Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Book of Mormon Plagiarism: The Hawaiian Connection

Some of the town names in New York State and surrounding regions resemble some names in the Book of Mormon. For example, there is the town of St. Agathe in Quebec (Ville de Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, to be precise), and in Ether in the Book of Mormon, there is a passing reference to a place called "Ogath." Coincidence?? (If this challenges your delicate religious beliefs, it might be good to quit reading now. Toward the end of this post, I'll present new evidence pertaining to Book of Mormon plagiarism could blow your testimony to shreds. But first, I'll discuss the much weaker evidence for plagiarism of names from Joseph's rather vast surroundings.)

Here is the list of parallels recently posted in comments at Mormanity from someone with the screen name "ruadamu2":
Here is an interesting fact for you to research:

Names of towns in the vicinity of Joseph at the time he wrote the Book of Mormon (and their BofM counterparts)

Actual Town BofM Town

Tecumseh Teancum
Rama Ramah
Morin Moron
Ste Agathe Ogath
Moravian Moriancum
Angola Angola
Oneida Onidah
Kiskiminetas Kishkumen
Jacobsburg Jacobugath
Jerusalem Jerusalem
Alma Alma
Lehigh Land of Lehi-Nephi
Shiloh Shilom

Also note that the towns of Ramah, Moron, Ogath were in the land northward where Rama, Ste Agathe, and Morin are in Canada

And Teancum and Moriancum were near the border of the Land Northward, where Tecumesh and Moravian are near the Canadian border.

Am I the only one that sees an incredible bit of plausibility here?
Several anti-Mormon Web pages make much of these parallels, and even suggest that the locations can be fit onto a Book of Mormon map, as if Joseph Smith thought the Book of Mormon took place in Canada and the northeastern US and was simply copying names from his knowledge of the area (the critics sometimes recognize that he probably didn't have access to detailed maps). The efforts to fit these few Book of Mormon place names onto a map of the US and Canada requires, in my opinion, vast amounts of stretching or ignoring Book of Mormon data to obtain the desired result. However, I recognize that the results can appear impressive, at least at first glance.

To obtain this list of parallels, a huge geographical area has been scanned to obtain names like Rama, Ontario (over 100 miles north of Toronto, Canada); St. Agathe, Quebec (north of Montreal and Ottawa); Shiloh, New Jersey; Jerusalem and Jacobsburg, Ohio; and Alma, West Virginia. Five states and two Canadian provinces yield this little list of strained parallels.

Let's start with Tecumseh, the supposed origin of Teancum. Hmmm. Oh, I see it now: take off the last sylable, add "an" after the "Te," and there you have it. Tecumseh = Teancum. Kind of like John = Joshua, see? But could Joseph have known about Tecumseh, Ontario? As a prophet of God, yes, but as a plagiarizer, probably not. You see, there's a slight problem with Tecumseh, Ontario in this context: it didn't get that name until 1912. As Wikipedia explains, "Originally known as Ryegate Postal Station when it was first settled in 1792, Tecumseh was renamed in 1912 after the Shawnee tribe leader of the same name. It was officially incorporated as a town in 1921" (as viewed July 30, 2007). I've noticed some anti-Mormon sites speak of Tecumseh, Michigan instead of the Tecumseh, Ontario, replacing a ridiculous candidate with one that is merely silly (and even further from Joseph Smith than its later Canadian cousin). A quick Wiki-check of the history of the Michigan township indicates that this tiny Western suburb of Detroit had just barely been settled by a tiny handful of people in the late 1820s, but at least there was a village of Tecumseh in 1824. Insignificant and remote for those in Joseph Smith's area, it's hard to imagine Joseph being aware of that village and feeling some need to stick it on a mental map of the Book of Mormon. And while he may well have heard of the Indian warrior Tecumseh, it's still quited a stretch to get Teancum from that name.

Turning our attention to the second name given in the list of parallels above, let's consider Rama, Ontario. Yes, Rama is similar to an important name in the Book of Mormon, the Hill Ramah of the Jaredites. But was Joseph aware of Rama, Ontario? Google Rama, look at it on the satellite maps, read the minute entry on Rama in Wikipedia (and the article on the small Native American group that lives there), and tell me why Joseph would know of this tiny place. There's almost nothing there. It's far away on the other side of Lake Huron, home to about 500 members of an Indian tribe. It has a large casino, granted, but that probably wasn't much of a draw in Joseph's day. I see no evidence that it was any more significant in Joseph's day. Correct me if I'm missing something here.

Actually, Ramah is a Biblical place name, but it's such a simple name that it should be easy to find in many languages and cultures - even Roma in Italy is close enough. It's occurrence among the Jaredites doesn't require plagiarizing, especially not from tiny distant towns that Joseph probably never heard of. Not to mention the fact that Rama is another name for Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, not far to the north (the "two Cumorahs theory" does nothing to simplify the problem for critics).

