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, July 8, 2024

BMC's cognitive dissonance

All Latter-day Saints seek "no more contention." We all recognize that living and sharing the gospel is far more important than whether we agree on particular interpretations, theories, etc.

Yet BMC (the umbrella acronym for Book of Mormon Central, Scripture Central, ScripturePlus, etc.) continues to produce social media and other content that accentuates differences of opinion. They plant their social media with triggers that lead people ask me about the content. I usually ignore the BMC content because it's so repetitive, but when enough people ask me about it, I take a look. 

Lately, the cognitive dissonance BMC exhibits is becoming maybe worse than ever.

Let's discuss the latest content in the pursuit of clarity, charity and understanding.


Last week we saw Tyler Griffin's cognitive dissonance on display during his interview with Pastor Jeff.


The script for another media production by BMC's ScripturePlus is another example of BMC's cognitive dissonance.

Which very much resembles Tyler's cognitive dissonance.

This gives us an opportunity to specifically discuss the "Book of Mormon geography" meme.


The first thing to note is the content is from ScripturePlus.

For those who may not know what ScripturePlus is, it's a superfluous app developed by BMC that 

(i) directly competes with the Church's Gospel Library app (which, by focusing on scripture instead of narrative, is actually neutral on geography) and

(ii) adamantly promotes M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory that claims the "real Cumorah/Ramah" is somewhere in southern Mexico, as opposed to what they deem to be the "false tradition" that the hill in New York was the actual Cumorah/Ramah).

Featured M2C art from ScripturePlus

Now let's look at the script.


ScripturePlus July 5

The original transcript in blue, my comments in red.

I find it concerning that so many members of the church make Book of Mormon geography such a point of contention. 

As the host of the nomorecontention website, I fully agree with this concern. But the BMC script ignores on the source of the contention.

It's easy to eliminate contention when we value clarity, charity and understanding. But clarity seems to be the most difficult pursuit, so let's start with clarity in terminology.

Contention. We should point out that the term "contending" is often used in a pejorative sense to imply that "contention" is negative, counterproductive, etc. A common definition: "Contend means to compete for something or to claim something is true." Thus, we are commanded to contend:

Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech. (Doctrine and Covenants 112:5)

It is contention "with anger" (3 Ne. 11:29) that is problematic, and surely that's what BMC's script means. When people have different ideas, a collaborative discussion, exchange, or comparison is productive, not contentious. 

Ideally, we would all seek "no more contention" through understanding instead of seeking to convince or coerce. That's why we encourage, instead of resist, comparisons and cordial dialog. We wish every individual and group would seek such dialog and comparisons in the pursuit of understanding.  

Terminology. "Book of Mormon geography" has become a euphemism for avoiding the underlying topic of Cumorah. We saw Tyler avoid the topic, and now this BMC script is doing the same.

"Book of Mormon geography" is a hobby, basically. Lots of people have lots of ideas on the topic. To the extent anyone is "contending" about geography, it's an intellectual clash of egos that can be easily alleviated by simple comparisons, combined with the pursuit of understanding and informed decisions instead of the pursuit of conformity, compliance, deference to scholars, etc. 

It's possible that BMC was referring to the internal M2C contention about which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, etc. Maybe Tyler's fantasy map, which incorporates the basic M2C beliefs, is a way to mitigate or minimize the internal M2C contention. If so, that's none of my concern.

But given this script comes from BMC, it more likely is referring to the same differences that Tyler did; i.e., Heartlanders vs M2Cers. 

Ideally, to avoid contention, we would have collaborative discussions, exchanges, and comparisons among the different ideas. But the BMC script glides right over the reality that BMC refuses to provide or accommodate such comparisons. 

That's why, in this context, the term "Book of Mormon geography" is a red herring that obfuscates the specific topic of Cumorah.

Backdrop. In one production, they used a map of the world along with Tyler Griffin's BYU fantasy map, which is based on the M2C interpretation of the text. For a discussion of that, see the end of this post.

It’s not a matter of salvation. 

