Sunday, October 30, 2016

We Aren’t God’s Only People

There's an awesome article on the splash page of lds.org right now at this link:

https://www.lds.org/blog/advice-for-the-younger-missionary-me-we-arent-gods-only-people?cid=HP_TH_27-10-2016_dOCS_fBLOG_xLIDyL2-3_

The author, Samuel B. Hislop, writes about "cultivating "holy envy" for other faiths," noting the contributions of other faiths to our understanding of God. He writes,

"My life’s journey has directed my gaze outward to learn from the leaders and followers of other faiths. I’ve come to appreciate what Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl (1921–2008) called “holy envy”—the ability to admire elements and teachings in other faiths. Our fellow believers see things differently and don’t express their views in the same way we do, and I often find great value in this."

I highly recommend the article. It led me to a thought relevant to Book of Mormon consensus.
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Brother Hislop quotes this:

“When we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free. … This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to and practice” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 345–46).

Those pages are in the chapter in the manual titled "Living with Others in Peace and Harmony." You can find it here. It is an extract from a letter Joseph wrote to Gen. James Arlington Bennet. Eliza R.Snow copied the letter into Joseph's journal. The citation is History of the Church, 5:156, which you can find here. Or, you can read the original source in the Joseph Smith Papers, here.

[Historical note: For those interested in Church history, the link to JSP starts with the famous objection by Gen. James Arlington Bennet to the name of the other Nauvoo newspaper, the Wasp. Bennet wrote, "Mildness should characterise every thing that comes from Nauvoo..." Then he adds, "My respects to your brother its Editor." Those of you who have read The Lost City of Zarahemla know how this is important.]
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Here is the entire section of Joseph's letter to Gen. Bennet, dated September 8th, 1842:

You speak also of Elder Lucian Foster, President of the Church in New-York, in high terms: and of Dr. John Bernhisel of New-York. These men I am acquainted with by information; and it warms my heart, to know that you speak well of them; and as you say, could be willing to associate with them forever, if you never joined their church, or acknowledged their faith. 

This is a good principle; for when we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free; possessing unalienable rights, and the high, and noble qualifications of the laws of nature and of self-preservation; to think, and act, and say as they please; while they maintain a due respect to the rights and privileges of all other creatures; infringing upon none. 

This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to, and practice; the testimony of mean men, to the contrary, notwithstanding. But Sir, I will assure you, that my soul soars far above all the mean and grovelling dispositions of men that are dispos’d to abuse me and my character; I therefore shall not dwell upon that subject.

In relation to those men you speak of, referred to above; I will only say that there are thousands of such men in this church; who, if a man is found worthy to associate with, will call down the envy of a mean world, because of their high and noble demeanor; and it is with unspeakable delight that I contemplate them as my friends & brethren. I love them with a perfect love; and I hope they love me, and have no reason to doubt but they do.
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I hope this is the spirit in which we all view one another as we work through the various issues related to Book of Mormon historicity/geography and, one day, reach a consensus that will enable us to flood the Earth with the Book of Mormon like never before.



Friday, October 28, 2016

A thought experiment

A lot of people, not just LDS scholars and educators but ordinary members of the Church, are emotionally attached to their ideas about Book of Mormon geography. I empathize because I felt the same way for decades about the Mesoamerican theory.

So here's a thought experiment to consider.

First, set aside your preconceptions. Thought experiments don't work if our minds are cluttered. We need to start with a blank slate.

Second, pretend for a moment that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith knew that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 was the same hill where Joseph obtained the plates; i.e., the hill in New York near his home. 

Maybe they knew because they had visited Mormon's records repository in the hill, as they told Brigham Young and others.

Maybe they knew because Moroni told them. 

Or maybe they had a revelation about it. After all, they were both apostles. Joseph was President and Oliver Assistant President of the Church. They didn't record everything they knew, as we know from Joseph Smith-History, 1:73-4:

 73 Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.

 74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of
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Continuing with this thought experiment, if Cumorah is in New York, does the rest of the description in the text fit?

Step 3 in the experiment is to see if you can work it out.

Again, throw out all your preconceptions and re-read the text.

I realize that because of Mesomania it's nearly impossible to jettison the maps and illustrations you've seen your whole life, but try. 