Most of the closest parallels in the Americas are actually based on Biblical names, so Joseph would have no need to turn to North American locations to come up with names like Jerusalem, Shiloh, or Jacob.

The most interesting parallel to me is Angola, New York. And it's in the same state. OK, here's a place that Joseph Smith might have known about - except that the town wasn't named Angola in his day. Yes, some antis are seriously claiming Angola as a point in their favor, but if they would just let their guard down and give in to "a brief moment of Wikiness" (hey, I like that phrase!), they would discover this from Wikipedia's entry on Angola, New York:
Angola is a village in Erie County, New York, USA. The population was 2,266 at the 2000 census. The name is reportedly derived from the nation of Angola. . . .

The community was previously called "Evans Station." The name was changed to "Angola" supposedly because of local residents (primarily, Quakers) supporting missionary efforts in that African country. The economy of the village improved with the arrival of a railroad line in 1852. The Village of Angola was incorporated in 1873.
Following Wikipedia's link to a "Partial History of Angola," one learns that there are rumors of an "Angola" post office elsewhere opening in 1822 to accommodate some Quakers doing missionary work in Angola (I am not sure if this name was actually in use for that African colony at the time, though), but it wasn't until 1855, supposedly, that a request was made to move the Angola post-office to Evans Station, which was still almost 20 years before the Village of Angola become incorporated. There's a chance Joseph could have heard of the little Angola post office, or of the territory of Angola in Africa, but it seems far-fetched to think that modern Angola, New York could have any direct bearing on the Book of Mormon.

Alma, West Virginia is another interesting name. Unfortunately, the town is so small that there is almost no information about it on the Web - not even a stub in Wikipedia. The satellite image of the town suggests that there might be a couple of businesses in the area, but there's almost nothing there from what I can see. With so many other sources of "Alma" to choose from - like Alma Mater, or the female Latin name, Alma, why do we have to drop down to West Virginia to find this "incredible" parallel? Alma isn't a city in the Book of Mormon - it's a prominent name for a couple of prophets. True, there was a valley that Alma's group encounters in Mosiah 24 that his people briefly called the valley of Alma on their way back to the main land of the Nephites, but this is nowhere close to a notable landmark in Book of Mormon geography. The reality is that nothing available to Joseph Smith would have informed him that Alma was not a predominantly female name [note: among the few New Englanders bearing the originally female Latin name "Alma" in his day, some were men], but was actually an authentic male Jewish name in Nephi's day, a name that could have been brought to the New World by Nephi's group. This impressive fact from modern archeaology is discussed at MormonEvidence.com.

The Morin/Moron connection puzzles me. I've seen anti-Mormon Websites claiming there is a Morin, Ontario, but I can find no such place on the map. Google and Wikipedia don't seem to know of this important town that so influenced Joseph Smith. But there is a Morin-Heights in Quebec, almost a suburb of Sainte Agathe (north of Montreal). Very small resort community with a golf course. How influential was this on young Joseph Smith? The first question to ask is whether it was actually on the map in his day. The answer is found in A Brief History of Morin Heights by Sandra Stock:
Before the mid nineteenth century, there were only the occasional seasonal aboriginal hunters passing through the Morin Heights region, most likely Mohawk. Although some settlement had begun in the 1840’s, coming from the direction of Mille Isles, it was in 1850 that Augustin-Norbert Morin, with his guide, Simon, from Oka, came to survey the area. Morin later was the government minister for Lower Canada in charge of the colonization of our entire district and oversaw the organization of Morin into a township in 1855.
Some of the anti-Mormon sites, recognizing how easy it might be to show that these town names weren't on the map in Joseph's day, suggest that the names must have been known locally years before the towns were incorporated, and that Joseph could easily have known of them from others. But it's not like Morin was a major name of the land or river for decades before it became a town. The name comes from a man who arrived in the area in 1850. Chances of plagiarism from Morin Heights, Quebec seem remote - unless Joseph were using his prophetic skills again. But surely Joseph could find plenty of morons in his own area without having to scan the remote and sparesly populated hills of Quebec. In fact, if Joseph were making up names or plagiarizing them, I would think that he would naturally avoid common English words like "Moron" or "Grapefruit" (the latter not being in the Book of Mormon, by the way), to avoid raising unnecessary questions.

Kiskiminetas is somewhat similar to the name of a person in the Book of Mormon, Kishkumen. But a town of that name could not have been known to Joseph Smith before 1830, for as a history of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania explains, a "petition of sundry inhabitants of Allegheny township was presented December 22, 1831, to the court of quarter sessions of this county, asking that a new township be formed out of the upper end of Allegheny township, to be called Kiskiminetas." But the new town of Kiskiminetas was named for a short nearby river (27 miles long) that had long had that name in southwestern Pennsylvania. Did Joseph know about that little river, roughly 200 miles away from Palmyra? Think of all the short rivers you know of from regions 200 miles away from you and then decide. Sure, it's possible. But the case for Book of Mormon plagiarism from local place names becomes increasingly tenuous once you look into the details.