In a sense, this statement is axiomatic--or should be. But BMC does not treat the topic this way. 

The BMC problem. If BMC is really concerned about contention, they should start by changing the organization's methods.

Far from deeming "Book of Mormon geography" as unimportant, BMC spends millions of dollars to promote M2C.  M2C is embedded in Scripture Plus. BMC refuses to acknowledge alternative faithful interpretations that embrace, instead of repudiate, the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. If BMC didn't think the geography was so important, there's no justification for their obsession with M2C. 

And that gets to BMC's cognitive dissonance.

Like Tyler and BMC generally, this script fails to point out that to the extent there is "contention" it revolves around the credibility of the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

But even that is not really the source of contention. People can believe whatever they want. Some Latter-day Saints still believe what the prophets have taught; others don't. There's no reason for anyone to contend angrily about the topic. Everyone can simply own their beliefs. Live and let live.

The contention arises partly from the lack of clarity; i.e., the obfuscation generated by Tyler and other M2Cers who avoid clarity on the issue.

This is why the primary instigator of contention on this topic is BMC, including its management, employees, and donors. BMC insists that the prophets were wrong about Cumorah. The M2Cers have convinced themselves that (i) the Mesoamerican setting is the only permissible one and (ii) the "hill in New York" is too far away from Mesoamerica to be Cumorah/Ramah. 

In the memorable words of John Sorenson (co-founder of FARMS), 

"There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundred of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history." 

Mormon's Codex, p. 688.

BMC still adheres to this portrayal of the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. It should be obvious to every Latter-day Saint why some of us find that portrayal objectionable.

Most of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets don't feel a need to contend about it. We're fine with people believing whatever they want. But we also face the reality that BMC has set itself up as the "experts" on Book of Mormon and other scriptural topics, and we're frequently confronted by M2Cers who vociferously complain that we disagree with the scholars. And we also face the reality that BMC employees/affiliates publicly misrepresent what we believe.

[Note: It is a common motif for scholars to set themselves up as authorities. Think about the name Scripture Central. It declares itself the "center" for the scriptures, as if the Church (and the scriptures themselves) should not be the central source for studying the Gospel. And we can't forget the Interpreter, as if those scholars are the ones authorized to interpret the scriptures for the rest of us who are not part of the "credentialed class."] 

Contrary to their claims of neutrality, BMC still refuses to accommodate alternative faithful interpretations.

For more on BMC, see the end of this post.

To reiterate, if BMC sincerely seeks to eliminate contention, BMC (including Scripture Central and ScripturePlus) will:

1. Readily, openly, and unambiguously acknowledge that they reject, repudiate, and otherwise supplant the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah because those teachings contradict their own theories of Book of Mormon geography; and

2. Readily, openly and unambiguously acknowledge that other faithful Latter-day Saints can and do accept, embrace, and rely upon the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah, which they consider corroborated and supported by extrinsic evidence of anthropology, archaeology, geology, geography, etc.

We can all see that such changes at BMC would eliminate the source of all contention on this topic. 

It does not affect the truth claims of the church, or Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet. 

This framing skirts the issue. It's axiomatic that modern ideas about geography have no bearing on historical facts. But that's not the point.

We can all see that Oliver Cowdery, as Assistant President of the Church and with the assistance of Joseph Smith, declared it is a fact that the hill in New York is the Cumorah/Ramah of the Book of Mormon. By repudiating what he wrote, BMC is directly undermining the credibility of both Oliver and Joseph. 

Likewise, we can all see that Moroni told Joseph the record was "written and deposited not far from" Joseph's family home near Palmyra, that it was Moroni who told him the record was deposited in the "hill of Cumorah," etc. References.

The M2C cognitive dissonance arises from the inconsistency between these twin beliefs: 

(i) Joseph and Oliver were reliable, credible, and honest witnesses of the restoration but 

(ii) Joseph and Oliver misled the Church (and the world) about the New York Cumorah/Ramah (as well as the translation; i.e., SITH).

And the Church has made its position on Book of Mormon geography exceptionally clear. 

