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

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Hanna Seriac and disinformation

In a recent edition of Religious Dispatches, Hanna Seriac has published an astonishingly polemical article about the Heartland model of Book of Mormon geography. She employs logical and factual fallacies to paint a large segment of Latter-day Saints, with diverse backgrounds and nationalities living around the world, as an undesirable collection of deplorables. 

On Twitter, Hanna wrote:

If there is one thing that I could share with all of you, it is that I know that Jesus Christ lives and that the Book of Mormon has taught me more about Jesus Christ than any other book. I wish I could share that truth with everyone.

Undoubtedly, Hanna is a lovely person and a fine scholar, but readers of her article in Religious Dispatches could reasonably conclude that her approach to other faithful Latter-day Saints falls short of ideal. 

It's also possible that this article is an outlier. We can assume/hope that her other work reaches a higher standard of credibility and clear thinking than this article does.

Hanna is a prolific contributor to Fairlatterdaysaints.org, (FAIRLDS) an organization dedicated to promoting M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory of Book of Mormon geography). For many years, FAIRLDS has not only strongly advocated M2C, but has stridently opposed the Heartland model. 

Given Hanna's association with FAIRLDS, her animus toward the Heartland model is to be expected. The degree of vitriol and misinformation in this article may be surprising to some readers, but those who have followed FAIRLDS and its affiliated organizations in the M2C citation cartel, the Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, will not be surprised.

We've come to expect this type of rhetoric from the cartel. Fair-minded readers can see for themselves how the cartel operates. 

Observers of the cartel have long noticed that, while the intellectuals who founded and operate the various facades of the cartel claim to uphold the highest standards of scholarship, it is only the Heartlanders who encourage everyone to make fully informed decisions by considering all the facts and multiple working hypotheses. 

Fully informed readers are a serious risk to the cartel, however. Hanna's article is yet more evidence that the Heartlanders are over the target, and the cartel knows it.

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Hanna's background with FAIRLDS: 

https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/category/podcast/hosts/hanna-seariac 

One of Hanna's most ironic contributions, in light of her article in Religious Dispatches, is her two-part commentary on "How to Be an Apologist." Part 2 is described this way: "Let’s talk for a moment about the other side of apologetics: positive apologetics. Defend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proactively, not just reactively."

https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/2020/08/06/fair-voice-podcast-7-short-how-to-be-an-apologist-pt-2

The Part 1 description includes Hanna's apology for being misinformed. 

So you want to defend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Noble cause, worthy effort, totally worth your time– here’s a basic beginner’s guide on how to get started.

Note of correction (6 minute mark): It has been brought to my attention that those who I was referring to do not have an association with MRM. I apologize for my error, I was misinformed.

https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/2020/08/02/fair-voice-podcast-6-how-to-be-an-apologist 

Maybe she'll also release an apology for this article?

We won't hold our breath.

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Below is my review of Hanna's article, which you can read here:

https://religiondispatches.org/mormon-group-digging-for-scriptural-city-of-zarahemla-in-iowa-is-a-portrait-of-religious-nationalism/

Original in blue, my comments in red.

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MORMON GROUP DIGGING FOR SCRIPTURAL CITY OF

ZARAHEMLA IN IOWA IS A PORTRAIT OF RELIGIOUS NATIONALISM

Still of Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army and icon of the pro-slavery South, from a video on the Zarahemla website, titled "Thank You Robert E. Lee for Helping Us Find Zarahemla."

News outlets like Iowa Starting Line and The Salt Lake Tribune have recently reported on a group called The Heartland Research Group (HRG) which has taken to the cornfields of Montrose, Iowa in search of Zarahemla, a city frequently mentioned in the Book of Mormon. From the coverage one might reasonably conclude that a Latter-day Saint group is simply seeking to find corroboration for their scriptures—which is certainly the case—but lurking beneath the surface is something quite a bit darker. 