You might be surprised at what you discover.
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The irony of this thought experiment is that it shouldn't really be an experiment at all. Latter-day Saints believe everything Joseph and Oliver told us except for what they wrote in Letter VII. We write entire books about one-off statements recorded in someone's journal, such as the "most correct book" comment that wasn't even a quotation. 

But unlike these one-off statements, Oliver's letters, including Letter VII, have been republished multiple times. LDS scholars and educators accept everything in them except what they wrote about the Hill Cumorah.

If you know the explanation for that, you'll figure this out soon enough.
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One stumbling block for some scholars is that Joseph didn't identify the hill as Cumorah in Joseph Smith-History. There's a good reason why he might have chosen not to, but the objection assumes Joseph wrote the history in the first place.

He did not.

At most, he read it. We don't even know if he made corrections to it, but we assume he approved it on some level.

See if you can think of a reason or two he might not have named the hill in that history.





Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thoughts on contention

NOTE: I posted this comment on the other blog, but it's important enough to reproduce it here.

The topic of Book of Mormon geography can raise differences among people. Let's take it as a given that most people say they want to avoid contention, argument, debate, etc. This applies to their work, family, church, recreation, and other activities.

Jude describes what we should contend for:

Jude 1:3
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

That's the kind of contention that I've tried to conduct on this blog, my other blogs, and my articles and books.

Then there is another kind of contention that I seek to avoid:

3 Nephi 11:29-30
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
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Based on these and other passages, IMO it is important to contend for the faith and what is right, but it's just as important to do so without anger. 

Readers of this blog know that I think it's fun to have these exchanges. It's definitely frustrating that this whole thing about Cumorah not being in New York has gone on for so long, perpetuated by LDS scholars and educators, but there's no reason to get angry about it.

What's done is done.

It's up to us to take the initiative to fix it, all without anger. .

And we can focus on the meaning of the text and it's origin, making us all better people.

So when I write a piece titled "Fun with..." I mean that. There's no anger. We can all enjoy the discussion and hopefully move toward the day when we'll all see eye-to-eye.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon

In October 1988, President Benson gave the famous address titled "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon." Here's a link: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1988/10/flooding-the-earth-with-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

It's hard to believe that was 28 years ago. A lot of progress has been made, for sure. But there remain obstacles.

Among other things, he said,

"I challenge all of us to prayerfully consider steps that we can personally take to bring this new witness for Christ more fully into our own lives and into a world that so desperately needs it."

Many members of the Church are doing their part to make this happen. I believe the LDS scholars and educators are doing their part in many ways, but there is an enormous impediment, IMO. It's one I've had to deal with for years.

By continuing to promote the Mesoamerican setting (or an abstract setting), LDS scholars and educators are causing members to become confused and disturbed in their faith. 

For many people, the message of the Book of Mormon is powerful enough to overcome this confusion. But for others, the confusion distracts from that message and leads to the loss of faith we've been warned about.

I don't see how we can realize the vision President Benson set forth as long as our scholars and educators insist our prophets and apostles are wrong about something as basic as the Hill Cumorah in New York.

It's not that geography, by itself, is the stumbling block. Instead, the problem is the inconsistency of claiming to support the prophets and apostles, while also saying their firm, consistent, declarative statements on this issue, spanning over 150 years, are wrong.

Mesomania causes confusion to every investigator who sees the artwork depicting jungles, Mayans, and stone pyramids, and then reads the text only to discover none of these things are in there. It's the disparity between raised expectations and reality that impedes acceptance of the Book of Mormon. That same disparity leads once faithful members to question, and in too many cases, lose their faith.

IMO, we won't be flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon until we reach unity in understanding it, which means reaching unity in supporting what the prophets and apostles have said from the beginning about the location of Cumorah.

Cumorah was important enough for Mormon and Moroni to mention it by name. It's the touchstone between the ancient past and the here and now. It's the pin in the map that tells us the location of the promised land, the covenant nation, the Lamanites whose promises are yet to be fulfilled, and so much more.

I urge all LDS scholars and educators, as well as students, to reconsider your views on this point. If you don't accept the New York location of Cumorah, ask yourself why not. Then ask yourself again. And again.

