The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sympathy for unbelievers at BYU, FairMormon, etc.

One way to obtain consensus is through sympathy and understanding for opposing viewpoints.

We might think that most people, given the same information and background, would reach the same conclusions. However, our beliefs depend on the filters through which we perceive information. If you put on the filters of someone who has taught the Mesoamerican theory his/her entire life, you would probably see things the same way that person does.

It's extremely difficult to admit you have taught false theories to thousands of faithful Latter-day Saint youth.

But having done so, you have even greater responsibility to correct the mistake.

Especially when you're still teaching them!

I propose that a more sympathetic understanding of others' views could lead to a consensus, so long as people are willing to rethink their positions.

By now, it is well known that the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were wrong about Cumorah in New York.*

In other words, Mesomaniacs disbelieve what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII. That's why I refer to them as unbelievers.

"Unbelievers" in this context is not intended as a pejorative label. It's purely a description. And the promoters of the Mesoamerican setting don't disagree with it.

They openly admit they don't believe Letter VII.

I've outlined the history of Mesomania before, such as here, but today I want to emphasize that we should have sympathy and patience for the unbelievers among us.

Put yourself in their places. They have been teaching the Mesoamerican setting for decades. They have even ridiculed those who accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah. For example, John Sorenson, in his oft-quoted and admired book Mormon's Codex, goes so far as to say that what Joseph and Oliver taught is "manifestly absurd."

These faithful, well-meaning LDS scholars and educators have taught generations of Latter-day Saints to think the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. We should not criticize them for what has happened in the past. Indeed, we should be sympathetic and understanding. They thought they were doing the right thing, and their influence is pervasive.

But now they know better. 

Or at least most of them do.

They are experiencing cognitive dissonance, as I explained in this cartoon:

Mesomania scholar encounters Letter VII - h/t Scott Adams
We can be sympathetic and understanding regarding the past, and acknowledge the difficulty of dealing with cognitive dissonance.

But at this point, every time someone teaches the Mesoamerican theory (as well as the "abstract map" at BYU which teaches the Mesoamerican theory by applying the Mesoamerican interpretation of the text to a fantasy map), he or she is knowingly teaching LDS youth that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

I think it is inexcusable for anyone to continue teaching that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were wrong about Cumorah. 

And anyone who is teaching that the real Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is not in New York is teaching that Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

When fully informed, most LDS students, missionaries, and ordinary members side with Joseph and Oliver instead of our LDS scholars and educators who claim Joseph and Oliver were wrong.

The scholars know this. That's why they have refused to tell their students and readers about Letter VII and the related context.

If the scholars and educators who teach the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory want to continue to believe that theory, fine. If the people at FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, the InterpreterMeridian Magazine and the rest want to continue to believe Joseph and Oliver were wrong, fine.

But they should no longer impose that theory on their students.

And they should no longer suppress what Joseph and Oliver taught.

They should not seek to skirt the issue by using a fantasy map that incorporates the Mesoamerican interpretation of the text and shows Cumorah outside of the real-world New York.

Every LDS scholar and educator has, at a minimum, a duty of full disclosure.

They should tell their students about Letter VII and its historical context so students can make fully informed decisions. They should tell their students that all of Joseph's contemporaries, and all of his successors who have discussed the topic, including members of the First Presidency in General Conference, have affirmed that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

The Mesoamerican advocates can continue to say the prophets and apostles are wrong, but they should no longer hide the facts from their students.

*A basic tenet of Mesomania is that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church when they taught Cumorah was in New York. Instead, according to Mesomaniacs, there are "two Cumorahs." The "real Cumorah" is somewhere in Mexico. The one in New York was named by mistake out of ignorance and speculation by unknown early Church members (possibly Oliver Cowdery) and then Joseph Smith adopted this false tradition. Mesomaniacs think every prophet and apostle who has identified Cumorah as the hill in New York, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, were also wrong and therefore also misled the Church.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book of Mormon Day - Facts lead to consensus

I think the best way for all LDS people, scholars as well as non-scholars, to reach a consensus is to agree on basic facts from Church history. To accomplish this, I propose a short reading assignment. On Book of Mormon day, I propose that everyone read Letters IV, VII, and VIII. The links are at the end of this post.

It was 190 years ago today when Joseph Smith obtained the Harmony plates from Moroni's stone box in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

He had waited four years for this moment.

In 1823, Joseph had seen the plates, but he was not yet prepared to take them and begin the translation.

The night before, on September 21st, 1823, Moroni visited Joseph. Oliver Cowdery gave us the most detailed account of the visit. Joseph was praying after the rest of his family had fallen asleep.

Oliver wrote this in Letter IV:

"In this situation hours passed unnumbered-how many or how few I know not, neither is he able to inform me; but supposes it must have been eleven or twelve, and perhaps later, as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.-

"While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.-

"Indeed, to use his own description, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire....

"He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightened and intelligent people, possessing a cerrect [correct] knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption. He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother's privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain, and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."

Notice that Moroni told Joseph the history was written and deposited not far from Joseph's home. That means Mormon and Moroni were not far from Joseph's home when they abridged the Nephite records.

This makes sense because they were abridging the Nephite records, which were stored in the depository in New York, first in the hill Shim, and later in the hill Cumorah.