Here, BMC uses the term "Book of Mormon geography" to obfuscate the issue. The script proceeds to discuss "geography" without mentioning Cumorah, just as the article being quoted does.

In the earliest days of the Church, most members and leaders subscribed to what we call a hemispheric geography, meaning they supposed the Book of Mormon may have taken place all over the Americas, with central America acting as the “narrow neck” of land the text describes. 

By now I'm sure everyone can see how this is a red herring. While some Church authors wrote about the "hemispheric" geography, it was never stated as a fact. 

Even when Orson Pratt created the footnotes in the 1879 official edition of the Book of Mormon, he clearly differentiated between speculation (e.g., it is believed...) and fact (the Hill Cumorah is in New York). See https://www.mobom.org/orson-pratts-1879-footnotes

That distinction was always in effect. That's why people refer to "Book of Mormon geography" as a speculative topic separate from Cumorah, which is a topic the prophets have explicitly taught. 

It took time and serious study to determine that based on the text of the Book of Mormon, it had to have taken place in a much smaller geographical area. 

M2C theory: Joseph Smith studying Stephens and Catherwood instead of the plates
Here, BMC's cognitive dissonance is evident. First, because BMC has repudiated what Joseph and Oliver taught about the New York Cumorah/Ramah, here BMC implies that we can reject what they said because they lacked "time and serious study," as if their personal experiences were irrelevant.

Second, the "time and serious study" that led to M2C was the work of L.E. Hills, an RLDS scholar who published the first M2C map in 1917. (See his map below.) The work of John Sorenson, Jack Welch, and the rest of the M2Cers was derivative of Hills' work.

Third, the script frames M2C as a fact ("it had to have taken place"), not one of many theories. 

But even then, church members have always had a diversity of opinions and have never declared a single official Book of Mormon map. 

This is true regarding "Book of Mormon geography" but not regarding the New York Cumorah, which was taught from the outset and repeatedly reaffirmed. Once we clearly define terms, we can all see how this deflection works. 

In 1890 First Presidency member George Q. Cannon said that the First Presidency has never consented to make a map and no one in the Twelve would undertake to do so without further information. 

This is another axiomatic statement that everyone can, or should, agree with. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible Book of Mormon sites, not even counting those that have been long since destroyed, plowed over, etc. But again, it's irrelevant to the question of Cumorah. 

In 1920 the Church removed modern geographical references to the Americas that Orson Pratt had added in 1879 because the Church felt it could not present as demonstrable fact any map of Book of Mormon lands. 

Another red herring. The committee was led by Elder James Talmage, who, like other Church leaders, repeatedly taught that Cumorah was in New York. Knowing Cumorah/Ramah is in New York does not resolve the locations of other sites, so no reliable map can be constructed based on the text alone. Every map ever created is based on a series of assumptions about what the text means, not on any facts. The only clear, unambiguous fact taught by the prophets is the New York Cumorah/Ramah.

Previous and current church leaders continue to emphasize that while we can and should study the text of the Book of Mormon and form our own opinions, we should not present them as definitively true or inspired. 

Everyone involved with this discussion follows this advice regarding our own opinions. But the teachings of the prophets are not our own opinions.

The Church’s most recent statement says, 

Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, 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. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters. 

This is a 100% accurate and awesome statement that fully applies to personal theories; i.e., the question of "Book of Mormon geography." 

To the extent that is a topic of contention, we all agree it is more of a sport that no one should take too seriously, and certainly not as a question of truth vs error because it's based on assumptions.

But notice that the statement never mentions Cumorah. This reiterates and enforces the clear distinction between "Book of Mormon geography" and Cumorah.

After all, the First (initial) First Presidency wrote and endorsed Letter VII, and every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve who has ever publicly addressed the issue has reaffirmed the New York Cumorah/Ramah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference. 

Anything beyond the New York Cumorah/Ramah is "Book of Mormon geography" that consists of personal theories, as the statement clearly recognizes and we should all embrace.  