Frankly, I'm not very impressed by someone's ability to find a handful of strained parallels after scanning over townships spanning many thousands of square miles. Cognates and similar names occur easily by chance and can readily be found anywhere you look.

A Luau of Place Names: The Shocking Case for Plagiarism from Hawaii!
To demonstrate the ease with which one can find names similar to the Book of Mormon, let's explore an area that anti-Mormons, shockingly, have failed to consider: the case for Book of Mormon plagiarism from Hawaii. Now it's true that Hawaii was not yet a state in Joseph Smith's day, and obtaining good geographical information about those islands may have been almost as difficult for Joseph as obtaining detailed information about the Arabian Peninsula. But with Joseph's vast international network of frontier farmer-scholars at his side, surely he could have gleaned a few tidbits from the tiny islands of Hawaii.

As I scan the ridiculously small list of Hawaiian place names, behold, I find rich parallels to the Book of Mormon with a far greater density of "incredible finds per square mile" than any anti-Mormons have crafted by their scanning of Canada and the United States. In fact, I fear to list the parallels lest I shake the testimonies of some of the more gullible Latter-day Saints out there with the shocking theory of Joseph Smith and the Hawaiian Connection to the Book of Mormon. But, recognizing that momentarily entertaining my readers is far more important than rescuing the dozens of souls I'm about to destroy, here goes.

Below are name pairs, showing the Hawaiian place name first, followed by the Book of Mormon name that may have been plagiarized via Joseph's Hawaiian connection (perhaps drawing upon traders who used a little-known extreme westward extension of the Erie Canal). Some of the names are not exact matches, I admit, but educated readers will readily recognize that they are still within the acceptable limits of scholarship and do a much better job of establishing Joseph Smith's guilt as a plagiarizer than any previous critiques.

Hawaiian Place Name - Book of Mormon Name

Lahaina - Liahona (virtually a direct hit - the first plausible non-Semitic explanation of this strange name!)

Molokai - Muloki, Mulek (a direct hit for Muloki! Another first!)

Lihue - Lehi (as direct as a direct hit can be, minus a clumsy vowel shift)

Halawa - Heleman (note Joseph's clumsy inversion of the "w" to "m", as if we wouldn't notice - damning evidence indeed! Or could this just be poor penmanship on Oliver Cowdery's part?)

Lanai - Laman, Lamoni

Kihei - Kish (adding an "s" or "sh" is another of Joseph's amateurish tricks)

Hilo - Helam, Helaman, Helorum

Haleiwa - Helaman ("w" to "m" again), Helorum

Laie - Laish (there's that tell-tale added "sh")

Lanai - Laman

Lawai - Laman (the familiar "w" to "m" shift is at play again - such a lack of imagination on Joseph's part)

Mililani - Moroni (a characteristic "l" to "r" shift, no doubt influenced by Joseph's exposure to Far Eastern scholars)

Pahala - Pahoran (again, a clumsy repeat of the "l" to "r" shift that scarcely covers Joseph's tracks, being ever stuck in the same rut)

Pahoa - Pahoran

Pukalani - Pacumeni, Paanchi

Manoa - Manti

Nihoa - Nephi (note that the "h" in Nihoa may have a more fricative nature than in English, readily suggestive of the "ph" sound in Nephi)

Na Pali, Napili - Nephi (one can readily see how Joseph would conglomerate Nihoa and Napili into the shorter "Nephi" name)

Kohala - Cohor (the old "l" to "r" shift again!), Korihor

Kaumana - Cumora

Kemoo - Chemish (following the recipe of "just add 'sh'")

Maili - Melek

Anini - Ammon, Ammonihah

Plus many more, no doubt!
There you have it: in a territory vastly smaller than any one of the seven states or provinces that former anti-Mormon scholars have scanned to find place name parallels to the Book of Mormon, I have found an approximately equal number of parallels - with outstanding "direct hits" - in the microscopic islands of Hawaii. Surely this presents a vastly better case for plagiarism.

Further, Hawaii also offers the advantages of having a sea to the west, a sea to the east, several narrow necks of land to choose from, abundant hills, ancient native cultures, sea faring peoples, a history of wars, and, above all, ample evidence of volcanic activity consistent with the dramatic inferred volcanism in 3 Nephi. Plus, guess where the Spaulding Manuscript was eventually found? HAWAII!!! It's all coming together now.

Book of Mormon critics, take a deep breath, ponder for a moment as you sip an alcohol-free pineapple cocktail, recognize the significance of these finds, and join me in saying "Aloha" to the most plausible non-divine explanation for the Book of Mormon so far: Joseph Smith and the Hawaiian Connection.

Book 'em, Danno!

Richard Bushman: Braving the Sour Limelight as a Famous Mormon Defender

The New York Times article, "Scholar Becomes Chief Explainer in a 'Mormon Moment,'" discusses the significant role that Richard Bushman has been playing in explaining Mormon beliefs to the world. (Hat tip to Bill Hamblin.)