If it is "certainly the case" that this group is "simply seeking to find corroboration for their scriptures" (which their own explanations verify), readers must ask, what is the basis for Hanna's speculative and polemical conspiracy rhetoric which contradicts her own admission of what is "certainly the case?"

The obvious answer is her affiliation with FAIRLDS, a key facade in the Potemkin village created by the M2C citation cartel to create the illusion of diverse thinking. In reality, FAIRLDS, the Interpreter, and Book of Mormon Central are branches of the same M2C trunk, a small group of LDS scholars who decided to establish M2C as the de facto (and only acceptable) model for Book of Mormon historicity and geography. 

The HRG is one of several groups that believes in what’s known as the Heartland model; to them, the Book of Mormon narrative is a historical account of indigenous people in the United States, specifically in Heartland America. The theory first became widely known in 1994 when Wayne May presented research that, he claimed, supported it. 

If this is one of "several groups," where is the description of the other groups? Hanna paints them with a broad brush, castigating them all by implication. 

Hanna claims the idea that "the Book of Mormon narrative is a historical account of indigenous people in the United States" first became widely known in 1994. We can't tell if she's misinformed or deliberately misinforming, but the actual origin of this idea was what Moroni told Joseph the first time they met, when Moroni "gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." 

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/68

Hanna's readers in Religion Dispatches won't know that. Presumably the editors (if there were any) didn't know that, either.  For that matter, Hanna's usual readers and followers wouldn't know that background; Hanna, like other M2C advocates, would be the last to inform readers about the facts because M2C thrives on ignorance.

The timing is significant because the Heartland model appears to be a reaction to a significant increase in the LDS population in Central and South America. 

This is pure speculation, not founded on any relevant quotations or citations. As we just say, the "Heartland model" originated with what Moroni told Joseph in 1823. And Hanna's speculation doesn't fit the facts anyway, because the article she cites tracked growth in Latin America beginning in the 1960s. 

While the LDS leadership began to envision a global Church, proponents of the Heartland model in the US not only continued to see themselves as part of an American-centric faith, they sought to cement that status by grounding it in “history.” 

Here, Hannah uses scare quotes to frame the historical sources as questionable or false. Worse, American-centric is Hanna's pejorative term; she won't find it in any work from actual Heartlanders. What is an American-centric faith anyway? One with headquarters in the United States? One whose membership consists primarily of citizens of the United States? One found predominantly in the Americas (north and south)? Rather than define what her term means, she leaves it to the reader's darkest imagination.

This clinging to an American-centric faith originates from their belief that the United States is, literally, the promised land. 

Here is a compound logical fallacy. First, Hanna asserts that her targets are "clinging" to her imaginary American-centric faith. Next, she adds another undefined term, the promised land. Does she mean the promised land of the Book of Mormon, or does she have another definition in mind?

No "Heartland model" I'm aware of encompasses the "United States." The very term "Heartland" contradicts Hanna's thesis because it is a limited geography unaffected by modern political boundaries.  This is a Book of Mormon model, not a modern political model.

A prominent example of Heartland research is Prophecies and Promisesa book by Bruce A. Porter and Rod Meldrum who cite American-centric Book of Mormon geography—i.e. the Heartland model—as “having an effect on the resurgence of Book of Mormon interest, study, and excitement akin to what the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery did for spurring Biblical energies.” 

Here, Hanna reuses her term American-centric for geography instead of faith. But here, the term is merely descriptive, as is the Mesoamerican-centric geography she prefers to believe. By using the same term for two separate meanings, Hanna creates a connection that doesn't actually exist. 

The quotation she chose, though, does offer insight into her motivation. The Heartland model is a serious threat to the M2C citation cartel that Hanna supports. Given her professed devotion to the Book of Mormon, one might think she would welcome a "resurgence of Book of Mormon interest, study, and excitement." But, apparently, she would only support a resurgence if it conformed to her M2C dogma. The citation cartel cannot tolerate alternative perspectives, especially perspectives that accept what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught. 