To dive in deeper on the Church’s history with Book of Mormon geography, read KnoWhy 739 at Scripture Central. 

Again with the reference to Scripture Central as the authority. 

Before reading KnoWhy 739, I can predict its content. But we already know that because it comes from BMC, the KnoWhy will (i) promote M2C and (ii) implicitly repudiate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah/Ramah without actually mentioning those teachings.

BTW, it's cool that the website kno-why.com, which is not affiliated with BMC, includes a mission statement that BMC would do well to emulate. I remain ever hopeful to see the day when BMC actually comes to believe in transparency and collaboration!

We believe in transparency and collaboration.

There are no “black-box” approaches to our work.  A lot of what we do is specialized and takes training to understand, and we will always work with you to make sure you see how things were done, why they were done that way, what the tradeoffs or limits might be, and what steps we took to address those limits.  Every process we engage in is open, and everything we produce is the result of a collaboration between us and our clients.   With this approach, our reports and findings remain useful and understandable long after the projects are completed. 

I'm also curious who BMC considers as its "clients." At least so far, BMC has rejected as "clients" all faithful Latter-day Saints who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the origin and setting of the Book of Mormon.

Hopefully that will change one day.


Okay, now let's look at KnoWhy 739, released just a few days ago.

Here's the link:


Actually, there's no need to read the whole thing. Just search for "Cumorah" and you'll see it's exactly what I predicted in this post.

It's all about "Book of Mormon geography" and never once explains or even cites the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah.

Instead, we get these two references.

Even the location of the Hill Cumorah, where the Jaredites and the Nephites were destroyed, was not considered a settled matter—certainly many assumed it was at the hill in New York, but at least one person proposed that it was in Honduras.[4]

[4] See “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor, New York, 7 March 1832; Plain Facts, [1887], 3, [5]. Plain Facts is the earliest published suggestion that the Hill Cumorah, traditionally assumed to be in New York, may have been in Central America.

This Kno-Why, like so many others, is an insult to our intelligence. 

Rather than quote or even cite the teachings of the prophets, the Kno-Why dismisses Cumorah by saying "many assumed it was at the hill in New York." 

It's beyond ridiculous, but it's consistent with the way some LDS historians violate their standards of professional ethics by refusing to cite, quote, or even address historical sources that contradict their theories.

Even the sole reference to Cumorah is laughable. The authors can't be bothered to give us a link so we can see the cited source in context, but it doesn't matter because we can all see it's absurd. 

In fact, if the article from 1887 accurately quotes the article from 1832, it should be obvious that when President Cowdery wrote Letter VII in 1835, specifically declaring it is a fact that Cumorah/Ramah is the hill in New York where Joseph obtained the plates, he was not only refuting the claim in Mormonism Unvailed that the Book of Mormon was fiction but was refuting this non-Mormon claim that Cumorah was in Honduras.

And yet, this Kno-Why passes for scholarship in some circles....


Additional material:

M2C background of BMC


From its inception, even going back to its predecessor at FARMS, BMC used a logo that represented the Book of Mormon with a Mayan glyph. Recently they changed the logo, but it still adorns their publications and some of their websites.

BMC's corporate owner, Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF.org) is a long-time Mesoamerican advocate that still hosts articles attacking alternative faithful interpretations.

BMC features a Spanish-language site that explicitly teaches M2C.

The fantasy map.

For one example of how the fantasy map uses the M2C definition, it portrays the "narrow neck" as an isthmus that connects continents and conflates the scriptural terms "narrow neck," "small neck," and "narrow neck of land." Other interpretations treat different terms as different features, and incorporate the ordinary usage in Joseph Smith's time, such as how George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others used the terms to describe local features.

The fantasy map portrays the Hill Cumorah/Ramah as being located along a seacoast in proximity to the isthmus that connects two continents; i.e., definitely not in New York.

Cumorah according to Tyler's fantasy map

Cumorah according to the CES map

Cumorah according to BYU Studies, BMC, and the rest of the M2Cers

The origin of M2C: the 1917 map by RLDS scholar L.E. Hills.

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