Monthly Archives: June 2008

A Nevermo’s Take on Mormonism II

Perhaps the three main things that will come to mind when a nevermormon comes across Mormons are Missionaries, polygamy, and temple garments.  Missionaries because that’s how the majority of people will run across Mormons, at least explicitly.  They might bump into Mormons everyday, but those white shirts and ties and the name badges are literally walking around saying, “MORMON!”.  Polygamy because it’s a unique issue in America [which was founded by Christian churchs who abstained from polygamy, and the fact that we never had [large] entrenched aristocracies who practiced such behavior as overt concubineage] where the norm has been bourgeois, that is monogamous relationship practices.  And then their is the issue of temple garments.

Of course nevermos don’t call them temple garments, they call them magic underwear or secret underwear or whatever because they are percieved as underwear, not some sacred garment, but instead something in league with the undergarments of nevermormons.  Only weirder.  When Mormons are brought up in culture their underwear is brought up to smear them as weird people who wear weird stuff and believe weird things.  Comedians [such as Bill Maher] make quite a bit of hay out of the issue of Mormon temple garments.  It’s an easy thing to go to when you want to dismiss an entire population as weird.  [Of course there is plenty in LDS Culture, but this is an easy talking point].

Previously I said that Mormons were a peculiar people, and this is yet another reason this is thought so by nevermormons.  Once again the same issue comes up between nevermormon religious culture and LDS religious culture.  In nevermormon Christian religious culture only the most pious and spiritual wear clothing marking them out as members of a religion [such as Catholic nuns and priests, or Protestant preachers who wear the white collar].  Once again in LDS culture the religious clothing isn’t a unique thing, it is mainstream.  It is not only peculiar or weird, it is expected.  It is the status quo.  To not wear these garments is weird.  This once again marked Mormons as a peculiar people.

As to the garments themselves, I think this is one of the main reasons that the LDS Church is called a cult by some.  It’s not that they believe weird stuff, Christianity is full of weird stuff [see talking snakes, people turning into pillars of salt, etc etc etc etc etc etc…] but its the fact that LDS rules and regulations penetrate into facets of life that most people hold deeply private.  In a sense nevermos think, “alright belief what you want, but why are you all wearing the same underwear?” and the ideas of comformity lead to thinking that this is a cult, because of the focus on comformity, even when you can’t see that comformity.  Underwear is supposed to be something that is well, under, and to make it a public issue strikes of intrusion and just general peculiar/weird behavior.  Heck the fact that people look for “garment lines” or that you can see them easily [if you know what to look for] makes the garment issue a public issue, once again leading to the issue of making private things public, which reinforces the weirdness of it all.  As long as these garments are worn by Mormons, the LDS people will be a peculiar people.

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Playing Cards: Harmless Pastime or Tool-of-the-Devil?

Several years ago, a family member was attending Scout Camp with an LDS troop. They had a rather “orthodox” member of the bishopric go up to scout camp for a few days. As happens with LDS troops, a few non-member boys were along for the trip, and one of them had brought face cards (there had been no nention of not bringing them in the pre-camp meetings).  One night the boys were playing a non-gambling type card game, and this leader saw what they were doing, and said something along the lines of “Boys, face cards are a tool of the devil!”. He then picked up the cards on the table and tossed them into the fire. From what I heard, he single handedly negated any goodwill the non-member boys had developed towards the church.

This past week, I chaparoned our own ward’s boys at Scout Camp, and made sure to bring along a couple decks of playing cards.  We spent a lot of time playing all sorts of non-gambling games, and it made me think about this odd artifact of LDS culture.  It seems some LDS families are rabidly “anti-playing cards”, while others have no problem busting out a deck of Hoyle’s for a game of Hearts or Spoons.

Obviously, I have no problem with it, because I find the three reasons usually given are rather easily shown to be inconsistently applied, or spurious to begin with.

Argument 1 They waste time.  Seriously, who are we kidding?  They don’t waste anymore time than video game playing, Monopoly playing, ping-pong playing, or countless other recreational activities.  And playing cards with friends and family is a much healthier, positive activity than most television and movies these days.  And it’s very economical.  Arguments about “time wasting” are usually rooted in comments from early 20th century Church leaders, when there was apparently a much higher premium on free time, and much less variety for recreation.