I'm very proud of Dr. Bushman and what he has done to improve understanding both outside and within the Church. Kudos!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Judgment Day: Photo from a New York Highway

Can you guess why I like "Judgment Day" as a title for this photo? (Click to enlarge.)

The name was suggested by my wife after I discussed some aspects of the photo. The snapshot was taken near Grand Island, New York, just a few miles away from Niagara Falls, as we were driving from the Falls to the Palmyra area earlier this week.

Test: Here are some other photos from my account at Viewbook.com (just started it today - will add some LDS-related photos later):

Blatant Theft: The Popularity of Counterfeit Goods

In New York's Chinatown recently, my wife and I were amazed at all the shops selling brand name purses at ridiculously low prices. In one shop, I saw workers in the back of the store sewing D&G labels onto unlabeled counterfeit purses, illegally stealing the D&G trademark and illegally selling counterfeit goods - but our government seems to tolerate this kind of theft. Someone approached my wife and asked if she wanted to buy one of the purses. My wife politely explained that the purse looked very nice, but she didn't want to buy it because she thought it was fake. The brusque response of the saleswoman was surprising. She pointed at my wife and shouted, "Of course it's fake! If you want the real thing, go uptown and pay $300."

They aren't even ashamed of the blatant theft of a brand. Numerous businesses there are based on selling counterfeit goods. I know it's a huge problem in New York City, but the brazenness of the thieves surprised me.

How Late Should Church Dances Go?

One Midwest stake recently held a youth conference, running from Thursday through Saturday. Thursday night and Friday night there were dances that went until 11 pm or so, with some kids getting home around midnight or later (those in charge of clean-up, for example, got home well after midnight). With the first dance occurring during the work week, I know of a couple of parents, including working fathers with early-morning duties, who were adversely affected by the unusually late timing of the dance. I'm used to dances ending earlier, like 10 pm. Is there a trend in the Church for youth dances to extend to later times? Just curious!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Scenes from the Hill Cumorah Pageant, July 22, 2007

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Hill Cumorah Pageant on its closing night, July 22, 2007 - my first time ever. Awesome! Very impressed, in spite of an few minor quibbles. Tremendous production! And it's free.

Update: Let me remind readers that my photographs as well as my text from my Website or blogs are copyrighted. (Original works in the US are inherently subject to copyright protection whether a copyright notice is displayed or not.) Photographs may not simply be lifted and reproduced elsewhere without permission, though limited portions of the text may be quoted with attribution. Fortunately, most of the pro-LDS sites that use my material with attribution have received my permission. I tend to grant most requests, if they are reasonable, though in cases where my work is a work in progress, I encourage people to simply provide a link instead of reproducing a lengthy section.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Thin Veil of Anonymity on the Web

I've had several people suggest I disable anonymous comments on Mormanity to cut down on the occasional flux of nasty comments here, since the nastiest comments - the kind I typically delete ASAP - come from viewers who hide behind the "anonymous" label. However, I'd rather have to delete a few comments than make it harder for people to share their thoughts, so I'm keeping anonymous comments enabled. But I would like to just remind people how thin and deceptive the veil of anonymity can be on the Web.

Whether you enter a consistent moniker or just use the default of "Anonymous" in posting comments, for your own protection it's wise to assume that the public could one day learn who you are. This just happened to the CEO of a company, with very embarrassing results.

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market (note to RMs who served in Europe: this is a great place for the high quality bread and cheese you may be craving), has been posting seemingly anonymous comments for the past eight years on Yahoo!'s financial board for Whole Foods, using the moniker "rahodeb", which turns out to be an anagram of his wife's name, Deborah. Federal authorities working for the Federal Trade Commission uncovered rahodeb's identity while investigating Whole Food's proposed purchase of Wild Oats, a competitor that had been repeatedly dissed by rahodeb. Now the world knows about John Mackey's indiscretion - and it's hurting the company, angering investors, and causing a lot of grief for this CEO.

So to all you prospective CEOs or other potential subjects of future Federal investigations (and that could be all of us, with the growing powers of the government and Homeland Security), before you post your next anonymous comment, ask what impact it might have if the world one day were to know who wrote it. Hateful, obscene comments are always a stupid idea, and there are plenty of other ways to have future regrets, as one CEO just found out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The First Presidency Listens - At Least in My Experience (2 for 2)

Sometimes exceptional situations arise in the Church where a member or unit needs to get special approval or an exemption of some kind from the First Presidency. My advice is to just do it (when appropriate!) and trust that they will listen and handle the matter wisely. I've been involved in two such matters, and both received satisfying and even touching responses.

One issue involved a letter asking for help in fixing a complicated membership issue in which a Hmong sister had her name improperly removed from the records of the Church by her father without her knowledge. The matter was promptly resolved and the member was deeply touched to get a personal letter back from President Hinckley.