The answer might surprise you.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Mesoamerican memo on Letter VII: Oliver is a liar

I'm still hopeful that all LDS scholars and educators can reach consensus that the Hill Cumorah is in New York, but it hasn't happened yet. The nanosecond these scholars and educators reach consensus on this point, I'll stop blogging about it and move onto some other great stuff.

But from all indications, we're a long ways from consensus that the Cumorah if Mormon 6:6 is in New York.

No one at BYU or in CES teaches about Letter VII. Most of the faculty has never heard of it. No lesson manuals mention it, etc.*

Consequently, Latter-Day Saints around the world are kept in the dark about what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote about the Hill Cumorah.

It's unbelievable.

Fortunately, thousands of Latter-Day Saints are discovering and sharing Letter VII, and the momentum is just getting started.

It appears that the scholars are hoping no one notices, but they've come up with a new approach..
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Apparently a memo has gone out about Letter VII.

[Whether this is a literal or figurative memo doesn't matter for this discussion.]

The way the Mesoamerican advocates (and other advocates of a non-New York Cumorah such as the Baja group) plan to deal with Letter VII is by characterizing it as a "secondary source."

This is awesome, and here's why.

The "secondary source" label seeks to undermine the credibility and reliability of Letter VII and its author, Oliver Cowdery.

Letter VII is obviously a huge problem for LDS scholars and educators who reject the New York setting. When they take the position that Oliver Cowdery was speculating about Cumorah, they are really calling him a liar because he wrote it was a fact that the final battles were here. Those are his words. "A fact."

In other parts of his letters, Oliver made it clear that he was speculating, such as about how deep Moroni buried the stone box. But when it came to Cumorah in New York, he said it was a fact. If you're speculating,and you're honest, you don't explicitly characterize your speculation as a fact. (You might make an argument by stating this or that happened as an assertion, but that's different from specifically labeling your assertion as a fact.)

And if you're Joseph Smith, you don't have a false statement of fact republished multiple times so all the Saints can read it.

As I've pointed out before, there are two basic groups of people who claim Oliver Cowdery was a liar: anti-Mormons and Mesoamerican proponents.

So now, apparently, Mesoamerican proponents are trying to avoid this dilemma by calling Letter VII a "secondary source." It's not clear what they mean by this, but I'll assume they mean that Letter VII was not signed by Joseph Smith (although they characterize him as a secondary source, too).

But if that's their criteria, then they are in an even worse position because there is not a single document that can be directly attributed to Joseph that links the Book of Mormon to Central America.
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Let's think about what a secondary source is. Here's a standard definition:

"a secondary source of information is one that was created later by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you’re researching."

Now, we could say that any source who was not present during the last battles of the Jaredites or Nephites is secondary. In that sense, Mormon and Moroni are secondary sources for the Jaredite wars. But they were primary sources for the Nephite wars, and Mormon said he buried the records in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

This analysis means there can be no modern primary sources, because the wars happened a long time ago. To have a primary source, we would have to have Moroni testifying in court or on television.

Or, we could consider that Joseph and Oliver experienced first-hand and participated in the events about which they wrote. This includes viewing the plates, their experiences with John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and the Lord Himself.

Presumably, as faithful LDS we can all agree that Oliver wrote the truth about these events. I'll assume we have a consensus on these points.

IOW, I think everyone can agree that Oliver's letters are primary sources for these events, whether because he was actually present or because he was co-writing with Joseph on the events that Joseph experienced on his own.

Now, why do the Mesoamerican proponents characterize Letter VII as a "secondary source" on the question of Cumorah?

Because they insist Oliver Cowdery was a liar. Either that, or Brigham Young was a liar. Or both.

Brigham Young explained on multiple occasions that Oliver and Joseph visited the records repository in the Hill Cumorah. Obviously, Brigham wasn't there; he hadn't even joined the Church at that point. But he said Oliver told him about it.

The Mesoamerican proponents have insisted for years that either Oliver or Brigham were lying about this.

Think about that for a moment.

It should be obvious why they have to call Oliver and/or Brigham liars, because if Brigham was telling the truth, and Oliver was telling the truth, then that makes Oliver's Letter VII a first-hand account; i.e., Oliver (and Joseph) experienced first-hand the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

So the only way to transform Letter VII into a second-hand account is to claim Oliver Cowdery is a liar, and they're back to the same problem they had before they decided to reject Letter VII as a secondary account.

