Taking the Stone Out of the Hat, Part II: Motives and Trust

Challenging the stone in the hat translation story can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the documents. For every quote supporting the Urim and Thummim as the only instrument used to translate the golden plates, some other quote will be used to justify the stone as at least a companion tool. Anyone with access to the documents will, with time, realize how confusing the whole becomes. These aren’t complimentary recitations that can be reconciled. They are at odds with each other; sometimes within the same sources or interviews. Important evidence needs to be examined for who wrote it and why, comparing it to others.

Most of those who add the stone in a hat to the narrative selectively quote. They will grab something David Whitmer said out of context to the rest of the interview, and include it with little comment. The same goes with Martin Harris and Emma Smith who have interesting anecdotes that make for good story telling. Collectively they can be a powerful witness, but that is only when snippets of one or the other are joined. When the quotes are put into context of the documents, and then compared to each other, a different picture forms. It might be a little too much to say they are in collusion. Nonetheless, their reasoning for talking about the translation the way they do has similarities.

Considering all the early information (especially from the Prophet Joseph Smith himself) that puts the Urim and Thummim as the principle translation device, it might be surprising how prominent for modern Latter-day Saints the stone in a hat has become. Previously it was considered a peculiarity that might have some authentication, but not enough for anything more than passing comment. Articles specifically talking about the translation might include a section with supporting quotes. They are rare exceptions. A majority skip it altogether; General Conference perhaps most of all.

Artwork, the most powerful tool for popularization, was singled out as historically wrong. LDS Church wide depictions stuck with the Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery version of translation. It must be admitted they were far from perfect representations. Often Joseph Smith was shown, usually behind a curtain, reading directly off the gold plates with no translation device. Instead of correcting by including Joseph Smith using the Urim and Thummim, the images of him reading the plates at all are discarded. One version of the Urim and Thummim is routinely published, while a whole bundle of stone in a hat has taken over visuals. To wipe out those inaccurate versions of the translation and replace them with even more questionable versions is revisionist history; not sound doctrine. The same goes with the translation history.

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Immanentize the Algorithm

A brave new world of thought control.

Some disturbing developments have been afoot in the socio-political realm for quite some time. We are all familiar with the censorious behavior of Big Tech, where you can be deplatformed for being a Bad Person. But only the right kind of Bad Person. Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States, can’t be allowed on Twitter, for instance. However, the Taliban is welcome.

We have seen over the past year Democrat politicians openly asking Big Tech to censor conservatives. They aren’t even being subtle about it. They have full-on embraced a model referred to as the corporate governance model. I follow Jonathan Turley’s blog, and he has covered this issue in excruciating detail. For those that don’t know Mr. Turley, he’s on the left, although he is what you might call a classical leftist: a believer in freedom of speech. That almost makes him a conservative these days.

Turley tells us that Democrat politicians, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are calling upon corporations to do what the government constitutionally cannot: censor viewpoints that they disagree with. Inevitably, this almost always involves corporations controlling, deleting, or suspending, the stated opinions that people like Senator Warren deem “unacceptable.” Like, for instance, skepticism over COVID-19 origins, or the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines developed over the past year, or the truth of climate change, etc. Usually these are embraced by conservatives, although not always. (For instance, large numbers of black Americans are refusing to get vaccinated, which is ironic since President Biden and his handlers routinely engage in fantasy that vaccine holdouts are only found on the right.) There’s a legal argument to be made that these private corporations are becoming agents of the government. And as government agents, they lose their own first amendment protections. The Supreme Court has ruled consistently that private corporations acting as government agents are bound by the U.S. Constitution. All that is needed is the right case and the proper court and I think Big Tech can eventually be reined in. Not before, however, a lot of damage has been done.

They frame these calls for censorship as a “harm reduction model.” As always, it’s Safety First for these fascists. Liberty, freedom, agency . . . all that stuff has to go. When you frame having a viewpoint or opinion as “causing harm,” you’re engaging in the absolute worst kind of venal manipulation. My hat’s off to the Left: they really know how to win.

Turley says: “In her letter, Warren gave the company 14 days to change its algorithms to throttle and obstruct efforts to read opposing views. What was most striking about this incident is that Warren was eager for others to see her efforts to promote a form of censorship.”

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COVID-19 Dreams, COVID-19 Nightmares

Imagine for a moment what it would have been like in early 2020 if the same virus hit us, with the same objective threats present – but one thing had been different:  Everyone’s views about what was going on, and what we should do in response, were allowed to be shared. The overriding message was: “Let’s hear all the best ideas of what steps to take – and the nature of the challenge we’re up against.” 

