Friday, March 8, 2019

The Next Mormons by Jana Riess

Jana Riess' book The Next Mormons has been getting a lot of attention, as it should. There's a useful review of some aspects of it here:

Because this blog focuses on Book of Mormon issues, I won't discuss other interesting aspects of the book here (but I will elsewhere).

For now, I'll mention one of Riess' findings.

She asked about the degree of certainty people have about specific LDS teachings. In this table, she shows that the percentage of members who are confident that the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical account is declining significantly.

BYU Fantasy/mythology map of
the Book of Mormon
I expect these percentages to continue to decline among younger generations because they are being taught to understand the Book of Mormon by referring to the fantasy/mythology maps developed by CES and BYU.

It's the same problem missionaries have when they tell investigators/friends that the Book of Mormon is 1,000 years of a real history of real people--except we have no idea where any of it took place.

How do we expect investigators to respond? How would any of us respond?

The explanation of Book of Mormon historicity now being given is a complete reversal of what Joseph and Oliver taught about the one certain connection between the Book of Mormon and the real world: the New York Cumorah.

In the early 1900s, certain RLDS scholars decided the New York Cumorah wasn't feasible.

They figured Joseph and Oliver (and all their contemporaries and successors) were wrong about Cumorah.

They figured there had to be "two Cumorahs." The real one was in Mexico, while the hill in New York was falsely labeled "Cumorah" because of tradition. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C).

Certain LDS scholars adopted the RLDS theories over the objections of Church leaders at the time. They claimed that the prophets who taught the New York Cumorah were merely expressing their private opinions and were wrong.

Building on illusory correspondences with Mesoamerica, these scholars further developed M2C with a series of books and articles published through the M2C citation cartel that censors alternative ideas, including the teachings of the prophets.

M2C has become the de facto standard. Despite the official policy of neutrality, M2C is taught in Church media, visitors centers, and CES/BYU.

To accommodate M2C, the Church History Department censored Cumorah from the book Saints.

To accommodate M2C, the Church Correlation Department censored portions of the Wentworth letter from the lesson manual on Joseph Smith.

Now, no LDS youth is taught what the prophets have consistently and persistently taught about the New York Cumorah.

Now, every LDS youth is taught a combination of M2C and the fantasy/mythology maps.

Now, when an LDS youth discovers, on his/her own (usually through the Internet) what the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah, their CES/BYU teachers explain that the prophets were wrong.

That leads to a second major issue brought out in The Next Mormons that we'll discuss in the next blog post.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Very simple

The issue of Book of Mormon geography is very simple. People have different ideas, and there's nothing wrong with that. People should make informed decisions for themselves. Simple.

One of the strangest arguments I hear is "The Brethren have said the people living in Latin America have the blood of Lehi (or are Lamanites), so the Hill Cumorah cannot be in western New York."

The logical fallacies in that argument seem so obvious to me that I don't usually respond to it, but it remains one of the main justifications for M2C, so here goes.

It seems axiomatic that Lehi's descendants would have spread throughout the Americas regardless of  where Lehi landed around 580 BC.

Regardless of how many were in Lehi's landing party, or where Zarahemla, Bountiful, Cumorah, etc. were located, people migrate and intermarry. The Book of Mormon tells us less than 1% of the history. In 1,000 years of Nephite history, Lehi's descendants could have migrated throughout the Americas and beyond.

Even after the Nephite civilization was destroyed at Cumorah, 1400 years passed before Joseph obtained the plates. If Lehi's descendants hadn't migrated throughout the Americas before 400 A.D., they could have done so after 400 A.D.

The presence of Lehi's descendants throughout the Americas today has nothing to do with where the events in the Book of Mormon took place.

We're left with the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, which, so far as I know, have never been questioned, repudiated, or replaced by any of the prophets. We're also left with the teachings of many of those same prophets that we don't know where the other events took place.

The recent Gospel Topics Essay says the Church takes no position on the location of Book of Mormon events. That's really the only possible position to take when there are so many different ideas among Church members. The key is, no one should claim prophetic or Church support for their personal views.

I focus on the Cumorah issue because of the teachings of the prophets, and because I think the scientific evidence supports those teachings. Other good, faithful members of the Church don't believe those teachings, and/or disagree about the evidence, which is fine with me.

I support everything the Brethren have taught, from the beginning through the present.

I respect and admire LDS scholars and intellectuals who have worked on these issues, but I don't feel any obligation, duty, or even inclination to accept what they teach just because they claim expertise.