Their interpretation of historical sources led them to conclude that when early Church leaders spoke of a promised land, they were specifically referring to the United States of America. In contrast, Mormon Studies scholars increasingly demonstrated that when early Church leaders spoke of “this land” or “this country” or “America,” they did not mean the United States of America, but rather the Western continent. 

Now Hanna says her targets merely "conclude" while those she agrees with "demonstrated." This is patently deceptive rhetoric. Everyone involved with historical analysis is expressing opinions and interpretations. The unspecified "Mormon Scholars" she refers to have not "demonstrated" anything like what Hanna claims; they have merely expressed their own subjective opinions.

Hanna's worldview is understandable, however. In the M2C citation cartel, adherence to M2C is mandatory. A handful of M2C scholars have persuaded their followers that they have "demonstrated" M2C to the point where M2C is a given. Hanna thinks the M2C bubble is reality because she's inside it. 

Worse, the article she cites does not support her argument; at most, the article points out that the terms in the historical sources are ambiguous. Even at that, the article omits (deliberately or negligently) relevant historical sources that contradict Hanna's preferred interpretation.

Proponents of the Heartland model, on the other hand, who believe that early Church leaders saw the United States as the promised land, designate American nationalism as their interpretative lens. Their geography model rests upon this American nationalism that they saw in these early historical sources. 

Here again, Hanna uses vague, pejorative terms to frame her targets as undesirables. If she could cite even a single reference to support her assertions we could assess the validity of her claims.

It is difficult to conceive of Moroni as engaging in "American nationalism" when he simply explained what the Nephite record related and where it was written and deposited. 

In turn, Heartland dependence on American nationalism has led to associations with right-wing ideologies, including QAnon, anti-vaccination stances, colonial narratives, creationism, and white supremacy. These ideologies aren’t incidental to the Heartlander movement, they’re foundational. 

This is a counterfactual, polemical charge dripping with political correctness. Hanna previously noted (anachronistically) that the Heartland model originated in 1994 with Wayne May, who relied entirely on LDS and non-LDS historical sources together with modern discoveries in anthropology and archaeology. Hanna has deliberately conflated her list of deplorables with the actual foundation of the Heartland model.

Christian nationalism has become central to their articulation of faith[here Hanna cites a reader's online book review as "central"] and has led them to superimpose their Christian belief on indigenous persons by declaring them descendants of Book of Mormon figures. [here Hanna cites the same book review again. She could have cited D&C 28, 30, 32, or the Wentworth letter, or any number of other historical sources.]

Many proponents of the Heartland movement juxtapose QAnon conspiracies and white supremacist views on immigration with the Book of Mormon to justify their support for right-wing policies. Their chosen land narrative is frequently found in their writing. For example, as LDS author Rian Nelson writes, “First of all the illegal immigrants coming from our southern border are mostly Asian and if they were chosen by the Lord to come to America, the Lord would allow them here without a lot of legal hankering.”

Here, Hanna finally makes a coherent, factual point: there are some Americans who accept the Heartland model who also express political beliefs that can be framed as "right-wing policies." 

But there are other Americans who accept the Heartland model who express a variety of political beliefs. There are also Latter-day Saint "Heartlanders" who are Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Asians, Africans, Latin Americans, Australians, etc., of all races and backgrounds.

Hanna's stereotypical portrayal here is not only counterfactual, but it displays her own myopic worldview. In her effort to ingratiate her theories with those who share her desire to be politically correct, she paints diverse groups of people who believe the Book of Mormon took place in North America with her broad brush by taking  one author and expanding his work into "many proponents" and "their writing." She knows (or should know) this is deceptive.

