Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Brian Head fire from Bryce Canyon

I took this photo today at Bryce Canyon, looking northwest toward the Brian Head fire.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 3

Mesomania scholar encounters Letter VII - h/t Scott Adams
One of the most frequent questions posed to me is, "Why does anyone still believe in the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography?"

It's a great question. In fact, that's the question that prompted me to research the topic and write Mesomania.

In my experience, there are two categories of LDS people who still believe in the Mesoamerican theory:

1. Ordinary LDS who have not yet heard about Letter VII* and its historical context, as well as all the evidence that supports the North American setting.

2. LDS who know about Letter VII but who have been teaching and promoting the Mesoamerican theory.

LDS lay member encounters Letter VII - h/t Scott Adams
Both categories of people are declining as a percentage of total LDS membership, but the influence of category 2 remains strong.

It is understandable why people in Category 2 experience a higher degree of cognitive dissonance than ordinary members do. There is a formula for understanding levels or degrees of cognitive dissonance that I'll discuss below.

First, we need to realize that most LDS instinctively experience some cognitive dissonance about Book of Mormon geography because of the inherent improbability of a Mesoamerican setting when Joseph Smith obtained the plates in New York. Most LDS have been taught Mesomania their entire lives, both explicitly and subliminally. Most investigators are taught Mesomania thanks to the artwork in the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon and the displays in the Visitors Centers. You see it in Mesomania Meridian Magazine, as recently as today.

All of this is because some LDS scholars decided years ago that when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote Letter VII, they were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. Instead, these scholars insisted Cumorah is in southern Mexico, and their influence continues. This is the two-Cumorahs theory that we see throughout Church media.

Most members of the Church have never heard about Letter VII, and when they do, their instinctive cognitive dissonance is elevated. They are usually shocked to discover that the Mesoamerican theory is based on the two-Cumorahs theory, which explicitly rejects Letter VII. They reconsider their Mesomania-inspired beliefs. It is relatively easy for them to recognize the fallacies of Mesomania and change their minds to accept the North American setting.

For these individuals, the process is simple: just replace one belief with a better belief that is more consonant with their beliefs about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and related issues. Not much of a problem. A relief, actually. Questions answered. Faith supported. For many, the Book of Mormon becomes more meaningful in this new context, for many reasons.

But consider the situation of someone who has taught and/or promoted the Mesoamerican theory. He/she has sincerely wanted to teach the truth. He/she has relied on faithful, dedicated LDS scholars and educators who have developed and promoted the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories for decades. He/she has relied on FairMormon, FARMS, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, and other sources (including the artwork in the blue Book of Mormon and the Visitors Centers). Confronted with the possibility that the Mesoamerican theory is false--and, worse, that it causes members to become confused and disturbed in their faith, as President Joseph Fielding Smith said it would--how can they handle the high level of cognitive dissonance?

Three options:

1. Support the cognition most resistant to change. The individual will add "consonant cognitions," meaning he/she will seek to add more evidence that confirms what he/she already believes. In the case of Mesomania, this means finding more and more "correspondences" that reinforce the Mesoamerican theory. This is what we see at Book of Mormon Central, for example, which continues to promote the Mesoamerican theory exclusively and refuses to give a voice to alternative theories--including the one taught by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

2. Diminish the dissonant cognition. The individual will diminish or minimize the "dissonant cognitions" by ignoring them, decreasing their importance, or outright attacking them. In the case of Mesomania, this means ignoring Letter VII (the common practice until recently when it became untenable), characterizing Letter VII as an insignificant outlier (ignoring the historical contest), or attacking the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer. The final resort--the place where we are currently--is characterizing Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah.

3. Changing one's mind. The individual will recognize that the dissonant cognition (Letter VII) is actually more credible than the consonant cognition and will, despite the hurdle of acknowledging years of advocacy for an incorrect theory, change his/her mind and embrace the previously dissonant cognition.

Obviously, I hope the Mesomania scholars and educators choose the third option.

There is plenty of academic background and explanation of cognitive dissonance. I chose the one below because it expresses the problem in a formula that I find useful.

There are many factors that determine the amount of cognitive dissonance an individual experiences. Generally, the more a person has invested in an idea, the greater cognitive dissonance he/she will feel when confronted with dissonant cognitions.

The originator of the theory of cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger, "theorized that when an individual holds two or more elements of knowledge that are relevant to each other but inconsistent with one another, a state of discomfort is created."**

In this context, knowledge can be described as dissonant and consonant cognitions.

"Festinger theorized that the degree of dissonance in relation to a cognition = D/(D + C), where D is the sum of cognitions dissonant with a particular cognition and C is the sum of cognitions consonant with that same particular cognition, with each cognition weighted for importance. Several theorists have proposed that the dissonance between cognitions could be determined by assessing whether a person expects one event to follow from another."

"Festinger theorized that persons are motivated by the unpleasant state of dissonance and that they may engage in ‘psychological work’ to reduce the inconsistency. This work will typically be oriented around supporting the cognition most resistant to change. To reduce the dissonance, individuals could add consonant cognitions, subtract dissonant cognitions, increase the importance of consonant cognitions, or decrease the importance of dissonant cognitions. One of the most often assessed ways of reducing dissonance is change in attitudes."

