contention

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Persuasion, education, and argument

There's a big difference between trying to persuade people, trying to educate people, and trying to change minds by arguing with them.

Readers here know that I frequently declare that as far as I'm concerned, people can believe whatever they want. I don't want to persuade people because persuasion techniques can involve manipulating facts (especially by hiding or censoring unfavorable facts). Arguing with people is pointless because people naturally resist any effort to change their minds.

But people usually are eager to learn new things and make up their own minds.

That's why my objective is to enable and empower people through education and rational analysis so they can make their own informed decisions.




It's not a difficult distinction, but sometimes people who feel threatened by evidence that contradicts their beliefs conflate the concepts. 

For example, a while back a well-known LDS author/educator, former Mission President, etc., sent an email to his list claiming that I was lying to people when I said I wasn't trying to persuade anyone of anything. I had brought up facts that contradicted what he had been teaching for his entire career. Two people on his list forwarded his email to me. I contacted him, and he apologized, but he didn't send a follow-up to his list.

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I bring this up because I saw a nice article about the futility of arguing that readers here will enjoy. The author, a former professional boxer, makes some good points, although he unintentionally seems to justify a "closed-mind" approach to life, so I wouldn't read the article uncritically. 

Still, there are some thoughtful insights worth considering.

It's especially important to apply the concepts to ourselves. Are we the type of people for whom "the pain of ignorance is greater than the satisfaction of stubbornness," so what we are eager to improve our lives by readily accepting new information in a positive context, or are we more intent on confirming our biases regardless?

In the gospel context, I think more information is always better than less information. This is especially true for Church history issues, as we've discussed many times.

https://edlatimore.com/how-to-stop-arguing/

Excerpt:

No matter how well-crafted your argument…

No matter how many points you make that can’t be refuted…


No matter how painfully obvious it is that your stance on the matter is, practically speaking, the correct one…


You will never convince someone who isn’t interested in being convinced.


Occasionally you may come across the rare individual who changes their mind in the face of new evidence, but these types of people go into a situation with an open mind and loosely held beliefs. Maybe calling their beliefs “loosely held” isn’t quite correct.


It’s more accurate to say that they realize they could be completely incorrect and for these people, the pain of ignorance is greater than the satisfaction of stubbornness.


The longer it takes you to realize that most people are never going to change their minds, the longer it will take you to thrive in this environment.


Until you get this, you will spend your days raging on the internet and debating in person over things that not only don’t matter, but even if they did, there’s nothing you can do about them and no prize you win for convincing the opposition otherwise.


The end.



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Translation and "anachronisms"

In the Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith declared that "With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God."
(Times and Seasons III.9:707 ¶5–6)

We might think this is one basic idea believers in the Book of Mormon could unite around. 

Certainly during Joseph's lifetime, people did unite on this issue.

But not lately.

Intellectuals in the Church are telling us that Joseph didn't really use the Urim and Thummim, didn't really use the plates, and didn't really translate anything. Instead, according to them, Joseph merely read words that appeared on a seer stone he put in a hat (or read words that appeared in vision). They're trying to persuade us that the "actual translator" was some unknown supernatural being who, inexplicably, used Early Modern English combined with early 1800s expressions, complete with anachronisms that critics have long claimed are evidence of 19th century composition.

Nevertheless, many of us Latter-day Saints still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught about the translation.

Some critics claim that dictating a text from a vision (or from words that appeared on a stone) is equivalent to a composition, and this explains the anachronisms.

It shouldn't be difficult for critics (and the LDS intellectuals who agree with them) to understand that the same evidence they cite to show modern composition is also evidence of modern translation. 

Every translator draws from the words, phrases, and concepts in his/her own mind. A translator could do nothing else. I call this the mental language bank, an analogy to the way banks work. We can only withdraw from a bank account the money that we first deposited. That's why, as we learn new vocabulary and concepts, we can incorporate them into our own expressions. 

