Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Scholars: Prophets keep getting it wrong

Mesomania is so deeply ingrained you can find it throughout LDS literature, scholarly and popular. I hope by now you can spot it yourself. I could write several posts a day just catching up on what has already been written, but new stuff comes out almost daily.

For example, readers have asked me to comment on this blog post:

In my view, this blog is the best one written by the Mesoamerican advocates. If I still believed the Mesoamerican theory (as I did for decades), I'd probably agree with this blog because of the quality, thoughtfulness and detail of the analysis.

But here's an example of the problem that Mesomania causes. The blog post says:

"Joseph Fielding Smith in 1939 expressed his opinion that the Jaredite Ramah/Nephite Cumorah was in upstate New York. Rigidly orthodox and archly conservative, he espoused the "one Cumorah" theory in the wake of liberal new ideas coming up from BYU. Was Smith perpetuating a false tradition as part of his human nature? I believe he was (see the article Ramah/Cumorah), although I revere Joseph Fielding Smith as a Prophet who held the keys of the Kingdom of God on the earth for 2 1/2 years from 1970 - 1972."

Think about this a moment.

In 1939, Joseph Fielding Smith had been Church Historian for around 15 years. He had been an apostle for 20 years. His father, Joseph F. Smith, republished Letter VII in 1899 when he was editor of the Improvement Era. (Joseph F. was First Counselor in the First Presidency at the time.)

Joseph Fielding Smith "expressed his opinion" by quoting from Letter VII and noting that it had been published in the Messenger and Advocate and the Times and Seasons. He likely didn't even know that Joseph Smith had directed his scribes to copy it into his personal history (we know this thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers project), or that Joseph Smith had specifically authorized Benjamin Winchester to reprint it in the Gospel Reflector. Joseph Fielding may not have known that William Smith reprinted it in The Prophet in New York City, or that it was reprinted in England in 1844. But he knew his father had reprinted it in the Improvement Era.

This wasn't a one-off random "opinion" either. Joseph Fielding warned the Saints that the "two-Cumorahs" theory would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. In our day, who is unaware of the realization of that warning? 

(Well, okay, the scholars who promote the two-Cumorahs theory are in denial about that, but most of us know people who have left the Church because of the confusion the theory causes, and those involved with missionary work know the impediment it is for investigators.)

When he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1950s, Joseph Fielding Smith republished his "opinion" about Cumorah, complete with the warning to the Saints about the "two-Cumorahs" theory. Obviously, the scholars weren't impressed. Because President Smith's "opinion" contradicted their theories about Mesoamerica, they determined he was "perpetuating a false tradition."

I don't understand the point of the blog post. Why do we sustain the Quorum of the Twelve and the counselors in the First Presidency as prophets, seers and revelators if we can disregard what they say because they are "perpetuating a false tradition as part of [their] human nature?" Why listen to conference if we only accept what they say if we already agree with it?

Rejecting the prophets and apostles is the essence of the Mesoamerican theory, actually, as this blog post spells out.

That said, I do recognize the aphorism quoted in the blog post that "Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but nobody believes it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible, but nobody believes it." However, a corollary is even more important: "LDS scholars say they are fallible, but they don't believe it."

In this case, we are not talking about an isolated statement made by one of the Q12 or 1st Presidency. We are talking about a clear, unambiguous, specific teaching that Cumorah was in New York, made by Oliver Cowdery, with the assistance and repeated approval of Joseph Smith. Two of Joseph's brothers reprinted Letter VII. Every one of Joseph's contemporaries accepted it. Joseph F. Smith reprinted it. Joseph Fielding Smith cited it. President Marion G. Romney reiterated it in General Conference in 1975, followed by Elder Mark E. Peterson in 1978. So far as I've been able to determine, not a single member of the Q12 or 1st Presidency has contradicted or repudiated Letter VII.

All the opposition to Letter VII has come from LDS scholars and the CES educators they've trained.

Here's a preliminary table that helps explain the impact of Mesomania, from the perspective of these scholars and educators:

People who perpetuate a false tradition about Cumorah being in New York
People who teach the truth about Cumorah not being in New York
Joseph Smith
LDS scholars who promote a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon
Oliver Cowdery
LDS scholars who promote a Baja Californian setting for the Book of Mormon
David Whitmer
LDS scholars who promote a Panamanian setting for the Book of Mormon
Lucy Mack Smith
LDS scholars who promote a Peruvian setting for the Book of Mormon
Brigham Young
LDS scholars who promote a Chilean setting for the Book of Mormon
John Taylor 

Heber C. Kimball

Wilford Woodruff

Orson Pratt

Parley P. Pratt

Joseph F. Smith

Heber J. Grant

George Albert Smith

Joseph Fielding Smith

Marion G. Romney

Mark E. Peterson

I don't know how to make this any clearer. We have a series of scholars and educators who insist they are teaching the truth, even though they strongly disagree with one another. They have created a "mass of confusion."

On the other hand, we have a specific, unified and clear teaching by the modern prophets and apostles, but these scholars characterize that as "perpetuating a false tradition."

It really defies credulity, doesn't it?

The problem is even more serious than this blog post describes. I'll come back to that in the future when I get some time.

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