Argument 2 They promote/ lead to gambling, or hanging out in dens of iniquity.  I would find this argument to be more persuasive were it consistently applied.  But it isn’t.  After all, this would also be true for pool tables, which are common in the houses of many members of the stake leadership where I live.  Dart boards.  Pinball machines.  Even slot machines are becoming more “video game-like”.  Not to mention there are so many card games that don’t involve gambling, I can’t believe anyone would argue this.

Instead of saying “do not ever use playing cards”, it would be more effective to say “do not ever wager on games of chance”.  It’s been my experience that people who have a “gambling mentality” will find ways to risk wagers over anything, no matter how stupid it seems, as was philosophically dramatized in the motion picture “Dumb and Dumber”:

Harry: I think you’re wrong Lloyd.
Lloyd: How much you want to bet?
Harry: I don’t bet.
Lloyd: What do you mean you don’t bet?
Harry: I mean I don’t bet.
Lloyd: Yeah, right. I bet you 20 bucks I can get you gambling before the end of the day.
Harry: No way.
Lloyd: I’ll give you 3 to 1 odds.
Harry: No.
Lloyd: 5 to 1.
Harry: No.
Lloyd: 10 to 1.
Harry: You’re on.
Lloyd: I’m gonna get ya. I don’t know how, but I’m gonna get ya.

And those (like me) who have no propensity to gamble, could play recreational poker or blackjack for days, and never feel the desire to involve risk or money.

Argument 3 They derive from Tarot cards.  If you research this issue, you’ll find there is some merit to this claim.  But the fact that modern playing cards may have derived from ancient tarot cards doesn’t really mean anything.  Again, it’s not so much the nature of the argument, but instead how consistently it is applied.  How many ancient objects have been used to “divine” the future or used for occult-seeming purposes?  Are all such objects to be verboten in LDS homes?  Tea leaves, palms, crystal balls, dice, water, salt…  Does this mean I should never allow any sort of leaf on my property?  Must I chop off my hands?  Must I rid my house of all basketballs or other spherical objects that resemble ancient fortune telling mediums? Do I have to get rid of games involving dice (Risk, Monopoly, Clue)?  And water and salt?!

It would be odd that the Church leaders could overlook so many other common household items of the occult.  I have no problem with outlawing Ouija Boards, since they really don’t have any legitimate uses anyway (not to mention that they’re bunk and nonsense, as are the other fortune telling mediums previously mentioned).

It is my impression that the opposition to playing cards is becoming more limited to smaller segments of LDS culture, and I hope this trend continues.  While I support the counsel against poker and other gambling, a general antipathy to “playing cards” is neither logical nor doctrinal.

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Thoughts on the Constantly Splintering ExMormon Movement

I’ve been watching what I’d call an “exmormon movement” happening on the Internet for the last few years, and just wanted to jot down my thoughts and opinions as to what is going on and why it’s happening.

In my opinion the transition from Mormon to Exmormon is one of moving rapidly from one absolute position to a position opposite to the position held when Mormon.  Here are a few examples: group think to passionate individuality, theist to atheist, teetotaler to alcohol consumer etc. What I want to focus on the most though is the issue of moving from group thinking toward individual thinking.  It appears to me that exmormons are passionate about defending their individual space and rights and newly found code of ethics because of offenses to their individuality suffered as Mormons [such as having to wear white shirts to LDS services or temple garments].   What I want to focus on is the issue of individuality and how it effects exmormons as they leave the LDS Church.

A swing can be noticed from group think to passionate individualism.  Mormonism [I think most would agree] is a culture which strives for conformity [see temple garments if you think otherwise].  What I’ve noticed about exmormons is that they are passionate about expressing their individuality.  This phenomenon [particularly on the Internet] can best be seen by the splintering exmormon movement.  For every exmormon you can just about find a unique set of beliefs and each will define themselves differently.  Exmormon, Antimormon, New Order Mormon, Cafeteria Mormon, Post Mormon, etc etc etc.   Groups of people who have something in common, leaving the Mormon church, but who upon leaving find themselves disagreeing with exmormons about how to proceed after leaving the Church.  Exmormons find themselves out and about, untethered to any moral system and thus go about finding something new or creating a new life view.