Those struggling with cognitive dissonance might like this discussion about how to resolve the problem:

We also don’t like to second-guess our choices, even if later they are proven wrong or unwise. By second-guessing ourselves, we suggest we may not be as wise or as right as we’ve led ourselves to believe. This may lead us to commit to a particular course of action and become insensitive to and reject alternative, perhaps better, courses that come to light. ...

A part of that self awareness that may help in dealing with cognitive dissonance is to examine the commitments and decisions we make in our lives. If the resolution of cognitive dissonance means that we move forward with a commitment and spring into action, making us feel better, maybe the dissonance was trying to tell us something. Maybe the decision or commitment wasn’t as right for us as we initially thought, even if it means overcoming our “no second-guessing” bias and making a different decision. Sometimes we’re just plain wrong. Admitting it, apologizing if need be, and moving forward can save us a lot of time, mental energy and hurt feelings.


*Letter VII is shorthand for Letter VII itself as well as the associated context, including the two sets of plates, Mormon's repository in Cumorah, Joseph's multiple endorsement of Letter VII, and the relevant archaeology, anthropology, geography, geology, etc.

**All quotations are from E. Harmon-Jones, "Cognitive Dissonance Theory,"
Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), 2012.

Bonus link:

Friday, June 16, 2017


I've met some guys doing a phenomenal project that more people should know about. It's called Lifey (Life + Story, basically a video selfie that is searchable and shareable).

Check it out.

They also created, which is an awesome resource for missionaries (and travelers). 

(Relevance to this blog: as a historian, I like to think about what an Oliver Cowdery Lifey would have included. I think he and Joseph would have been shocked at how many LDS scholars and educators reject what they said and wrote, as plainly as words can be, about Cumorah being in New York.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 2

When you have two different interpretations of historical events, current events, scientific facts and models, etc., one or both may be a product of trying to minimize cognitive dissonance CD.

One way to tell which side is experiencing the greatest CD is the side that bases their argument on what someone was thinking in their inner thoughts. If your argument is not fact-based, or based on something you can observe, but is based instead on what a stranger you may not have ever met was thinking in his secret thoughts that have not been revealed by his/her actions, then you're far more likely to be further from the truth and relying on CD.

Actions including writing. One way to tell if you are relying on "inner thoughts" instead of facts is if you interpret a stranger's writings to mean something different from the plain language.

The entire premise for Mesomania is that the scholars know what Joseph Smith was secretly thinking. This is how they deal with the extreme CD they experience when they confront Joseph's actions.

Here is an example. In 2005, BYU and the Library of Congress sponsored a two-day academic conference to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth. I blogged about it here. The conference proceedings included these statements about what Joseph was thinking in his inner thoughts:

- Joseph Smith did not fully understand the Book of Mormon.
- One thing all readers share with Joseph is a partial understanding of the book’s complexities.
- Over the last sixty years, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and other scholars have shown the Book of Mormon to be “truer” than Joseph Smith or any of his contemporaries could know.
- Consequently,  what  Joseph  Smith  knew  and  understood about the book ought to be research questions rather than presumptions.  Thanks  in  large  part  to  his  critics,  it  is  becoming  clear that Joseph Smith did not fully understand the geography, scope, historical scale, literary form, or cultural content of the book.
- In 1842, after reading about ancient cities in Central America, Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located there.
- Joseph did not know exactly where Book of Mormon lands were... he considered their location  an  important  question  addressable  through scholarship.

Of course, the author never mentions Letter VII, which Joseph helped Oliver write and which unequivocally declares that the New York Cumorah is, in fact, the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites.

Notice that while ignoring what Joseph actually said and wrote, the author relies on anonymous articles to conclude that "Joseph speculated that Book of Mormon lands were located" in Central America.

Instead of speculating about Joseph's undisclosed inner thoughts, how about looking at what Joseph actually did?

- He had his scribes copy Letter VII into his personal history.
- He authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint Letter VII.
- He gave Letter VII to his brother Don Carlos to have it printed in the Times and Seasons.
- In D&C 128, he referred to Cumorah among other sites in New York and Pennsylvania.
- In D&C 28, 30 and 32 he identified the Indians living in New York, Ohio and Missouri as Lamanites.
- In the Wentworth letter, he declared that the remnant of Book of Mormon people are the Indians living in this country.
- He wrote to Emma from the banks of the Mississippi, explaining he had just crossed the plains of the Nephites (referring to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois).
- He identified Zelph as the person whose bones they dug up from a mound in Illinois, declaring he had fallen in battle in the last destruction among the Lamanites. Joseph said Zelph (or the prophet he served under) was known from the Hill Cumorah to the Rocky Mountains. (For more detail, see Donald Q. Cannon's excellent summary here.)

The Mesomania scholars and educators have tried to handle their CD by rationalizing away Joseph's actions so they can speculate about his inner thoughts. 