The other matter involved one of the highlights of my life, one of those almost surreal experiences that for some reason felt like and still feels like one of the most important things I've ever done. Shortly after moving to Wisconsin, I was asked by our Stake President to lead a committee to make a recommendation about the possibility of forming a branch for the valiant members we had on the Oneida Indian Reservation. The proposal would involve consideration of a building for the branch, which would require an appeal to the First Presidency for an exception to normal building policy since there were other buildings within 25 miles, one in Green Bay and one in Appleton. But our little committee, after reviewing the history of the members and how they had been pulled from one ward to another to provide strength for other wards, felt strongly that this was now the time to let them be strong in their own area and have a branch and building that would be theirs.

Before reaching such a conclusion, as we met for our first committee meeting in the town of Oneida in the home of the man who would later be the Branch President, there was an incredible spirit present. It was that strange sense on being at the epicenter of a great and marvelous event, an event that would make a huge difference. The sense of excitement and spiritual significance that we felt during that meeting was out of proportion to the task at hand, but it still stirs me to recall it and brings barely noticeable and manly tears to my eyes. A couple months later, with the approval and support of the Stake for the proposed branch and with the Stake's agreement that a building for the Oneida members would be desirable, I would draft the letter that would ultimately go to the First Presidency for their approval of the exception. The request was considered and a thoughtful affirmation of the request was granted (milestones would need to be met for attendance, of course). The Oneida people rejoiced and stepped up to the challenges they faced. A wonderful, Christlike community of Saints has flourished there. Their small, beautiful building is well used and I believe it has already been expanded once since them to handle the growth in numbers. I am so grateful that the First Presidency listened to the request and made a significant exception to normal policy for a wonderful cause.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Surviving My First Ward Choir Experience

Today was my first experience singing with a real ward choir and I loved it. It was a nice change of pace after years of fleeing from choir opportunities, always with some excuse. Maybe old dogs can learn something new every now and then.

My fear of singing plagued me for a long time. It began in fourth grade when we had a cranky old substitute teacher for a month who announced that she needed to grade each of us on singing, and would do this by having us stand in front of the class one by one and sing a song of our choice. I was terrified. The night before the test, I asked my Dad for help. We had a hymnbook and I looked for the shortest one: "Upon the Cross of Calvary." He helped me practice a bit and I thought I could get through it, but all terror broke out when I had to stand in front of the class. If you can imagine the final wheezing sounds a possum makes after being struck on the road, you might have a feel for the tonal quality I elicited from my vocal chords. Well, not that bad, but I was so scared that it must have been very rough.

After working hard to get As in every subject in my impressive elementary school career, I was devastated a week or so later when I saw a "D" for singing on my report card. The next year, during singing events, I would try to hide behind the piano or just mouth the words, taking no risks. That silly distaste for singing persisted a long time, even though I knew it was important. I've almost always tried to be a good sport and sing with the congregation, but out of habit have shied away from anything more substantial.

There were a few more negative experiences after that, but my kind wife has helped me learn some of the basics of singing, and other family members have encouraged me to press forward. And now, since there were so few people in our small ward choir, I felt like I needed to help out. Our performance today in our Ward Conference turned out so beautifully - in part due to the marvelous cello parts played by my gifted son, Benjamin, and largely due to the excellent guidance provided by my wife in directing the choir. It was truly a joyful experience to be up there engaged with a live choir in a beautiful variation of "I Need Thee Every Hour." Might even try that again!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Value Networks and Latter-day Saint Organization

I just spent three enlightening days going through training for Value Network Analysis - an incredible tool for understanding business models and organizational behavior. Forget process mapping and org charts - they neglect how things really work and miss the all-important exchanges of intangibles (knowledge, trust, etc.) and even some of the tangibles between the various parties involved. The Value Network approach identifies the human roles that are involved in an operation or portion of a business or organization and then maps out and analyzes the important intangible and tangible transactions that occur between the people in the roles. By properly constructing and analyzing these maps, one can get insights about what is broken, what is missing, what is healthy, etc.

The Value Network approach is all about relationships between people in their various roles, not about the systems that supposedly are in place. In examining these roles and the transactions they participate in, one focuses on the human element and the realities of system behavior, not delusional fantasies about how things are supposed to work on paper. This methodology is truly on the cutting edge of knowledge management and organizational behavior. It is foreign to most business experts, as are many of the enlightened principles associated with it. And I think it has powerful potential as a tool for understanding the operations of the Church at various levels, especially at the local level.

The methodology was developed by Verna Allee, a remarkable woman who is now one of my favorite people. She and her German associate, Oliver Schwabe (another of my favorite people), recently provided three days of training and insight that opened up many new ways of thinking about business - and perhaps even thinking about religious organization.

Here's one example, attempting to quote Verna: "All companies say that people are their most important asset. But it's a lie. Look at their reports and balance sheets: people are always treated as an expense, not an asset. But a few leaders in knowledge management have begun to ask, 'What if companies began to behave as if people really were their most important assets?' How would that change they way we do business?"