  • Rather than doctors like Scott Atlas and Anthony Fauci being ‘at war,’ they were in the same room, putting their heads together from the beginning. 
  • Rather than only allowing experts with some opinions to inform the public of their views – and punishing or sanctioning those in the minority, a wide variety of expert positions were heard. 
  • Rather than videos sharing minority positions being squelched, they were allowed to the full scrutiny of broad public consumption – with confidence in the capacity of our collective wisdom and deliberation together to ultimately sort through what was true. 
  • Rather than labeling anything outside the standard answers as “misinformation” and “disinformation,” we allowed competing arguments to emerge – with confidence in the best information rising to the top and being discerned in our collective wisdom.
  • And rather than assuming that the right path was clear and obvious, we also practiced humility – recognizing that with such a global crisis, we needed to stay open to new ideas and recognize that  none of us could see the whole picture on our own. 
  • In short, rather than managing an awkwardly controlled and narrow public health conversation, we embarked on a project of seeking the truth together – appreciating that everyone’s perspectives could inform a fuller picture and a wise response as a whole.

How would that one shift have changed our ensuing response to the pandemic? Where would we be now if we had pursued that kind of open conversation? Would we see the same levels of resistance, hesitance, and hostility (to each other, to public health dictates) that we do right now?

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The Urgency of Understanding

First, we misunderstand each other profoundly. Next, we stop caring when real harm befalls the people disagreeing with our view of the universe.

In America today, have you noticed there’s only One Right Way to think about a lot of things? Climate, race, sexuality – and now health. For years, dissenters to the One Right Way have been met with harsh rhetoric reflecting a growing severity of judgment against the other side – which continues to be all too effective in intimidating and silencing dissent:

Deniers. Racists. Bigots. Haters. 

And yes, those crazy “anti-vaxxers”….who are irrationally fearful, impervious to reasoning, hostile to science, pathologically self-absorbed and clearly possessing no respectable philosophy of their own when it comes to infectious disease management. Yes, these looney-toon folks are simultaneously “anti-science” and enthralled by “pseudoscience” and “quackery,” right?

Amidst the flurry of name-calling, proponents of the dominant narratives across each of these issues are sitting in almost unquestioned power – a place from which you would think they would speak with a greater degree of confidence and comfort. Instead, it seems as if many of them cannot stand when someone voices a minority position. They seethe and rage whenever someone dares proffer another view, in a way not dissimilar to the backlash following Elder Jeffrey Holland’s eloquent and tender talk expressing unorthodox views on sexuality.  

More and more, we see expressions of condemnation against heretics to the various orthodoxies SO intense that good people don’t think twice about agreeing to severe restrictions on the basic freedoms of those who disagree (cue the accelerated rush towards mandates punctuated by President Biden’s recent speech). In recent weeks, I’ve been struck to see two articles in respected national media outlets entitled, “We’re done with the vaccine refusers” and “Make the unvaccinated pay out for their deadly decisions.”

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The scientific response to the pandemic

One of the most depressing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the massive propaganda campaign by the media/Big Tech/medical establishment to convince the public that there is only one way to respond: by panicking.

One medical health professional in my ward pointed out to me recently that the lockdowns and the various government mandates are new and unproven approaches to a pandemic and the burden of proof should be on the promoters of these approaches, rather than the other way around. In past pandemics (and there have been many in the last 100-plus year), people have understood that the vulnerable should be protected but that most people in society should continue life as normal, and the government should certainly not mandate any specific type of behavior. As the Church has pointed out, wearing masks and taking vaccines should be voluntary.

Elder Packer rejected fear-mongering in this 2004 talk:

When I was a boy, childhood diseases appeared regularly in every community. When someone had chicken pox or measles or mumps, the health officer would visit the home and place a quarantine sign on the porch or in the window to warn everyone to stay away. In a large family like ours, those diseases would visit by relay, one child getting it from another, so the sign might stay up for weeks.

We could not blockade ourselves inside our homes or stay hidden away to avoid those terrible contagions. We had to go to school, to employment, to church—to life!….

…Encourage our young people. They need not live in fear (see D&C 6:36). Fear is the opposite of faith.

While we cannot erase wickedness, we can produce young Latter-day Saints who, spiritually nourished, are immunized against evil influences.

The most prominent (and unfortunately successful) propaganda campaign has been to convince many people, including many otherwise very intelligent people, that “the science” is on the side of the new approach rather than the way things have been done in the past. This is why you see people like Dr. Fauci claiming that he represents science, as if one person could stand for science. And, yet, so many people seem to fall for the propaganda.

The good news is that, below the radar and censored by the media elites, there are thousands of epidemiologists and health professionals who are indeed challenging Dr. Fauci’s claim that his approach is the only one that is scientific.

Despite what the media may attempt to tell you, these people are some of the most respected people in their fields. Thousands of them have signed the Great Barrington Declaration, which says that the approach to the pandemic has been all wrong. The approach should be to protect the most vulnerable but otherwise encourage people to go about their lives as normal. Any mask wearing or taking of vaccinations should be voluntary.

I encourage all readers to take a look at the Great Barrington Declaration and examine the credentials of the people who put it together and who have signed it. I want to repeat this point: these are thousands of the most qualified and respected epidemiologists and health professionals in the world, and they oppose our current approach to the pandemic.

The good news is that the great governor of the great state of Florida this week appointed one of these respected health professionals as the surgeon general of his state.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) introduces Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s new surgeon general

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