One of the most insightful articles on this topic is "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography," published here. It deals with a few of Joseph's actions that I listed above, such as the letter to Emma and the Zelph account.

Of course, the article never mentions Letter VII or the revelations in the D&C.

Instead, it relies on the anonymous Times and Seasons articles, erroneously attributing them to Joseph and then using them to reinterpret the plain language of what Joseph actually wrote.

Here's how the article handles Joseph's letter to Emma and his revelation about Zelph: "The individuals and geographic features that are named in these accounts are nowhere to be found in the text of the Book of Mormon. They are external to its history."

Joseph explained that he had learned about the Book of Mormon people even before he translated the plates, and his mother confirmed this, but the Mesomania scholars reject what he said. Instead, they insist Joseph knew nothing except what he translated.

The reason they take this position is obvious: it puts them not only on an even playing field with Joseph (because they're both limited to interpreting the text), but (in their minds) it makes their interpretations superior to Joseph's because they have PhDs and decades of more recent archaeological, linguistic, and other research.

When you consider theories about Book of Mormon geography, consider whether the proponents are relying on actual evidence, or instead on their subjective interpretations of what they think Joseph's inner thoughts were.

I think you'll soon see which theories are suffering from the worst CD.

BTW, next to the LDS Mesomania scholars and educators, the critics of the Book of Mormon are suffering the worst CD, as I'll discuss in an upcoming post.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mesomania and cognitive dissonance part 1

This is part 1 of a series I'm doing on cognitive dissonance.

Because so many people have begun following this blog in the last few months, Part 1 is a republication of a post I did on another blog in November 2016. I'll develop the ideas in upcoming posts.

Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb on Cumorah

For over a year, Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) has been predicting the outcome of the election by using his Master Persuader Filter. If you didn't follow his blog, you missed out on a real treat.

Today he made a post titled "The Cognitive Dissonance Cluster Bomb." He points out that listed 24 different theories for why Trump won the election. He asks, "What does it tell you when there are 24 different explanations for a thing?"

He answers: "It tell you that someone just dropped a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb on the public. Head exploded. Cognitive dissonance set in. Weird theories came out. This is the cleanest and clearest example of cognitive dissonance you will ever see."

I agree with him. His analysis has been awesome all year.

But there's another tremendous example of cognitive dissonance Adams is unaware of, because it's confined to a dozen or so LDS scholars who keep insisting the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

To paraphrase (and partially quote) Adams, here's what we're seeing in the LDS academic community:

1. They believe they are smart and well-informed.

2. Their good judgment (based on their PhD-level education) told them the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, which means the Hill Cumorah must be in southern Mexico.

3. Most members of the Church--and every prophet and apostle who has spoken on the issue--believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York anyway.

Those “facts” can’t be reconciled in the minds of the Mesoamerican scholars. Mentally, something has to give. That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in.

There are two ways for Mesoamerican advocates to interpret that reality. One option is to accept that if so many members (and the prophets and apostles) believe Cumorah is in New York, perhaps it is. But that would conflict with the scholars’ self-image as being smart and well-informed in the first place. When you violate a person’s self-image, it triggers cognitive dissonance to explain-away the discrepancy.

So how do you explain-away a New York Cumorah if you think you are smart and you think you are well-informed and you think Cumorah is OBVIOUSLY in Mexico?

You solve for that incongruity by hallucinating – literally – that the New York Cumorah people KNOW the idea is a false tradition and that they PREFER the false tradition because they are anti-science and anti-academia.

And this is exactly how the Mesoamerican scholars and educators handle their cognitive dissonance.

In a rational world it would be obvious that New York Cumorah supporters include lots of brilliant and well-informed people. That fact – as obvious as it would seem – is invisible to the folks [the Meso-promoting LDS scholars and educators] who can’t even imagine a world in which their powers of perception could be so wrong. To reconcile their world, they have to imagine that all New York Cumorah supporters are defective in some moral or cognitive way, or both.

We all live in our own movies inside our heads.

[Adams thinks "humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough." I don't see this as a matter of evolution, but apparently many LDS scholars do. I think it's just another example of how the natural man is an enemy to God; i.e., when we pretend to seek the truth by rejecting the prophets, we're doomed to maintaining the illusion that the movie inside our heads is "reality" in some way.]

That’s why the LDS scholars live in a movie in which they are fighting against a monster called "The false tradition that Cumorah is in New York" but you live in a movie where the New York Cumorah explains the Book of Mormon so well. You live in a movie in which the prophets and apostles are reliable and credible. The Mesoamerican advocates live in a movie in which the prophets and apostles are speculating and don't know what they're talking about. Same planet, different realities.