Mormon culture is best marked by conformity and following the status quo, and in my opinion exmormons first and foremost want to break out of following Mormon cultural mores and rules.  For example look at how many exmormons [on large boards such as Recovery from Mormonism] revel in alcohol consumption [to the point of weekly threads celebrating the fact.] I think this behavior is as much about offending things they formerly held sacred [perhaps in an attempt to break out of the group think they had previously participated in] as much as it is about knocking back a few cold ones.

Beyond that look at exmormon activity on the Internet.  It is all about staking out individual space and protecting turf.  Take a look at message boards alone.  Boards for debate, boards for recovery from Mormonism, boards for post mormons, boards for new order mormons who want to  find some new way within the Church.  And the exmormons who appear on these boards argue with each other over how to define the newly ex-church members, how to treat the church, etc etc etc.  Members who are passionately anti everything Mormon.  People who want to build bridges.  People who want to convert Mormons.  People who want to rant about Mormons.  People who want to talk about everything except Mormonism, but with people who are exmormons.  On and on and on and on.  Once again splintering off from each other as they split themselves away from the Mormon Church.  Not everyone is unique, and people will find people like themselves  who hold roughly the same believes and feelings toward the Mormon church.

Just a thought~

Edit from feedback: I think exmormons want to protect and stake out their individuality doubly because mormons refuse to recognize their individuality.  Mormons are more likely to lump exmormons together simply as people who want to attack the church [or people who left the Church in order to sin].  They don’t want to recognize that exmormons are not a homogenous group who think and feel the same but are individuals who leave the church for different reasons and define themselves differently from other exmormons.  Thus exmormons are doubly moved to stake out their little patch of individuality due to the stigma they feel as exmormons from mormons

http://zackc.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/thoughts-on-the-constantly-splintering-exmormon-movement/

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Ten Questions Developed from Online LDS Discussions.

  1. Why is faith necessary given that one is only held accountable according to his knowledge? Consider that Satan and co. rebelled despite seeing and talking with God; that Jesus, the pre-mortal Jehovah, had already attained godhood; and that children who die before 8 are saved.
  2.  Who came up with the idea that the Kinderhook plates gave an account of Zelph? Where did the names Zelph and Onandagus come from if not from those plates, and why should we trust the other things from the scribe who related that account on Joseph’s behalf? 
  3. If the atonement is the way Jesus paid for our sins, then why did He have to be sinless? Why couldn’t He have sinned and then paid off his tab and ours all at once just as a rich man can pay off his loans and mine, expecially if my debts are much greater than his debt (e.g. If I owe $400,000 and the rich man owes $10, he can easily pay for both of us). 
  4. What determines our eternal gender–was it random chance when we became spirits, or was it due to some property of our pre-spirit intelligences? Given that Jesus–the only perfect being –was male, what does this imply?  
  5. If the answer to 4 (or any other question here) simply hasn’t been revealed, then what was so important about the name God’s home star that we actually happen to know it? I would think 4 is much more pertinent to the eternities than knowing that Kolob is the name of the place which is nigh unto God. 
  6. Are females more righteous than men? If so, why, and why doesn’t this make god a respector of persons? 
  7.  What is responsible for our natural disposition? If it is our agency, then why don’t we all make the same choices between good and evil? If it is randomness or the environment, then why are we judged for that which we cannot control–that is, what is it that makes us choose different than another and why is it fair to be judged for that? 
  8.  How long has the Holy Ghost been the Holy Ghost? Is He always the same person or do other spirits assume the role from time to time? What will happen when He is born with a body? What would happen to the Godhead if Jesus and the Holy Ghost become Heavenly Fathers of their own universes–does the godhead dissolve, do they never become Fathers elsewhere, or do they retain both of their callings? 
  9.  Will my wife’s leg hairs realy come back in the resurrection?
  10. Is Adam’s navel an “innie” or an “outtie”?

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Saving the Young Women one Lesson at a Time

First, a disclaimer. I’ve never been in the young women’s program. I’ve never attended a young women’s class. I’ve never been to girl’s camp. I’ve never been a young women’s leader.

That being admitted and said, I have daughters who will one day be in the program, so I do care what they are learning. And I’ve certainly heard the worst of what can be taught from the disgruntled online denizens of various message boards.
So I was pleasantly surprised (and certainly interested as an outsider looking in) to find the blog “beginnings new” Billed as The place for LDS young women’s leaders who want more than clip art and cute. Substantive, positive, caring, smart… that’s us. So join the conversation.”