It's a simple concept that corroborates Joseph's claim that he translated the plates.
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Related to that is the purpose for anachronisms; i.e., a translator seeks to make the original material accessible to his/her contemporaries. 

I doubt anyone believes that Nephites between 600 BC and 400 AD spoke (or thought) in King James English. If the Book of Mormon were re-translated today, it would surely read much differently than the way Joseph translated it in 1829. 

Brigham Young explained that the scriptures reflect the language of the prophets through whom they are revealed.

When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiffnecked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to rewrite the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be rewritten, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiffnecked, the Lord can tell them but little. (emphasis added)[1]

[1] Brigham Young, “The Kingdom of God,” JD 9:311, July 13, 1862 

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A good example of this is the way artists have depicted Biblical events in their own cultural context. 

Here's an example from circa 1603, when Caravaggio depicted the "Sacrifice of Isaac."



A commentator noted that "In the background is a hilly, Mediterranean landscape, with small roads and farm animals, and a small village.... In the past, this work has also been subject to a symbolic interpretation according to which the building on the hill is a church with baptistery, a reference to the future birth of the Catholic church, while the light diffused over the backdrop, symbolises the light of divine grace." 

Another example is The Calling of Saint Matthew, also by Caravaggio  (1599-1600), now in the
Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.



Here, Christ calls Saint Matthew to be an apostle, but instead of ancient Palestine, the scene is set in a 17th century Roman tavern. This anachronism presumably made the event more relatable to viewers in Caravaggio's day.

Based on his own testimony and surrounding circumstances, we can see that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon "after the manner of his language," drawing on the Christian vocabulary, phrases and concepts he had learned his entire life. He translated the ancient plates in a manner that made it accessible and understandable to his contemporaries.

What about this is so difficult to understand and accept?

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Reaching consensus with incomplete facts?

One way to reach consensus should be to at least have everyone deal with the same facts, including all the relevant facts, so we can all make informed decisions. That seems axiomatic, but it's not the situation we face.

It's one thing to consider alternative interpretations of the facts, but it's entirely different to consider alternative interpretations based on different facts. It's difficult, if not impossible, to reach consensus on any topic when we can't all use the same facts. 

For example, on the issue of Cumorah, most Latter-day Saints don't even know that Lucy Mack Smith reported that during his first visit to Joseph Smith, Moroni identified the hill where the plates were as "Cumorah." This explains all the other references to Cumorah in early Church history. But people don't know about it because our scholars have decided that Cumorah should be erased from the historical record, as it was in the Saints book, volume 1.

We have a similar situation with the translation issue. It continues to amaze me that the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon translation has not been corrected.

The contrast with another essay, written in 1996 by Delbert D. Smith (link below), is stark.

The Gospel Topics Essay concludes that Joseph didn't really translate anything but just read words that appeared on a stone in a hat. 

The other essay, which actually quotes what Joseph and Oliver said, concludes Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.

See for yourself.

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The Gospel Topics Essay is found here:

Book of Mormon Translation (churchofjesuschrist.org)

The essay doesn't even quote what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation. Instead, it quotes and cites everyone else, including the scholars who apparently wrote the essay.

For example, the essay quotes from Joseph Smith-History, Note 1, here:

Of his experience as scribe, Cowdery wrote, “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven.”7

That fits with the theory that Joseph never actually translated anything, but instead merely read words that appeared on the seer stone in the hat (or that he saw in vision).

Now, look at what the essay omits (the part in bold below).

“These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’

(Joseph Smith—History, Note, 1)

By omitting Oliver's specific statement that Joseph "translated with the Urim and Thummim," the essay misleads readers into concluding Joseph never actually translated anything but merely read words off a seer stone.

Worse, the essay proceeds to falsely attribute to Joseph Smith the claim that he produced the Book of Mormon with a seer stone.

Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. 