Look at the explanations the Mesoamerican advocates give to solve their cognitive dissonance:

1. Joseph and Oliver were merely speculating in Letter VII; i.e., they lied when they said it was a fact.
2. Before his death, Joseph changed his mind about Book of Mormon geography; i.e., he wrote or endorsed the Times and Seasons articles.
3. Moroni never told Joseph the hill was named Cumorah; i.e., Joseph's mother misremembered or lied about that.
4. Joseph and Oliver never went to the records repository in the hill; i.e., Brigham Young and others lied about that, or Joseph and Oliver were relating a vision of a hill in Mexico.
5. David Whitmer did not hear a divine messenger refer to Cumorah; he misremembered or lied about that.
6. The hill in New York doesn't match the description in the text; i.e., there are no volcanoes in New York.
7. The hill in New York is too far from Mesoamerica; i.e., we know the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, so it is "manifestly absurd" for anyone to believe Cumorah is in New York.
8. The prophets and apostles who personally knew Joseph Smith were fooled by a false tradition; i.e., like Joseph, they embraced a false tradition about the New York hill that was started early on by an unknown person.
9. The prophets and apostles who lived after Joseph's contemporaries died off were also fooled by a false tradition; i.e., Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, and others didn't know what they were talking about.
10. There is no archaeological support for the New York setting; i.e., it is a "clean hill" with no artifacts.
11. Only experts trained in the field (trained in the ministry) can be trusted; i.e., if you don't have a PhD, you can't be expected to understand why the prophets and apostles are wrong.

I could go on, but you get the idea. I've addressed every one of these Mesomania arguments. Not a single one of them holds up.

The situation has boiled down to this:

LDS scholars and educators are in a state of serious cognitive dissonance that they refuse to acknowledge. They assert their credentials and years of study and their groupthink as reasons for people to believe them. In many cases, they have pursued careers motivated by Mesomania. They have obtained grants in the millions of dollars based on Mesomania. They have trained generations of LDS scholars and educators to think alike.

But fortunately, because of the Internet, their academic monopoly is cracking.

People are smarter than the LDS scholars think.

We can see through their tactics and their sophistry when we simply accept what the prophets and apostles have taught from the beginning about the Hill Cumorah.

Just to be clear, acceptance of the New York Cumorah does not resolve the questions about Book of Mormon geography overall. That geography has not been officially revealed, and the Church wisely remains neutral on that topic (just as the Church is neutral on where the real Mount Sinai is).

There are two groups of people who work on Book of Mormon geography.

1. Those who put Cumorah in New York.
2. Those who put Cumorah somewhere other than in New York.

Within each category there are plenty of variations.

Group 1: Scholars, educators, members, and anyone else can use their knowledge and reasoning to develop their own theories of Book of Mormon geography, consistent with the New York Hill Cumorah. This can range from a model limited to the State of New York all the way to a hemispheric model.

Group 2: People can also continue to promote their ideas about Cumorah outside of New York. But everyone in this group deals with the cognitive dissonance this post discusses. You'll see it in everything they write.

Part II will discuss how we can tell which group has the most cognitive dissonance.

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Organization

I'm nearing 500 posts on this blog and I've addressed just about every question I've been asked, that has been raised in other blogs, and that I've thought of.

The problem is organization.

You can search for terms, of course, and many people do that. But with so many posts, you may get more search hits than you can reasonably manage.

I'm organizing the blog by pages. The first page shows the basic graphic for the two sets of plates, here:

Soon I'll have a page for FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).

If there are questions you think I haven't answered already, email them.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Perspectives, inside and outside

Some months ago a PowerPoint slide made the rounds of the Internet.

This graphic purports to be part of a presentation to LDS General Authorities on the topic of what issues and ideas lead people away from the Church (notice the slide says "Gospel" instead of "Church"), organized from "Far Left" to "Far Right." I can't vouch for its authenticity, of course, but it does reflect what I've seen and heard over many years, coming from the perspective of leaders and active members in the Church. I call this the "active LDS" perspective. 

A corresponding graphic was prepared and circulated also showing what purports to be the issues and ideas leading people away from the Church, but this one is from the perspective of people who are not active LDS (inactive, former members, nonmembers).

This one, too, reflects what I've seen and heard over many years, coming from those who are not active in the Church (whether nominally members or not) for whatever reason. I call this the "non-LDS perspective."

I have lots of thoughts on each component. For example, the "non-LDS" chart cites "Church lies about its history," but that's an anachronistic objection now that we have access to original documents. I still hear people repeat the canard that Brigham Young changed Lucy Mack Smith's biography of Joseph, or that the text of the Book of Mormon was changed x number of times, but we all have access to the original documents, so those objections seem silly, at best. 

Another one that stands out on the "non-LDS" chart is "Poor apologetics backfire." I couldn't agree more with this one, of course; I think the citation cartel has done some good, but far more harm because of their insistence on certain ideas, especially their two-Cumorahs theory that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who deceived the Church about Cumorah being in New York.

For now, on this blog, I want to point out something that stands out to me.

Notice that on the "non-LDS" chart, one of the largest circles is "Book of Mormon is not ancient."

On the "active LDS" chart, the Book of Mormon isn't even mentioned.

These are both accurate representations of the respective points of view, IMO. The "active LDS" chart doesn't mention the Book of Mormon because active LDS don't think (or admit) that Book of Mormon geography and historicity are important. They implicitly believe the book regardless. (Even that's an overgeneralization, because many active LDS I know have problems with this topic. Some don't even believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient document; they just don't see this as a deal breaker for ongoing activity.) Active LDS don't understand why someone who believes the Book of Mormon would entertain doubts about its authenticity. 

