 

This includes BYU professors such as John Sorenson, Jack Welch, and Dan Peterson, as well as non-BYU people such as Scott Gordon and Kirk Magleby. All great guys, faithful Latter-day Saints, with good intentions and lots of support and encouragement from their students, readers, followers, and even some Church leaders. 

The problem is, they had to repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah to make M2C work.

[see maps below]

The M2C narrative thereby poisoned LDS intellectual thought in four ways (at least).

1. The M2C narrative--that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery ignorantly speculated about Book of Mormon geography and were wrong about Cumorah--opened the door to questioning other things they claimed as facts.

2. The M2C narrative established the principle that the "informed opinions" of credentialed intellectuals superseded the "uninformed opinions" of prophets.

3. The M2C narrative employs sophistry to repudiate not only the teachings of Joseph and Oliver about Cumorah, but also the plain declarations of both (i) their closest associates, including Lucy Mack Smith, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and others, and (ii) their successors including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.

4. The M2C narrative became so deeply entrenched in LDS thought that it gave rise to the citation cartel (FARMS, then Book of Mormon Central and the Interpreter, along with FAIRLDS). The M2C logo (see below) poisons innumerable books, videos, articles, and other media. The citation cartel enforces M2C to the point that now, few Latter-day Saints even know what the prophets have taught about Cumorah and many LDS "can't unsee" Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon. This cognitive rigidity plagues Latter-day Saints and facilitates attacks by critics.   

The M2C narrative poisoning seeped out of the geography context into other corners of Church history, prompting LDS intellectuals to challenge the claims of Joseph and Oliver regarding the translation itself.

Thus we end up with the recent embrace of SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory) that repudiates what Joseph and Oliver taught about the translation. Instead of learning what Joseph and Oliver taught, LDS students and converts learn what David Whitmer and Mormonism Unvailed taught.

These twin narratives--M2C and SITH--have poisoned the faith of many Latter-day Saints, who, sadly ignorant of the teachings of the prophets and how the evidence corroborates those teachings, easily succumb to the arguments of the critics who are delighted to amplify the poisonous narratives of M2C and SITH. 

Is there an antidote to this narrative poisoning?

The answer is obvious. 

Simply return to the simple, clear truths taught by Joseph and Oliver about Cumorah and the translation of the plates.


The M2C logo depicts a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon.

The M2C logo subliminally poisons everyone who watches the popular Come Follow Me Insights program, which Book of Mormon Central spends millions of dollars to produce and promote.


The history of M2C maps

L.E. Hills map, circa 1917

BYU Studies/Welch/Sorenson map, circa 1980s to present

BYU/Taylor Halverson and Tyler Griffin map, circa 2015 to present

Seminary and Institute map, circa 2000 to present

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