This position is further exacerbated by the Heartland belief that, not only is the United States of America a chosen land, but that the chosen people came to America from Europe

Now Hanna cites a separate Heartland group and attributes their beliefs to everyone who believes in the North American setting. This is not a "Heartland belief." She cited a book that promulgates a theory. Bias confirmation is a common human lens on reality, so we can understand Hanna's compulsion to validate her own biases, but that doesn't excuse her sophistry here.   

The language of Anglo-Saxon heritage and bloodlines cements the connection between the Heartland movement and white supremacy and their website even features a video lauding and thanking Confederate general Robert E. Lee without reservation for how they believed his work in the war contributed to their being able to find Zarahemla.

This is exceptionally deceitful. Robert E. Lee's survey work along the Mississippi took place in 1837 when Lee was a member of the U.S. Army, decades before there was a Confederacy. Rather than informing her unsuspecting readers about the actual historical context, Hanna manipulates her readers by invoking triggers. This is a typical tactic of the M2C citation cartel, so Hanna may not even be aware of how unethical such rhetoric is.

Prior to the formation of what is now the United States, Montrose, Iowa was Sioux, Cherokee, and Iroquois land. This excavation perpetuates religious colonialism and superimposes a Mormon narrative onto indigenous persons, specifically a narrative that champions European colonialism and American Christian nationalism. 

These sentences might be "woke" but they're not factual. The basic narrative of the Book of Mormon was explained by Moroni, as we saw above, who "gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." If "the remnant [of Book of Mormon people] are the Indians that now live in this country," as Joseph Smith wrote in the Wentworth letter when he was living in Nauvoo across the river from the Zarahemla site, then it is people such as Hanna and other M2C'ers who are superimposing a narrative of European colonialism.

Joseph, Oliver, their contemporaries and their successors, as well as those who accept their teachings, celebrate the Native American origins of the Book of Mormon. Joseph himself met with the Indians who lived in Iowa and told them the Book of Mormon told the history of their forefathers.  

None of that has anything to do with European colonialism. The excavation, like all archaeology, seeks to discover and understand the human history of the area. The evidence speaks for itself.

The Heartland Research Group both violently destroys and recontextualizes indigenous material culture. This act isn’t incidental to the Heartland model, it’s foundational.  

Coming from a contributor to FAIRLDS, this criticism is unclear. Is Hanna characterizing the North American setting per se because she prefers M2C, or is she retroactively criticizing all efforts to understand the Book of Mormon in an ancient American setting, regardless of where one looks? She doesn't explain, but because her ire is directed at the Heartland model without also objecting to "superimposing a Mormon narrative" onto Mesoamerican indigenous persons, we can only infer her ethics are outcome oriented.

One of the serious problems with M2C is the disconnect between ancient Mayan civilization and anything resembling the Book of Mormon narrative. Imposing that narrative onto Mayan culture by finding illusory "correspondences" has always been patronizing.  

As this excavation continues to unfold, and the Heartland model gains more attention, their origins and associations will only become more significant. 

We can hope that this is so, because the truth will expose Hanna's vanity and deceit. As more and more Latter-day Saints become informed about actual Church history by reading the original documents, instead of relying on the revisionist history designed to accommodate M2C, they discover the extrinsic evidence that corroborates what Joseph and Oliver always said. These origins and associations will continue to lead more Latter-day Saints to consider the Heartland model objectively, despite the rhetorical efforts of the M2C citation cartel.

This isn’t a religious hobby or a benign example of religious exuberance; the excavation is the product of a religious ideology with a legacy of religious nationalism and white supremacy. They may be using state-of-the-art equipment in the effort, but there’s nothing new about this toxic perspective.

I suppose we could acknowledge that Hanna's woke ideology is "new" in the sense that it's a current fad. But there's nothing new in the way that such fads blind her to reality. 

Her short essay contradicts itself on key points, but polemicists have long used isolated comments from individuals to castigate and misrepresent entire groups. The Nazi analogy is much overdone, but Hanna's rhetorical tactics in this essay remind one of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

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