It's essentially self-selection; i.e., if they did entertain doubts or questions, maybe they wouldn't be active LDS.

From the outside (non-LDS) perspective, the historicity of the Book of Mormon is a fundamental issue. If, as they believe, the Book of Mormon is not ancient, then why should they believe it? Of course, this line of thinking leads to the corollary that Joseph was not a prophet, etc. 

In my view, the geography and historicity of the Book of Mormon are fundamental questions for everyone who reads the text. I think both have been well established by the North American setting. Some active LDS may set aside their questions in the interests of the greater good, meaning the other reasons for faith, but it seems unlikely that anyone who reads the Book of Mormon does not wonder, sooner or later, where it took place. 

It is for this reason that I've been writing this blog.

I think the traditional answers of the LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory directly undermine faith, for all the reasons I've discussed. These two graphics reflect that. 

I also think that if/when the LDS community converges on unity in supporting what Joseph and Oliver taught about Cumorah in New York, at a minimum, the problems of geography and historicity will diminish. Inactive, former, and prospective LDS will take another look at the Book of Mormon. In so doing, they will respond to the spiritual messages.

But I have to say, I don't think the current generation of Mesoamerican promoters will change their minds, regardless of the evidence. It will take the cumulative experience of Church members over an unfortunately long period of time to change the so-called consensus that has led to the problems depicted in these two graphics. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend

This memorial day, I'd like to also remember people who died to preserve freedom in this land anciently.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

FairMormon helps anti-Mormons

For a reason I won't get into right now, I'm going to revisit an ongoing and serious problem. FairMormon ( purports to be "the world's largest database of faithful answers to critical questions."

It may be the "largest database," but since it misleads members of the Church, what good is a large database? A smaller, accurate database would be more effective.

FairMormon does some good work in many areas, but they also contribute to the confusion and loss of faith that we see happening in many cases because of their strict adherence to the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography.

Take a look at this part of the "largest database of faithful answers." FairMormon is a gift to anti-Mormon web pages in several respects, but especially when it comes to Book of Mormon geography.

The first thing they do is say "The Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon." To support this, they cite the phony fax from the "Office of the First Presidency," here:

I've previously shown here that this "fax" is plagiarized from the entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. That entry was written by David Palmer, who cites his own book to support the article. It's classic citation cartel practice, and you'll see more from Brother Palmer in this FairMormon article.

As you read the FairMormon article on Cumorah, you'll notice a few key points.

1. FairMormon never cites Letter VII because they don't want members of the Church to know that Joseph and Oliver unequivocally identified the New York hill Cumorah as the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites. This is why you can't trust FairMormon, and why so many members of the Church go to anti-Mormon web sites, which do explain Letter VII and how the LDS scholars and educators repudiate Joseph and Oliver to promote their Mesoamerican theories.

2. FairMormon claims David Whitmer, one of the 3 witnesses, was a liar (they use the euphemism to explain their rejection of his oft-repeated statement by saying "some historians question its accuracy"). This is the same approach that has led to the suppression of David Whitmer's testimony in other media, as I've shown and will show again soon.

3. FairMormon refuses to quote modern prophets and apostles who have spoken about Cumorah being in New York and instead claim that "Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same." FairMormon and many other LDS scholars and educators frequently claim the scholars know more than the prophets and apostles, so this is not unusual. Here, they quote Elder Dallin H. Oaks, as if he supports the two-Cumorahs theory!

4. FairMormon refuses to quote what President Joseph Fielding Smith said on at least two occasions. Referring to the two-Cumorahs theory that FairMormon promotes, President Smith said, "This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon." Instead of quoting President Smith, FairMormon quotes criticism of him by a Mesoamerican proponent, and then supports it with 40-year-old hearsay from a student in a class at BYU.

5. FairMormon quotes Brother Palmer's "geographic conditions" for the Hill Cumorah that include the self-serving requirements for volcanoes and no cold or snow. The Mesoamerican theory depends on its own retranslation of the text anyway (i.e., horses are tapirs, towers are huge stone pyramids, etc.), but these "requirements" for Cumorah have led to the comical search for Cumorah in Southern Mexico that has consumed the time and effort of many people for over 100 years. Worse, these requirements rely on the premise that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

You can read the rest of the article and see the other logical and factual fallacies, but I point out the five above to explain why, if you have people who want to know about the Church, or people who have questions about the Book of Mormon, you should not send them to FairMormon.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A fair chance

Accepting and living the gospel can be a challenge, so I continue to wonder why we make it harder for investigators (and members) than it needs to be.

The Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories are ubiquitous in the Church, thanks to the Arnold Friberg paintings and Christ Visiting the Americas featured in meetinghouses, temples, and the missionary and foreign-language editions of the Book of Mormon itself.

It's not just the illustrations. These theories have been taught at BYU (all campuses) and throughout CES (Church Educational System) for decades. They have been featured in the Ensign, New Era, Friend, and Liahona. They are in all the visitors centers, etc. They are the "consensus" among LDS scholars even today.