Our trainers emphasized what should be obvious: organizations operate based on relationships between people, and the network of relationships and the exchanges of information, trust, etc., between the people is something that must be nurtured and strengthened.

Now this training wasn't just a lot of feel-good philosophy. There are rigorous tools for analyzing network metrics, for visualizing complex relationships in 3-D space, for exploring alternate scenarios, etc., and there is a vibrant international ecosystem of qualified Value Network practitioners sharing and developing tools through an open-source model nurtured by Verna Allee and her peers.

But the human-centered concepts that she taught, many of which challenge standard corporate thinking, made so much sense. And in many ways, there are consistent with the principles that are taught to Church leaders for operating their units. Yes, there is a hierarchy and organizational chart, but the real work of the Gospel occurs through personal relationships, through love and charity and service, that don't show up on the org chart but which can be and should be sustained and nurtured by inspired callings, by prayerfully organized home teaching, by personal interviews with Church leaders, by attention to charity and examples of goodness that help leaders lead by example, by efforts that recognize the the uniqueness and agency of the members, helping them to build their own networks to help them and their peers become fellow citizens in the household of of faith.

Have any of you been exposed to Value Network thinking? Any of you met Verna Allee or Oliver Schwabe? I highly recommend her most recent book, The Future of Knowledge. I hope to have much more to say about all of this later.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

LDS/Biblical Christianity and John 17

In spite of our belief in and use of the Bible, some critics like to say that Latter-day Saints are nonbiblical. OK, we have our flaws, but nonbiblical? The critics see themselves as the only "biblical Christians," a term that seems to apply only to those who interpret selected verses of the Bible in exactly the same way as they do. An irony, of course, is that the most common arguments for our "nonbiblical" status are based on our refusal to accept extra-biblical creeds crafted several centuries after the last New Testament writing. And these creeds rely on terms and concepts that are arguably foreign to the Bible (I mean you won't find those terms there - I know one can argue that they are rooted in or extrapolated from the Bible).

For those who have heard that we are nonbiblical, it might be helpful to sit down with an informed Latter-day Saint and go over multiple chapters of the Bible and and discuss each other's views. I think honest people will come away from the exercise feeling that "nonbiblical" may be a terribly inaccurate term, in spite of differences in interpretation. Perhaps you would say that we are overly literal or too fundamental or give the most weight to the wrong sections, but we are not "nonbiblical." We study and use and turn to the Bible as a basic part of our religion. There is plenty of room to differ in our interpretations, but a difference in interpretation is not a meaningful reason for branding someone who loves the Bible as "nonbiblical."

Today in Sunday School we discussed John 17. I'd like to offer my comments on some of its verses to point out how LDS themes really do resonate with the Bible, though others are allowed to disagree and interpret otherwise, without necessarily losing your status as Christians, biblical Christians, or human beings.

Here is John 17, with my comments:

1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Latter-day Saints love this verse and quote it frequently, in my experience. We also often comment that in Hebrew or Aramaic, the verb "to know" (yada) can imply a close, covenant relationship. It is not enough to just intellectually know Who God is. Rather, the Bible urges us have a close, intimate, covenant relationship. And note the reference to two Beings: God the Father AND Jesus Christ, Whom God sent. While this can be rationalized in terms of the later Trinity concept from the post-biblical creeds, it's much easier to construe this clear and simple language as referring to one Being, God the Father, and a second Being, His Son. Yes, they are one, but the question is how? We will address that in a moment.
4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
Yes, Christ was sent by the Father to carry out the Father's work. He is reporting on His stewardship to the Father, Who, as Christ said, is "greater than" the Son (John 14:28). All very solid LDS themes.
5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
Jesus Christ here refers to his premortal status with the Father before being born with mortal attributes on earth. Latter-day Saints believe that the title Jehovah/YHWH in the Old Testament typically refers to the premortal Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Creator under the direction of the Father, with Christ being one of the plural Beings in the "we" and "us" of Genesis 1:26,27 when "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" - a reference to the very Biblical concept that the physical image of God resembles that of man.
6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.
An approving reference to believers who have "kept" the commandments. No surprise here, since when Jesus was asked what one should do to obtain eternal life, His answer was, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matt. 19:17) Shhh! That kind of talk can get a believer branded as a non-biblical cultist these days.
7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.

8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.

9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
No objections here.
11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
Stop the presses. Did He just say what I think He said? Is Christ praying that Christians might be one as Christ and the Father are one? Could that have implications on the nature of the oneness of the Godhead? Hmmm, that sounds suspiciously LDS - must be a fluke in the translation of this passage.
12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
Right - Christians must not be surprised at rough treatment from the world, whether it's from the press, Hollywood, governments, or even from so-called Christian ministers.
15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
The Lord is praying that those who have already accepted him might be kept from evil. I fully agree. Our free agency is not taken away when our sins are. We can still turn from the Savior and deny Him.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
The word of God is not described as previously written words alone, but conveys the notion of that which God speaks. If we accept God as the source of truth, then what right do we have to tell Him that He may speak no more and that no more of His word is needed? We must be willing to accept the words of God - now and in the past.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.

