Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, June 3, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s fatuousness continues to astonish

In what may be Jonathan Neville’s most stunning example of a total lack of self-awareness, he published a blog post on June 3, 2019, that he called “one of the most important I’ve made because it addresses a fundamental issue that affects all of us throughout our lives.”

Informing us that “researchers have conducted neurological experiments to understand how political partisans respond to information” (something he read about here), he then proceeds to tell us why he believes this research “explains why the teachings of the prophets about the Hill Cumorah are being systematically censored and removed from the historical record.” He explains:
When people are contending over something such as M2C,* they usually think they are using facts and logic, but they are actually just responding to biochemistry.

When our brains detect an unpleasant conflict between data and what we want to believe, they use biochemistry and faulty reasoning to reduce distress. This is a biological description of bias confirmation.
This statement is not incorrect. It’s well-known and understood in academic studies that virtually all people look for evidence that reinforces their preexisting beliefs. It’s why it’s so hard for people who have different views to convince each other of their positions—or even have a discussion that doesn’t result in an argument.

He continues:
People believe they are thinking rationally, based on facts, but their brains are simply engaged in self-defense. Their brains perceive confirmation of the M2C bias as pleasurable, while criticism of M2C is painful.
Nowhere does he express any belief in or awareness of the possibility that, while he believes he is thinking rationally, his brain is “simply engaged in self-defense,” that he receives pleasurable stimuli when he thinks of Heartland bias and pain when he encounters criticisms of it. (He does admit to neurochemical stimuli affecting Heartlanders, but he twists it to support his beliefs; we’ll get to that in a moment.)
Having believed M2C for decades, but now realizing it’s a hoax, it’s easier for me to recognize the biochemistry involved than it is for those still within the M2C bubble.
It’s hard not to notice Neville’s self-ascribed intellectual superiority when he smacks you across the face with it. He understands the biochemistry because he’s moved on from the false beliefs he used to hold, while others are still trapped in a “bubble” of false faith.

This is identical to the claim made by ex-Mormon atheists. They’re smart. They’ve seen through the lies of “Mormonism.” They’ve managed to escape the Church and now observe it dispassionately from the outside. Smugly arrogant and self-satisfied, Neville now knows “the truth” that the rest of us are too blinded by brain chemistry to see.
It’s also why none of this is personal or upsetting to me. I really don’t care what anyone else believes, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone. I just want people to make informed decisions, and understanding neurochemistry is part of that.
If Neville truly didn’t care what others believe and wasn’t trying to persuade anyone, he wouldn’t be blogging daily (on just one of over sixty blogs) and working on what will be his tenth book on the same narrow subject. If it wasn’t personal to him, he wouldn’t be engaging in childish name-calling of his opponents—calling Book of Mormon Central “Book of Mormon Central Censor,” calling FairMormon “FairlyMormon,” referring to scholars who disagree with him as a “cartel,” calling BMC’s KnoWhy articles “No-Wise,” and praising scholars who disagree with him for their great work and then, in the very next sentence, accusing them of “rejecting the prophets,” deceiving the Brethren, and leading members of the Church astray.

The fact that Jonathan Neville is unable to see how bizarre his claims are to others is evidence that he himself is steeped in confirmation bias.
Every time an M2C follower sees a map of Mesoamerica with Cumorah in southern Mexico, his/her brain generates a positive response.

Every time an M2C follower sees a map of Cumorah in New York, his/her brain generates a negative response.

The psychological problem for M2C followers is that their brain normally generates positive responses to the teachings of the prophets. For example, they accept almost everything President Oliver Cowdery taught. Same with the other prophets who have reaffirmed the New York Cumorah.

But they can’t accept what President Cowdery and the other prophets have said about the New York Cumorah.
This is patently absurd. It has nothing to do with “accepting” what Oliver Cowdery or Marion G. Romney or any other prophet or apostle has said; it has everything to do with the fact that not one of their statements on the New York location of Cumorah has been submitted to and accepted by the Church as a revelation. Neville believes that the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the hill in New York, so he accepts these statements as inspired and authoritative, but that’s not how revelation works or has ever worked in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now, observe Neville’s incredible sleight-of-hand when he explains what happens in Heartlander brains:
We see the exact opposite brain chemistry among those Church members who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. They get positive rewards when they read those teachings, just as they get positive rewards from reading all the teachings of the prophets. They get a similar positive reward from seeing proposed geographies that affirm the New York Cumorah.

They get negative rewards when they see material that repudiates the teachings of the prophets.
Notice what he does here? Heartlanders get positive and negative rewards, not when they see things they agree or disagree with, but when they read “the teachings of the prophets.” And which teachings are those? The ones they agree with! The ones that they believe are revealed and inspired—despite not being declared and submitted and accepted as revelations.

In other words: “New York Cumorah good, ‘M2C’ bad.”

But it gets even worse:
It also explains why the M2C citation cartel continues to censor material that contradicts M2C. It’s not so much that they want to keep members of the Church ignorant. It’s more that they want to avoid giving their readers the psychological pain they feel whenever they see something that contradicts M2C or supports the New York Cumorah.
Upon reading this preposterous statement, my jaw simply fell slack. I can guarantee you that neither I, nor Captain Hook, nor anyone else who rejects the Heartland hoax feels any “pain,” psychological or otherwise, when we read Heartlander arguments. The strongest emotional reaction we feel is stunned incredulity that any rational individual could make such mindless, irresponsible claims, let alone be gullible enough to accept them.
This also explain[s] why the Gospel Topics Essay [on Book of Mormon geography] doesn’t want anyone talking about this at Church. Because there is such a stark difference of opinion, no matter which side is represented, someone will feel pain while someone else will feel happiness.
No, Brother Neville, the Gospel Topics Essay doesn’t tell anyone not to talk about Book of Mormon geography at church. That’s not what the essay says at all; rather, it informs us:
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.>
Do you see the difference? The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have asked leaders and members to not “advocate those personal theories” about Book of Mormon geography that “imply either prophetic or Church support.” The essay is directly addressed to Heartlanders like you, Brother Neville, who claim that the prophets support their views. So when Neville writes…
That’s why it is essential that the Gospel Topics Essay be actually implemented, starting by getting rid of the M2C materials in the curriculum and media.
…he’s completing missing the real point and intent of the Gospel Topics Essay: To implement the essay would require Heartlanders to stop making their false claims of prophetic support for their views in church settings.

—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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