Look at what these theories ask investigators (and members) to believe.

1. Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God.
2. The Book of Mormon is an actual history of real people.
3. We don't know where the Book of Mormon took place, but we do know that Joseph Smith was an ignorant speculator who misled the Church when he and Oliver taught that Cumorah was in New York.

I realize that sounds harsh, but that's the reality of what is going on right now. 

As long as this continues, I don't think investigators (and members who have questions) have a fair chance to evaluate the Book of Mormon, Joseph as a prophet, and everything else that flows from there.

A basic gospel principle recognizes that people are free to choose. But freedom to choose is premised on meaningful alternatives. Imperfect alternatives are one problem inherent in mortality, but what if none of the alternatives available to you are viable?

Let's say you're diabetic and the only food source available to you is a candy store. Does it really make any difference which candy you choose?

What if you grow up in a society that presents choices that are mostly "evil" in terms of the gospel, but some are less evil than others? As a society degenerates to the point where all choices are evil, maybe free agency becomes an illusion and you end up with a Noah's flood scenario.

Now, think of the choices available to an investigator.

Choice 1. You can stick with one of the many beliefs put forward by the world, all of which contradict Mormonism--including the beliefs you grew up with.

Choice 2. You can consider Mormonism.

Let's say you're one of a tiny percentage of Earth's inhabitants who chooses Choice 2.

If you're already Christian, you accept the general idea of God and Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible. So far, so good.

But if you're Christian, you probably have trouble with the idea of Joseph Smith as a modern prophet. And if you're not Christian, you have the same trouble.

The missionaries ask you to read the Book of Mormon to find out if it's true. If it is, they say, then Joseph was a prophet and all is right in the world of Mormonism.

The first thing you do is open the book and see the illustrations. You recognize the Mayan motifs and ask the missionaries where the Book of Mormon people lived.

"Central America," one companion says. "We don't know," the other says. Or, if the investigators are lucky, one missionary will say "North America, with Cumorah in New York."

The confusion is apparent to the investigator even before he/she starts reading.

Worse, the more the investigator learns, the more he/she comes to recognize the basic inconsistency of what the missionaries expect him/her to believe. 

Investigator: "If Joseph was a prophet, why would he mislead everyone about Cumorah being in New York?"

Mesoamerican promoter: "He didn't."

Investigator: "But I saw this article about Letter VII online and--"

Mesoamerican promoter: "You're not supposed to read that."

Investigator: "But it's right here, Look." (pulling it up online)

Mesoamerican promoter. "Okay, since you insist, I admit it's true that Oliver Cowdery explicitly said Cumorah was in New York in his Letter VII. It's also true that Joseph helped write the letter and fully endorsed it on multiple occasions. But later Oliver left the Church. Joseph changed his mind and said the Book of Mormon took place in Central America."

Investigator: "He did? Where?"

Mesoamerican promoter: "In a series of anonymous letters in the Times and Seasons. But don't read those, either, because Joseph identified Quirigua as Zarahemla, which obviously can't be correct, so Joseph simply didn't know what he was talking about."

Investigator: "I thought you said he was a prophet."

Mesoamerican promoter: "He said he was only a prophet when he spoke as a prophet. When he spoke about Cumorah, he obviously was not a prophet."

Investigator: "That sounds... doesn't that seem to bring everything he said into question?"

Mesoamerican promoter: "No. Joseph was a prophet about everything except about things our scholars disagree about. Our scholars have a consensus that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. That's why you see the illustrations in the book we gave you. That's why they're hanging up at the chapel. You don't need to worry about a thing. When Joseph Smith was wrong about something, our scholars have corrected him."

Investigator: "I see... Thanks for your time, but I won't be needing this."
(hands the Book of Mormon back).

Friday, May 19, 2017

Expectations and art - missionary work

Because there are so many new readers here, I'm going to repost some of the most popular posts from the past that they might have missed. This one is the most popular (so far) from the consensus blog.


Expectations and art - missionary work

Missionary work involves a variety of expectations, but here I'm focusing solely on the expectations raised by the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon.

Over the years, the official editions of the Book of Mormon have contained sets of illustrations. I have copies of many of these that I'll use to make this important point: The expectations of missionaries, investigators and members are set largely by these illustrations.

The illustrations that accompany the official edition of the Book of Mormon are tremendously influential. I suspect that far more people look at the illustrations than read the text. Probably 100 times more.

Obviously, the message in the text is ultimately the most important, but unless people read the text,they don't get the message. If the illustrations convey ideas that contradict the text (and Church history), then they cause confusion.

The fact that these illustrations have changed over the years shows that they can be changed again. At the end of this post, I have a suggestion along those lines.

The history of these illustrations reflects a shift from a hemispheric model (the one that Friberg apparently intended) to the limited geography two-Cumorah Mesoamerican model that modern scholars support. For example, notice that the earlier editions showed both Mormon and Moroni at the New York Cumorah, while the newer editions show only Moroni in New York.

I suggest it's time to shift back to a one-Cumorah model, based on New York.

