Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s magical panacea for all the church’s problems

In ancient Greek mythology, Panacea was a goddess of health and universal remedy. She was fabled to have a magical elixir with which she could cure any illness or disease. From her name comes the modern concept of a medicinal panacea: “Any supposed remedy that is claimed to cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely.” Of course, such a notion belongs in the realm of myth and fairytale, and so the term panacea is often “used in a negative way to describe the overuse of any one solution to solve many different problems especially in medicine.”

Even a casual observer will notice that there is much opposition facing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jonathan Neville has certainly noticed this—he has blogged extensively on the problems facing the Church today.

According to Neville, “M2C intellectuals” are responsible for the following problems facing the Church:

  • The persuasiveness of the CES Letter.
  • The decline of the Church’s worldwide growth.
  • The (alleged) abandonment of belief in a historical Book of Mormon.
  • The challenges facing missionaries.

  • And so on.

    Neville, however, has a solution to these problems. You see, Neville believes that Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII is a sort of panacea for the Church’s problems today. Or, more precisely, he believes that his own interpretation of Latter-day Saint history and Book of Mormon geography is the panacea.

    What’s the answer to the CES Letter and membership retention and missionary lag? Easy. Get people to believe Letter VII and Heartlander theories. This is the point Neville keeps returning to again and again in each of his blog posts.

    Neville is undoubtedly very earnest about this; that’s why he has had no problem stepping in and telling the Brethren how to do their job. When the Church released its Gospel Topics essay on Book of Mormon geography, Neville wrote no less than five blog posts correcting, revising, and rewriting what the Brethren approved as the Church’s position on the matter. (See here, here, here, here, and here.)

    By contrast, notice Book of Mormon Central’s response to the Gospel Topics essay: They made no attempt to correct the Brethren.

    Neville, apparently, wants his readers to disbelieve the current prophets when it comes to what should be the Church’s position on Book of Mormon geography. He also wants his readers to distrust the prophets who approve those who are hired to teach in seminaries and institutes and at BYU and who write the Church’s correlated curriculum.

    But this doesn’t come as any surprise, since Neville seemingly believes that he alone possesses the magical panacea to fix all of the Church’s problem. The fact is, however, that just believing Letter VII will not magically solve all of the Church’s problems.

    Imagine for a moment that I’m a full-time missionary. My companion and I contact an interested person who wants to learn more about the gospel. We have a few lessons on the Restoration and the Plan of Salvation. Then one day the investigator comes to us and says she is having a hard time accepting the Church because of, say, issues surrounding plural marriage or the Book of Abraham or the priesthood and temple ban.

    How, exactly, is just believing Letter VII going to magically fix her concerns? Neville never bothers to tell us. He just wants his readers to have faith in Letter VII as the magical panacea for all of the Church’s problems. He’s provided no justification for why that panacea is at all efficacious.

    It’s obvious that Neville is trapped in magical thinking. He’s providing a fanciful solution to real problems. Just as there is no real-world medicinal panacea that will magically cure all diseases, having faith in Letter VII is not a panacea that will magically fix all of the Church’s problems.

    —Captain Hook


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