The essay gives no example (and I know of none) of Joseph "writing" of "two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon." Nor are there any such statements from Oliver Cowdery or John or Christian Whitmer, the only people whose handwriting appears on the part of the Original Manuscript we now have.

Every statement we do have from Joseph and Oliver affirm that Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim. But none of those statements are quoted in the essay.

Instead of quoting Joseph and his scribes, as promised, the essay quotes "witnesses of the translation." But these are people who were not scribes for the Book of Mormon we have now (except probably Emma, assuming she wrote part or all of Mosiah and part of 2 Nephi, for which the Original Manuscript does not exist).

According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates.16 

The only basis for claiming that these people were "witnesses of the translation" was their own claim that they witnessed a translation. None of them recorded what Joseph actually dictated during the event. None of them quoted Joseph saying he was translation. 

The evidence leads me to conclude that they witnessed a demonstration, not the actual translation, but that's not the point here.

The point: this "Gospel Topics Essay" doesn't quote what Joseph and Oliver said, let alone accept what they said.

Here's an incredible example:

As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure.19 As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture.20

This states as fact the mere speculations of scholars, as you can see in the footnotes. Assuming Joseph wrote the answer in the Elder's Journal, he said he was paid to dig for money, not that he "used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure."

Then, look at this passage in the essay:

Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters. These two instruments—the interpreters and the seer stone—were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters.21

The word "apparently" applies only to "for convenience" and "interchangeable," as if it is a given fact that "Joseph often translated with the single seer stone." 

Then, look at this one:

Latter-day Saints later understood the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer exclusively to the interpreters. Joseph Smith and others, however, seem to have understood the term more as a descriptive category of instruments for obtaining divine revelations and less as the name of a specific instrument.

"Seem to have understood" is pure academic speculation that contradicts the plain words Joseph and Oliver used. Plus, it contradicts the narrative in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. None of these passages are quoted in the essay.

those writings which you had power given unto you to translate by the means of the Urim and Thummim (Doctrine and Covenants 10:1)

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book. (Joseph Smith—History 1:35)

immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them,
(Joseph Smith—History 1:62)

If anything, Latter-day Saints later came to understand the term to apply to both instruments purely because modern revisionist historians have interpreted the evidence that way. But when Oliver wrote the essay that is excerpted in Joseph Smith-History, Note 1, he was responding to Mormonism Unvailed, which clearly distinguished between the "peep stone" and the Urim and Thummim as alternative explanations for the Book of Mormon. 

To now say that Oliver meant to say that Joseph used both the "peep stone" and the Nephite interpreters defies the plain language he and Joseph always used.

Look at this paragraph:

In the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith wrote: “I would inform you that I translated [the book], by the gift and power of God.” When pressed for specifics about the process of translation, Joseph repeated on several occasions that it had been done “by the gift and power of God”24 and once added, “It was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon.”25

You might wonder why they quoted the preface to the 1830 edition that was deleted from subsequent editions. That's because Joseph didn't mention the Urim and Thummim on that one occasion. 

Other times when he or Oliver wrote or spoke about the translation, they did mention the Urim and Thummim, but you would never know that from this essay (or from the Saints book, volume 1). You can see these examples in the Delbert Smith essay below, but here's an example from the well-known Wentworth letter:

"Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God."

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/times-and-seasons-1-march-1842/5

An editorial in the Times and Seasons mentioned what an LDS missionary taught in 1842. "the Book of Mormon had come forth as an “ensign to the nations,” containing an account of the gospel in much plainness, being translated by the gift and power of God by the use of the Urim and Thummim, that had come forth with the plates that contain the record." 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/times-and-seasons-1-september-1842/6

Fortunately, the essay does at least include two accounts of what Oliver taught.

