Squandering the uniqueness of the Book of Mormon

Any time we conceptually assign individuals to a group based on shared characteristics, we are overgeneralizing because people are more complicated than that. However, for analysis purposes, there are four major groups of people whose thinking is affected by the psychology of influence when it comes to the Book of Mormon:

1. Active, believing LDS.
2. Inactive and/or former LDS
3. Antagonists (LDS or not)
4. Indifferent nonmembers

In my view, the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is detrimental for groups 2-4, so I won’t discuss those groups in this post (except in a footnote*). Instead, I’ll focus solely on group 1.

While I think everyone in group 1 would like to know where the Book of Mormon events took place, I estimate that 90% of the people in the group claim they don’t really care about the geography issue because: 

i) they are confused by the different theories and don’t want to invest time and effort toward reaching a conclusion because they figure no conclusion is possible, given the fact that smart, faithful LDS have dramatically different ideas;

ii) they defer to LDS scholars and educators as a proxy for deferring to Church leaders who have left the questions unresolved; and/or

iii) they feel this is a controversial topic that raises questions they don’t want to think about (cognitive dissonance).

Most of the 90% claim to be satisfied by their spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon. This is fine, of course, but it can lead to complacency. Worse, I think it’s a major reason why the Book of Mormon has not yet swept the Earth.

In the first place, adherents to most religions feel a spiritual connection to their holy book(s). This is axiomatic, or nearly so, and therefore a claim of spiritual witness has little to no persuasive effect outside the group that is already convinced. 

People to whom the idea of a spiritual witness is new might be an exception, although experience shows that non-religious people are even less receptive to the message of the Restoration. 

Let’s say 250,000 converts are baptized every year. That’s a lot of people, but there are over 7 billion people in the world. We’re not even keeping up with population growth. Plus, we all know a significant, but undisclosed, number of people resign from the Church every year. We all know of areas where missionary work is stagnant. IMO, one reason is that we are inherently conflicted over the Book of Mormon because of the geography/historicity issues. 

This leads to my second point. Certainly members and investigators who search for answers on the Internet quickly discover how unsettled these issues are. Members, including missionaries, are defensive when questioned about geography and historicity because they know they don’t have answers. They can’t even tell one another, let alone investigators, where the Hill Cumorah is (meaning the Mormon 6:6 scene of the final battles). In many cases, they can’t even discuss it in Church classes because it’s not an “allowed” topic.

In the third place, Christians make the argument that people get a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon because so much of it consists of quotations from the Bible. It’s a plausible argument for many Christians. From the days of Joseph Smith through the present, Christians have been the most open to the Restoration, but their pastors and theologians are not passively watching their membership leave to become LDS. They have developed their own programs aimed at converting LDS missionaries. The internal LDS debate about geography/historicity is a component of the Christian efforts to sow doubt and confusion about the Book of Mormon.

In my opinion, these problems can be addressed by members and missionaries who know the Book of Mormon is unique among holy books because of its historicity and unique origins; i.e., if it is an actual ancient history, then it could only have been produced by the gift and power of God. That, in turn, means Joseph and Oliver were telling the truth about everything.

We squander that uniqueness when we undermine the historicity claim with confusion about the setting. 

And we further squander our position when we undermine the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver.

For these two reasons alone, it’s critical that LDS reach consensus that reverses the damage caused by years of confusion and repudiation of the prophets. Let’s just agree, once and for all, that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.   

Short of that, I hope we can eventually reach the point where all interested LDS scholars and educators participate in a full and open conversation about how to present the totality of the circumstances to members of the Church so each individual can make an informed decision. 

*I think the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is detrimental for groups 2-4 because it has created barriers to belief by contradicting:

i) the plain language of the text, which never mentions jungles, volcanoes, Mayans, or pyramids; 

ii) the explicit statements of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and everyone who knew them, at least with respect to the New York Cumorah;

iii) the explicit statements of every prophet and apostle who has spoken on the topic, at least with respect to the New York Cumorah.

On top of that, the Mesoamerican theory is supported only by illusory “correspondences” between Mesoamerican archaeology/anthropology and strained interpretations of the text. This compounds the attack on the credibility and reliability of the prophets and apostles that is at the foundation of the two-Cumorahs theory. 

The confidence of Mesoamerican advocates is not in question. “It is the true believer’s ability to ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears’ to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard,” wrote Eric Hoffer in 1951, “which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy.”

What is in question is their willingness to consider all the evidence and allow others (i.e., their audience and readers) fair and reasonable access to the alternatives.

Suppressing Letter VII and adhering to self-serving “requirements” for Cumorah don’t work any longer. Anti-Mormon web pages delight to show how LDS scholars are rejecting their own prophets so they can promote the Mesoamerican theory. Investigators and youth discover this with a few clicks.  

Source: Book of Mormon Wars

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