Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Sunday, May 26, 2019

What “censorship” is not

Jonathan Neville is deeply confused about many things, but perhaps his greatest area of misunderstanding is definition of censorship.

In his May 25, 2019, blog post, “M2C citation cartel vs free speech,” he writes:
Some time ago, I asked Book of Mormon Central why they don’t invite me to speak at their conferences. (They host a mediocre conference with a handful of M2C* proponents and just a couple of hundred attendees. If you ever get a chance to attend, you ought to just to see it for yourselves.)

The answer I got: “We don’t agree with you.”

That’s precisely the approach taken by leftists on college campuses everywhere.

This occurred about the time when Book of Mormon Central censored my Letter VII book from their archive.
So much to unpack here. Where to begin?

First, if Book of Mormon Central’s conference is so “mediocre,” why is he upset that he hasn’t been invited to speak at it? His snide comment betrays a stunning childishness. (“Oh, you’re not going to invite me? Fine; your conference stinks anyway!”)

Second, no private organization has any obligation to give a platform to views with which it disagrees. For example, the Republican Party is not required to turn over the microphone at their nominating convention to the chairman of the Democratic Party (or vice versa). The same applies to Rodney Meldrum’s FIRM Foundation EXPO, where Jonathan Neville and other “Heartlanders” disseminate their views—Meldrum does not have any duty to offer his platform to, say, Brant Gardner or John L. Sorenson; he is free to include or exclude whomever he chooses. And, in doing so, Meldrum would not be stifling free speech—those who disagree with the Heartland theory are free to organize their own conferences and invite their own speakers.

Third, not inviting speakers one disagrees with isn’t just the “approach taken by leftists on college campuses”; conservative college organizations also tend to not invite speakers they don’t agree with. You’re not likely to see the College Republicans invite, say, Noam Chomsky to keynote their annual meeting. What we do see college leftists doing is trying to shut down speakers and events they disagree with, something Book of Mormon Central has never attempted to do to any Heartlander conference.

Fourth, it is not “censorship” to refuse to publish, disseminate, or make available works by authors with whom one disagrees. Heartlanders are under no obligation to sell John L. Sorenson’s books or to host content from the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum on their web sites. Censorship is the act of a government official suppressing books, films, and other media because he deems them objectionable. In a marketplace of ideas, a private organization cannot and does not “censor” opposing views; it competes with them.

Finally, I don’t work for Book of Mormon Central, but I am aware that they had some of Jonathan Neville’s writings on their site at one point and then eventually removed them. I can probably guess what happened: They charitably hosted some of his materials, but then he began unleashing childish and offensive criticisms of those who disagree with his views, and so they quietly removed his content. I don’t have any personal knowledge that was the case, but I would be surprised if my conjecture is incorrect.
One of the fundamental principles of M2C is that they already have the answers and they don’t want to learn new things that corroborate the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
Quite the contrary, Brother Neville—Heartlanders like yourself are the ones who claim to “have all the answers” and who accuse those who don’t agree with them of “rejecting the prophets” and trying to undermine the leaders of the Church. You are the one who refuses to accept that your views may be flawed. You are the one who “doesn’t want to learn new things”—you already have all the answers, and anyone who disagree with you is, in your view, being disloyal to the prophets.
At BYU, they teach M2C exclusively by teaching students that the prophet [sic] are wrong about the New York Cumorah. They handle potential scrutiny and criticism by simply censoring alternative views, especially including the teachings of the prophets.
Setting aside his false narrative that BYU teaches “the prophets are wrong,” what Neville fails to grasp is that not all theories are equally valid and worthy of serious consideration. For example:

  • Should BYU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy be required to teach the flat-earth theory alongside the belief that the earth is a sphere?
  • Should BYU’s Department of History be required to teach the theory that NASA faked the moon landings alongside the belief that the Apollo missions actually landed on the moon?
  • Should BYU’s Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages be required to teach the theory that ancient aliens built the pyramids alongside other theories?
  • Should BYU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry be required to teach alchemy alongside other theories of chemical science?

To be brutally honest, the theories behind the “Heartland” Book of Mormon geography are akin to the flat-earth theory and other pseudoscientific claims. BYU’s Department of Ancient Scripture is not beholden to use the fraudulent artifacts and amateur archaeological claims of Heartlanders; neither are they required to teach that there has been prophetic revelation on the location of the hill Cumorah when no such revelation exists.

Neville concludes his post with this disturbing statement:
BTW, when people ask me what I think of BYU, I explain that if they still believe the scriptures (including the Bible) and the prophets, they should probably not send their children to BYU. I think it’s far more damaging to faith to be taught that the prophets are wrong at a university sponsored by the Church than to be taught that at a secular university.
I’ve long contended that the Heartland hoax is a “gateway drug” into apostate fundamentalist cults. Those who believe that they know the truth and that the Church is “out of the way” are one step from making their exit from the Lord’s Church and finding an alternative that’s more compatible with their eccentric views.

I’m sincerely hoping that Brother Neville doesn’t follow that path, but his statement deeply troubles me. If he’s willing to openly criticize the religious instruction at BYU—a university whose board of trustees is presided over by the president of the Church—how far can Neville be from openly criticizing the president of the Church for not teaching what he believes about the location of the hill Cumorah?

—Peter Pan

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.


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