The principal scribe, Oliver Cowdery, testified under oath in 1831 that Joseph Smith “found with the plates, from which he translated his book, two transparent stones, resembling glass, set in silver bows. That by looking through these, he was able to read in English, the reformed Egyptian characters, which were engraved on the plates.”31 In the fall of 1830, Cowdery visited Union Village, Ohio, and spoke about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, a village resident reported that the translation was accomplished by means of “two transparent stones in the form of spectacles thro which the translator looked on the engraving.”32

Both of those describe the Urim and Thummim, although the essay doesn't acknowledge that. 

However, omitting the relevant portion from Joseph Smith-History, Note 1, as well as Oliver's testimony when he returned to the Church, leaves readers ignorant of what Oliver actually taught about the Urim and Thummim.

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By contrast, here's an analysis of the translation that focuses on what Joseph and Oliver actually said. It concludes that Joseph actually translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim that came with the plates.

https://nebula.wsimg.com/98ba68c3cdab037ea56b9b6ad99c15a3?AccessKeyId=AA525AED21BB7CA23BE6&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

opening a new system

 Fascinating observation here:

Here's another of his teachings, and it explains a lot:

"From the journal of Oliver B. Huntington, referring to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

"I heard him say that he hoped the spirit of invention and improvement would rest upon the Saints, as it was upon the Gentiles, for unless it did there would many useful and important inventions be lost to the world when the great destruction of nations comes. It would then probably take hundreds of years to reproduce them again among men; yes, and perhaps thousands of years before they would get back upon the earth.

It has been and will be the case that a man who develops or opens a new system for the benefit of his fellow man or mankind will meet with the opposition and enmity of the very people he is seeking to bless and improve. "It is the same," he said, "with men whom God inspires to make inventions, improvements and discoveries for the improvement of man generally, geographically or classic. They will be opposed and persecuted by the ones their works are designed to benefit and bless. Satan will oppose everything that God introduces among men for the purpose of elevating and improving His children."

Oliver B. Huntington, "Sayings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Young Woman's Journal 4, no. 7 (April 1893): 321.




Monday, March 15, 2021

The happiest people

Great reminder for people of all ages:


 President Ballard promised the commenter, and all the young adults, that the Lord would see them through whatever challenges are ahead of them.

“I look at every day as a great new challenge, a great new opportunity to do something worthwhile. I think you just lock in your minds to do the best you can. The Lord doesn’t expect you to be superhuman, Superman, Superwoman. He just wants you to be good. He wants you to be kind with each other.”

The happiest people are the people who take life a day at a time, said President Ballad, promising the young people that this is a time of preparation. “Look for something every day that will teach you something that will make you better for tomorrow,” he said.

Concluding he asked the congregation to love the gospel. “Love being a member of the Church. Love the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart. Look to heaven for guidance. Trust in the promptings of the Spirit.”

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2021-03-08/president-ballard-sister-eubank-elder-nielson-promise-a-future-filled-with-hope-and-light-206086


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The "Become" page

This is one of the best resources I've seen. If you're involved with missionary or reactivation work, consider using this website:

https://become.comeuntochrist.org/present 

There are some quirks in the interface, especially if you're using a computer instead of a phone/tablet, but the path metaphor is effective.

Here's how twitter introduced it:


When it comes to developing your spirituality, it can be hard to know where to begin. The Become experience helps you grow through simple, engaging activities. Visit Become.org to get started. #ComeUntoChrist




Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Blair Hodges and the Maxwell Institute

I've mentioned before the Blair Hodges is one of the best, if not the best, podcast interviewers anywhere. If you haven't been listening to the Maxwell Institute podcasts, you've missed some wonderful content.

https://mi.byu.edu/mipodcast/

Blair announced he had taken a new job. He will be greatly missed at the Maxwell Institute, but I'm sure he'll do a fantastic job in his new position.

I've been hired as the Director of Communications at the Utah chapter of Volunteers of America. Focusing on homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. I'll deeply miss my work and friends at the Maxwell Institute but after seven years I'm ready for more challenges!

https://twitter.com/LifeOnaPlate/status/1366914678471942148