They're calling Oliver a liar.
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The secondary account argument is also problematic because Joseph embraced it as part of his own history and had it reprinted multiple times so all the Saints could read it.

Yes, you read that right. The Mesoamerican proponents have Joseph Smith directing his scribes to copy lies into his own history.

Now you see why Joseph Fielding Smith said this "two Cumorahs" theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith.

There are very few examples in Church history of specific writings that are republished multiple times.

Think of it this way. By 1844, Letter VII was printed in four separate Church-related publications, in addition to Joseph's own history. By contrast, the Book of Abraham was published once in the Times and Seasons.  If you were a member of the Church in 1844, you were more likely to have read Letter VII than the Book of Abraham.
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*If I'm wrong about that, I'd like a representative from BYU and/or CES to so indicate in a comment here, or email me. In fact, I have an open invitation for any BYU professor or CES educator to let me know if they have even heard of Letter VII before, or if they've read it, or if they teach it to their students. So far, I've had only people who have retired from those institutions tell me they embrace Letter VII.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Consensus on Cumorah

Although there are plenty of criticisms of the idea of consensus, I still believe consensus is important.

I also believe that scholars, leaders, and members of the Church will reach consensus about Book of Mormon geography.

Eventually.

But why wait? 

We can reach consensus right now about the location of Cumorah in Mormon 6:6.

This should be easy.

But apparently it's not because it hasn't happened yet.
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The process may be driven by any of three main groups.

If enough members of the Church become educated on the topic, such as by reading Letter VII, that will eventually lead to consensus. Church leaders could encourage consensus by focusing on this topic. And the scholars could promote consensus by rejecting the false two-Cumorahs theory.

At this point, I think the driving force will be the members. 

It is the members of the Church who, on a daily basis, confront the issue. They have to decide what to teach their children, and the current confusion that reigns is uncomfortable at best and ultimately unacceptable. People are dealing with their cognitive dissonance by ignoring the implications (and by insisting a spiritual witness is all that matters), but that's a short-term response that is ultimately counterproductive for many people (and the vast majority of investigators).

For some people, the spiritual witness is sufficient. But let's get real. After all, every religion is based on a spiritual witness of its holy books and teachings. Ask any believing Christian, Muslim, or Hindu if they have a spiritual witness. Or just read 2 Nephi 29:12.

The Book of Mormon is uniquely true because of its historicity, not in spite of it.

If members are involved in reactivation or missionary work in any way, they know the two-Cumorahs theory is a common tool used by the opposition (whether anti-Mormon or former Mormon). I've had investigators tell me that of course they will get a spiritual witness by praying about the Book of Mormon because it contains so many quotations from the Bible, but they say that doesn't mean the parts that aren't quoting from the Bible are true. If we can't explain where the events took place--if we can't even agree among ourselves where they took place--if we don't even accept what Joseph and Oliver had to say about it--why should they accept the non-Biblical parts of the Book of Mormon?

Anyone with Internet access and curiosity about the Book of Mormon learns quickly that LDS scholars formally repudiate what Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer said about Cumorah.

How do you think that goes over with investigators?

Or even young adults in the Church?

Or the inactive people on your home/visiting teaching lists?

When the illustrations in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon themselves falsely promise a narrative of jungles, pyramids, and Mayans that appear nowhere in the text, we should all recognize we have a major problem.
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In my view, LDS scholars undermine the otherwise good work they do when they continue to insist that:

1) Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery didn't know what they were talking about regarding Cumorah,

2) Joseph and Oliver speculated about (and thereby deceived) all of their contemporaries when they collaborated on Letter VII.

3) David Whitmer provided false testimony later in his life.

4) Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball and others related false accounts of the records repository in the New York hill.
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All of these problems and more would be eliminated if we could simply reach consensus that Joseph and Oliver and their contemporaries were correct about Cumorah in New York.

The debate about the extent of Nephite territory beyond the New York Cumorah can continue, of course. People can propose that Zarahemla is in New York, Iowa, Louisiana, or even southern Mexico, Baja, or Quirigua for all I care.

But that debate doesn't undermine the credibility and reliability of the founders of the Church.

So how about it? Can we at least agree on the New York Cumorah?