19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Look, there it is again. The Lord is driving this point home: Christians are to be one as Christ and the Father are one. We are to be "in" them as they are "in" one another. The unity that we can and should have is being described as similar to the unity and oneness of the Father and the Son. The unity in John 17 it is not the unity extolled by Greek philosophers - a unity of substance, an incorporeal, metaphysical unity utterly foreign to beings with tangible bodies of matter (matter being utterly despised by the Greek philosophers as far too impure and limiting for God, who had to be immaterial only, not spirit clothed in a body) - but a unity that must be a unity of purposes, heart, and intent. Understanding this makes sense of numerous passages of scripture, such as Acts 7:55,56, where Stephen before his death saw God the Father with the Son standing at his right hand. Two Beings - in whose image we are created. This is precious knowledge, truly biblical knowledge, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
Christ looks forward to unity beyond the unity we can experience here in mortality, but a unity with God and Christ in the glory of the presence of the Father, where we will be one with them. Once again, our oneness with each other and with them is described as at least similar in nature to their oneness.
23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Any guess as to how many pages of anti-Mormon literature have been written explaining that the Mormon quest to "be made perfect" is nonbiblical and non-Christian? See also Matthew 5:48, where the Lord commands us to seek to be "perfect."
24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
Christ wants us to return to the presence of the Father to be with Christ - as if there is reference to a real, even physical location - where we will see Christ in His glory. And there is a reference to Christ's premortal role. All very LDS concepts.
25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.

26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

I found nothing to disagree with in this powerful intercessory prayer of the Savior, and found many themes that resonate well with LDS doctrine. Nevertheless, our biblical and Christian status is often denied by our critics on the basis of the doctrines that I found so consistent with aspects of John 17. I hope they will at least recognize some of the post-biblical traditions they bring to the table were not visibly on the table in the room at the Last Supper, where this intercessory prayer was probably given (per Alfred Edersheim).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I Figured Out the Problem! They're Disbelieving in a Different Book of Mormon!

There's an interesting debate at Beliefnet on the topic, "Are Mormons Christian?". LDS author Orson Scott Card takes on Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention. I enjoyed Brother Card's lucid comments, but I learned the most by reading Dr. Mohler's explanation of why we are not Christian. I'm so glad I read it because I finally understand a big part of the problem that the SBC leaders have had with us Mormons. Look at this quote from Dr. Mohler:
Contemporary Mormonism presents the Book of Mormon as "another testament of Jesus Christ," but the Jesus of the Book of Mormon is not the only begotten Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, or the one through whose death on the cross we can be saved from our sins.
My goodness, it's suddenly clear. The problem, obviously, is not that we believe in a different Jesus, but that Al Mohler and his fellow SBC peers DISBELIEVE IN A DIFFERENT BOOK OF MORMON.

OUR Book of Mormon, the real one, is all about Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the One whose death and Atonement provide our only hope of redemption, our Lord and Savior. The one Dr. Mohler's folks have in their elite theological seminary must be a counterfeit, perhaps an early draft of Rushdie's Satanic Verses (yeah, that would explain it!) or some 1960's druggie tract or perhaps a sarcastic atheistic comic book stuffed into an old Book of Mormon dust jacket.

Well, bless their hearts, no wonder they've had trouble accepting us as Christians. With all that LDS talk about the Book of Mormon being scripture and another testament of Jesus Christ, I'd also be confused if I checked out the Book of Mormon from my SBC library and starting reading some warped humanist satire denouncing Christ. In fact, I'd probably make an anti-Mormon DVD myself. Well, now we know that it's all just been a big misunderstanding (and that's really what it is).

And this explains why many of the fine Christians (and I truly mean that) of that denomination don't have trouble with Mormons as Christians - I bet they've seen the real book. The problems is just with a few people at headquarters, relying on some counterfeit in the SBC Seminary. Now it all makes sense.

So let's be more understanding on our end, but also take this opportunity to fix the problem and patch up our relationship with our former theological enemies. Let's buy them a few hundred - maybe even a few thousand - copies of the real Book of Mormon, ship them to SBC headquarters, and let them see that there's really no need for all that time and money being wasted to tell everyone that we aren't Christians. If we can just get them to look at the same book, then I'm sure we'll end up on the same page.

Whew! Glad that's over!!

Hey Bookslinger, ready to help?