I have a copy of a 1961 Book of Mormon that contains the following illustrations at the front of the book:

The caption: When Jesus Christ organized His Church, He called and ordained his disciples.

Caption: The Prophet Joseph Smith. He translated the ancient writings inscribed on gold plates from which the first edition of the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.

Caption: The Hill Cumorah, near Manchester, New York where Joseph Smith obtained the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Caption: The beautiful monument to the Book of Mormon Prophet Moroni was erected on the top of the Hill Cumorah in July, 1935.

Caption: Gold tablet found in Persia in 1961, dating to the time of Darius II (Fourth Century B.C.)...

Caption: Ancient copper and bronze tools dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Gold plates from Peru fastened together with gold rings. Ancient Americans were skilled craftsmen in gold and precious metals.
Caption: Textiles from Peru, dated from the Book of Mormon period.

Caption: Egyptian-like murals found on temple walls in Mexico.

Caption: Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban (sacred mountain). This city dates back to 800 years before Christ.
Caption: Temple of the Cross in Mexico. This temple, believed to have been erected during the Maya Classic Period, contains the famous Cross of Palenque. Many archaeologists now agree that these artistic masterpieces date back to the beginning of the Christian era.

In addition to these illustrations, eight of the twelve Arnold Friberg paintings are interspersed in the text.

The exact same set of illustrations are in the 1980 English edition I'm looking at right now.

[Note: I also have a 1973 Spanish edition that contains the same illustrations except it substitutes Machu Picchu for Monte Alban. I suspect the reason is to show a hemispheric model that would appeal to people in South America.]


The 1981 English edition changed the illustrations to what we have now, both in print and on here. This is the edition that added the subtitle "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" to the cover.

If I'm an investigator, missionary, or member, here's what I take away from these illustrations. First, Christ is the most important (the first illustration) and the Heinrich Hoffman painting depicts the traditional Christ accepted by Christianity generally. Awesome.

Second, Joseph Smith. Makes sense.

Third, finding the Liahona in the Arabian desert. One of the best Friberg paintings, set in the right place, and emphasizing a key element of the text. Nice.

Fourth, arriving at the promised land. So long as I don't realize that Friberg intentionally used a bird species that exists only in Central America, and so long as I don't notice the high mountains in the background, the painting is ambiguous enough that Lehi could have landed almost anywhere in the Americas. Okay, but not great.

Fifth, the waters of Mormon in the depths of a thick jungle featuring high mountains. Hmm, now it's inescapable. I have to conclude that the Book of Mormon took place in Central America somewhere (or maybe somewhere in the Andes). Let's say, not good because it conveys a specific setting the text does not support. Worse, it endorses the scholars' two-Cumorah theory that rejects Letter VII and Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses.

Sixth, Samuel the Lamanite on the Mayan walls of the city of Zarahemla. Now there's no doubt about it. As a reader, I have to believe the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. But when I read the text, I'll be seriously disappointed and confused to discover the text never mentions huge stone pyramids and temples. It never mentions jungles. And when the answer to my obvious questions about Cumorah is that there are actually two Cumorahs, I'll become even more confused.

Seventh, Jesus Christ visits the Americas by John Scott. This painting combines a variety of ancient American motifs to convey the idea (I think) that Christ visited people throughout the Americas. This is a reasonable inference from the text. (I like to think the clouds represent North America, but it would be far better to show something actually from North America, such as an earthwork, that is described in the text. Of course, the text never mentions pyramids, stone buildings, or even high mountains where the Nephites lived.) The biggest problem with including this illustration is the inference that Christ is visiting the Nephites in Central America. The painting is incorrectly labeled "Christ teaching Nephites" on, for example. If the webmaster at misunderstands the painting, surely investigators, missionaries, and members make the wrong inference as well.

Eighth, Moroni burying the plates. Awesome. Except the caption doesn't say where Moroni is burying them; it doesn't mention Cumorah or New York. The Introduction says Moroni "hid up the plates in the Hill Cumorah," so as a reader, I infer this painting is supposed to be the New York hill. But then how could all the other events take place somewhere in Central America? More confusion, especially when the explanation I'm given is the two-Cumorah theory.


My suggestion.

A member, missionary, or investigator who looks at the official edition of the Book of Mormon, online or in print, will naturally turn to these illustrations and take away the message that the Book of Mormon events occurred in Central America. There is really no other feasible conclusion to be drawn from the illustrations.

But the illustrations contradict the text itself in many ways.

The only certain connection we have between the Book of Mormon and the modern world is the Hill Cumorah. People who read the text should not be influenced by depictions of huge Mayan temples, massive stone walls, jungles, and the like. Artistic representations should rely on the text. Some of the Arnold Friberg paintings are set in places that conform to the text; i.e., Lehi in Arabia, brother of Jared on a high mountain, Mormon and Moroni on the New York Hill Cumorah. Others, however, have created expectations among members and nonmembers alike that simply cannot be reconciled with the text or satisfied in the real world.

The sooner they are replaced with text-based illustrations, the better.