If you ask the unbelievers at FairMormon, of course, Oliver was wrong about Cumorah. But since Oliver got his information directly from Joseph, as the above quotations demonstrate, then Joseph was wrong. Or maybe Joseph misheard what Moroni said? 

Is that what FairMormon wants us to believe?

Or maybe now FairMormon wants us to believe that Moroni was wrong?

FairMormon doesn't want members of the Church to know what Oliver and Joseph taught about Cumorah in New York because it contradicts their two-Cumorahs/Mesoamerican dogma. 

Fortunately, members of the Church now have access to the original documents. We can all read these historical letters for ourselves, right out of Joseph's own history.

On this Book of Mormon day, I hope everyone reads Letters IV, VII, and VIII.

Here are the links:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Experts won't change their minds, but will you?

When there's a difference of opinions in a group, reaching consensus requires that one, some or all members of a group change those opinions.

Reaching consensus is difficult because changing one's opinion is so difficult. It's one of the most greatest psychological challenges humans face. It seems especially difficult for people who consider themselves experts.

Facts are largely irrelevant because people don't base their opinions on facts in the first place. Instead, we form opinions for social and psychological reasons.

I appeal to everyone interested in Book of Mormon geography to set aside the social and psychological factors and consider the long-term implications of whatever you believe.

I've called this the 3D or 3 dimensional approach because too much of the discussion has focused on two-dimensional semantics, thereby skirting the fundamental issue of whether or not we support and sustain what Joseph and Oliver so clearly taught.

I expect my appeal to be rejected by the main promoters of the Mesoamerican theory, the unbelieving experts at FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, and the rest, but I hope other members of the Church who have been influenced by these experts can reconsider their opinions openly and as objectively as possible.

One of the most common questions people ask me is why the "BYU experts" won't look at the evidence. I frequently hear from readers that they've asked the experts questions, only to be rebuffed and dismissed. Our LDS scholars and educators, by and large, refuse to engage with the discussion about Cumorah for basic psychological reasons that are well known.

It's the same reason why they won't ever allow a straightforward comparison of their Mesoamerican ideology with what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah, let alone with what I call Moroni's America.

I could write an entire book about the psychological issues involved. In fact, I did. It's called Mesomania. But that was a preliminary analysis, a brief overview, at best. There is a lot more going on here.

In this post, I'll touch on the "illusion of explanatory depth" and then propose a solution.

Here is an extract from an overview of some of the research in this area:

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. ... 

We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. 

[FWIW, I don't subscribe to this type of evolutionary psychology, but I'll save that discussion for another time.]

So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

If pressed about Cumorah, our LDS scholars and educators will explain (usually condescendingly) that the "real Cumorah" cannot be in New York because there are no volcanoes there and there is no evidence of millions of people living there, or of massive warfare on the hill. You will see this at FairMormon, for example.

This is a textbook case of the "illusion of explanatory depth." These explanations are based on false assumptions that have acquired an aura of "knowledge" because they were incorporated into the Encyclopedia of Mormonism and from there infiltrated Church media and curriculum. 

But as I've noted in hundreds of blog posts by now, the "explanation" is illusory.

There are no volcanoes in the Book of Mormon.

The text does not claim there were millions of people living around Cumorah.

And the final battles involved a few thousand people, not millions. Not even hundreds of thousands.

This is why our LDS experts and educators cannot engage on the facts. They think they have an explanation, but it is an illusion, borrowed from someone else, passed on from one generation to the next, mainly through BYU and CES.

The article continues:

As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration. 

[Note: I think the author of this article (but not the original studies) suffers from the very illusion of explanatory depth she writes about. The Trump Administration is forcing people across the spectrum to re-evaluate their opinions, and none of them like it, including this author, because they are realizing their opinions are not fact-based but are Groupthink that is driven by political agendas. This unintended irony doesn't detract from the article's main point about the psychology of changing opinions; instead, it's a great example of it.]

This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. 

In my opinion, the "community of knowledge" created by LDS scholars and educators who promote Mesoamerica has become dangerous to the faith of members of the Church, just as Joseph Fielding Smith said it would.

The article continues:

Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

This is where I think we would see a huge difference. If our LDS scholars and educators thought through the implications of their rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught, I think we could shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people's opinions about Book of Mormon geography.

Now, what is the solution?

Yesterday in Sunday School in the Manhattan Ward, we had an outstanding lesson about Church history. D&C 107 specifies that three quorums are "equal in authority" to one another: The Presidency of the Church (now called the First Presidency), which consists of 3 members; the Quorum of the 12; and the Seventy.

Verse 27 provides: "And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—"

As the numbers increase in any group, it is more difficult to get a unanimous decision. The First Presidency can reach a unanimous decision faster than the Quorum of the Twelve, which can reach a unanimous decision faster than an entire Quorum of the Seventy. Not that speed is the priority, but it's a practical reality in a fast-changing world.

So how do these groups of strong-willed, smart, and experienced people reach a consensus?

The revelation continues:

"30 The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

"31 Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord."

I think everyone involved with Book of Mormon geography would reach a consensus at least about the New York Cumorah if we could somehow follow the directions the Lord gave us in D&C 107. But that cannot happen when people are already convinced, because of the "illusion of explanatory depth," that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about Cumorah.