Pre-Columbian Chickens and Missing Human Polynesian DNA in the Americas

Among some LDS folks, there's been some interest in the recent news about the discovery of pre-Columbian chickens in the Americas (the peer-reviewed scientific article in is also available online). This isn't directly relevant to the Book of Mormon since, contrary to claims of critics, the text does not require the familiar chicken to have been known to Book of Mormon peoples. The reference to chickens is in the use of a simile to describe how the Lord has cared for his people. (For what it may imply, see my discussion about chickens on my LDSFAQ page about plants and animals in the Book of Mormon.) Rather than settling any debate over chickens, I think what makes the new discovery so interesting is its implications about pre-Columbian transoceanic contact between the Americas and others - a peripheral but interesting topic for students of the Book of Mormon. And what is especially interesting about that is the implication on DNA issues. While there is string evidence for significant ancient contact between Polynesia and the Americas, DNA studies of Native Americans do not (yet) show evidence of such contact. Again, it's only of peripheral interest, but it does help us better appreciate the limitations of DNA analysis, including how easy it is for specific lines of mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosomes to be lost over time.

Excerpt from the story:
Popular history, and a familiar rhyme about Christopher Columbus, holds that Europeans made contact with the Americas in 1492, with some arguing that the explorer and his crew were the first outsiders to reach the New World.

But chicken bones recently unearthed on the coast of Chile--dating prior to Columbus' "discovery" of America and resembling the DNA of a fowl species native to Polynesia--may challenge that notion, researchers say.

"Chickens could not have gotten to South America on their own--they had to be taken by humans," said anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Polynesians made contact with the west coast of South America as much as a century before any Spanish conquistadors, her findings imply. . . .

"There is increasing evidence of multiple contacts [of pre-Columbian Polynesians] with the Americas," she said, "based on linguistic evidence and similarities in fish hook styles." Physical evidence of human DNA from Polynesia has yet to be found in South America, she added. [Emphasis mine.]

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Mormon's Epistle on Infant Baptism: Too Harsh?

Have you ever been bothered by Mormon's harsh words against infant baptism in Moroni chapter 8? Verse 14 has long been troublesome to me: "Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity, for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell."

This certainly isn't the way to build bridges and sell books. It just seems too harsh. But a new insight came today when I was talking with an LDS convert who joined the Church while completing her Ph.D. in history. Part of her conversion involved using her training to recognize many touches in the Book of Mormon that are typical of authentic historical documents, often in contrast to what one would expect if Joseph Smith were just crafting a fraud to generate sales. As she shared some of her insights, my mind turned to Moroni 8 and it occurred to me that verse 14 is troubling in a modern setting, but Mormon's harsh words were not written about modern sincere believers in Christ who have been raised with infant baptism as part of their traditions of faith. When he was writing in the fourth century, before the final collapse of his people, he was desperately striving to stamp out recently kindled fires of apostasy set by theological arsonists. His targets were wicked apostates who were denying the mercy and justness of God and perverting the ways of God. It wasn't just a misunderstanding that they and all their peers had inherited, but a perversion they were introducing, presumably for their own gain.

Mormon's letter to Moroni has quite a different feel once we step back and consider the setting, viewing it as a historical document from a tough general and prophet fighting the spiritual apostasy that would contribute to the destruction of his nation. The apostates were wicked and surely would perish for what they were doing, if they did not repent. The harsh tone might make sense in the ancient historical context. From General Mormon in 300-something A.D. taking on wicked apostasy from the truth they had received from the Lord, strong language condemning the apostates may have been in order. But if a modern Joseph Smith were just making this up to sell books, drawing upon his environment to write about the theological errors of his fellow Christians, that harshness would risk further alienating a huge part of the market and just wouldn't make much sense, in my opinion.

Below is the entire epistle in Moroni 8. Note verses 4 through 6 which indicate the Mormon has just heard rumors that this new perversion is being introduced in the Church. His purpose in writing the epistle, as he states in verse 6, is to urge his son to actively put down this new "gross error." Again, he is not writing those words to condemn those who would grow up with that doctrine centuries after its introduction.
[1] An epistle of my father Mormon, written to me, Moroni; and it was written unto me soon after my calling to the ministry. And on this wise did he write unto me, saying:

[2] My beloved son, Moroni, I rejoice exceedingly that your Lord Jesus Christ hath been mindful of you, and hath called you to his ministry, and to his holy work.

[3] I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.

[4] And now, my son, I speak unto you concerning that which grieveth me exceedingly; for it grieveth me that there should disputations rise among you.

[5] For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.

[6] And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.

[7] For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:

[8] Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

[9] And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.

[10] Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach -- repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.

[11] And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.

[12] But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!

[13] Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

[14] Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity, for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.

[15] For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.

[16] Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.

[17] And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation.

[18] For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

[19] Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.

[20] And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.

[21] Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.

[22] For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing --

[23] But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.

[24] Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.

[25] And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;

[26] And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

[27] Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.

[28] Pray for them, my son, that repentance may come unto them. But behold, I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them; and in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost.

[29] And after rejecting so great a knowledge, my son, they must perish soon, unto the fulfilling of the prophecies which were spoken by the prophets, as well as the words of our Savior himself.

[30] Farewell, my son, until I shall write unto you, or shall meet you again. Amen.

Networks and Predators

Networking is often critical to success in life, but some networks are more dangerous than others. So who's in your child's network? And for you, are there influences in your network of friends and acquaintances that might see you as a meal?

(Click to enlarge slightly.)