Given the existing artwork, here's what I would like to see in the way of Book of Mormon illustrations:


I'd like to go back to the emphasis on the Hill Cumorah in New York, both because of its central role in the restoration, and because of its importance in the text. This spot, in New York, is where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations came to an end.

I'd like to see a quotation from Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII here in the caption. After all, Oliver's testimony as one of the three witnesses is already in the introductory material. Maybe instead of the statue, we could have a photo of the valley to the west where the final battles took place.

Keep this illustration of Lehi and the liahona because it is consistent with the text; i.e., a Middle-Eastern setting.

Add this one back because it's an important story and shows the coast of the Arabian peninsula.

Add this one because it is important to show actual sheep from the text instead of the tapirs and agouti in Central America, although the tropical plants are still problematic.

Add this one back because of how important the story is and the setting, somewhere in Asia, doesn't matter.

Add this one back because it shows both Mormon and Moroni at the Hill Cumorah in New York. This is eliminates any confusion about Cumorah. It reaffirms what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII.
Keep this one because it shows Moroni burying the plates in New York in the stone and cement box he constructed, away from the repository of the Nephite records that his father Mormon concealed elsewhere in the hill.


Illustrations that are consistent with the text can help encourage people to read the text and engage with it. Illustrations that are inconsistent with the text--i.e., illustrations of jungles and massive stone pyramids--are confusing and off-putting. When people discover that illustrations in the official editions rely on the scholars' two-Cumorah theory, it's even worse. The scholarly theories that the Hill Cumorah is actually anywhere but in New York, and that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were speculating about all of this, are hardly conducive to faith.

If we could have a consistent narrative based on the New York setting for the Hill Cumorah, and eliminate the confusing images based on Central America, the message of the text would be free from distractions, which would enhance understanding and faith. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Zombie geography at BYU

Some ideas just won't die. They're zombies. They don't know they're dead, and they are mere shells of living beings, but they keep on coming.

The Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is a zombie. It continues to prowl around BYU.

The textbook definition of a zombie is: a will-less and speechless human held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated.

In the world of software, a zombie is "A process or task which has terminated but was not removed from the list of processes, typically because it has child processes that have not yet terminated."

The Mesoamerican theory is like zombie software. It is dead, but it has child processes that still live, like little zombies.

Here are some of the reasons why the Mesoamerican theory died.

1. Its origin--the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons, wrongly attributed to Joseph Smith--has been exposed as a historical mistake.

2. Thanks to Letter VII, few people even try to defend the two-Cumorahs theory any more. (The Mesoamerican theory claims the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico, so it was a mistake to give the hill in New York the name Cumorah.) Once members of the Church realize that accepting the Mesoamerican theory requires you to also believe that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church, most members reject the Mesoamerican theory quickly.

3. The illusory "correspondences" between Mesoamerica and the text of the Book of Mormon are really just ordinary characteristics of most human civilizations that are not evidence of the purported link between Book of Mormon peoples and the Mayans.

Although the Mesoamerican theory is dead, Mesomania lives in its children. Once we finish them off, we will be rid of the zombie geography. But to finish them off, we have to first identify them, starting with BYU connections.

1. BYU Studies, "the premier Mormon academic journal since 1959," continues to promote the zombie Mesoamerican setting, right on its main page.
Go to the bottom of the page under "Popular Pages" and click on the first one, titled "Charting the Book of Mormon." Scroll to section 13 and read the entries, including 13-161, here.

Presenting BYU's zombie geography map of Mesoamerica!

2. Officially, BYU is supposed to be neutral about Book of Mormon geography. And that would be fine, in a vacuum. But for years, BYU promoted the Mesoamerican theory, including taking faculty to Mesoamerica on educational "Book of Mormon" trips. The zombie theory was widely taught for decades. To claim "neutrality" with this history would be like a strip mining company suddenly claiming "neutrality" after cutting all the trees and shearing the mountaintops. It's not neutral when the damage is not remediated. The zombie children of the Mesoamerican theory are present throughout the University (on all the campuses). Besides, faculty are not really neutralHere is a discussion of an article by a BYU Professor who claimed BYU destroyed Ancient (Mesoamerican) Book of Mormon Studies:
Other current BYU Professors have written extensively about the zombie Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

3. BYU students are taught to understand the geography of the Book of Mormon as presented by the abstract map I blogged about here:

It is obviously designed to look like Central America, because it interprets the text according to the Mesoamerican theory. 

That map is not Central America!
Faculty have been told not to link the text to any real-world site. Instead, they came up with this "virtual reality" version. But it teaches the same thing as the two-Cumorahs theory; i.e., Cumorah is not in New York and Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.  

4. Let's say BYU finishes off the on-campus zombie geography somehow. Will that solve the problem? 


The children of the zombie Mesoamerican theory live in the minds of most of the students who have been educated at BYU for decades. That's why we see the Arnold Friberg Mesoamerican paintings everywhere. It's why Mesomania is ubiquitous.

Whenever you see these books and paintings, you are looking at zombie Mesomania.

It's up to each of us to help deal with the zombie geography of Mesoamerica.