While I don’t really have a problem with the lesson per se, I was fascinated to read their commentary on a recent YW lesson entitled “Understanding A Missionary’s Responsibilities” From the title, what do you imagine this lesson could be about? Sharing the gospel with friends? Representing the church in all that we do? Preparing for the responsibility of one day possibly being a full-time missionary?

Turns out, this lesson is apparently focused on keeping the young women from flirting (or worse) with the full-time elders. Apparently, the lesson would go something like this:

“A missionary’s responsibilities do not include joking with you in the halls while his companion stands nearby looking at his watch and rolling his eyes. His responsibilities do not include taking pictures with you that end up in your hope chest. His responsibilities do not include you insisting your parents invite them over frequently for dinner appointments so you can show off how well you cook. His responsibilities do not include you getting your friends from other wards to pretend they are non-member investigators so you can spend two hours on a Friday night admiring his teaching skills and imagining what a great teacher he’ll be for your kids.”

The lesson should also address proper post-mission marriage etiquette. When you do finally catch the missionary of your dreams, should you try to live in a different area after marriage, or should you settle as a happy couple in your ward or stake where he is known as a missionary? Is it ever proper to ask him to put on his white shirt and name tag late on a Friday night (with a special note that it will kill the moment for him if you accidentally call him “Elder —-” in the heat of passion.) And how do you deal with it when he stops getting up at 6:30 and studying the scriptures a few weeks after his mission, and hence ceases to be the “spiritual giant” you fell in love with? How do you introduce yourself to his former mission president?

If there’s time, it might not hurt to include a few pointers on the procedures of a disciplinary council and excommunication if it comes to that; most young women will probably want to know how long they’ll have to wait before they get their Temple wedding, and other details along those lines.

It may also be appropriate to introduce the missionary doctrine regarding the dedication of missionaries and the beauty of their future wives (namely, that they are directly related). Young women should be aware of the corollary: the quality of their future RM-husband is being directly influenced not only by their testimony and scriptural knowledge, but by their waist-to-hip ratio as well. So in addition to daily scripture study and service, it might not hurt to do a little jogging and get a face peel if they are set on spending eternity with one of the dreamy, smooth skinned elders and not the chunky pimply ones.

From the summary on the blog, it appears the Young Women’s program apparently had good intentions with this lesson, but may have fallen short in solving the problem.

As my own daughters head towards their critical teenage years, I hope “beginnings new” can be a useful resource to help me keep an eye on what they may be learning.

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My take on Internet Mormon Apologetics and Polygamy issue

Here’s my take:

What you would call “Chapel Mormons”, religious believers who only know the Church history and dogma they’re taught in Church are significiantly different from the Internet Mormons, people who have learned to be quite a bit more liberal and outside the box thinking about Church dogma. Not that they disagree with Church dogma or believes, just that they are better at twisting existing evidence to fit the dogma.

Chapel Mormons probably don’t know about the complex debates going on concerning controversial issues, or only know about it in the most fleeting way. Mormon Apologists on the other hand know the issues and have developed ways of thinking to get around any compelling arguments, including avoiding the argument [“shifting the goal posts” or distorting the argument to make it easier to debunk [“setting up a strawman”].

In some ways I have to admire the apologists for their McGuyver-like ability to take any set of Church history, dogma, or opinions, no matter how bizarre or damning, and make it into something respectable. That’s the whole point of apologetics in my opinion. To take weird and bizarre ways of thinking and mainstream them, purify them, make them respectable, or failing that to make them unimportant and completely separated from the Church.

Issues such as polygamy, which really can’t be defended in modern society, are just an issue that has to be made unimportant and divorced from Church business, due to it’s nature as a volatile and “hot button” issue. The purpose of apologetics is to defend the defensible and divorce the indefensible. The difference between a good apologist and a bad apologist, or more precisely a smart apologist and a foolish apologist is learning that defending the defensible is easier than trying to divorce the indefensible.

The reason this is so is that the indefensible practices are difficult, almost impossible to divorce, when they are core issues in Mormon history and Mormon theology. You can’t just divorce a hot button issue such as polygamy when it was practiced by the Church founders, practiced significantly by the Church for generations [and might have continued on if not for the Church’s attempt to gain political legitimacy via making Utah a US State], and is something to be practiced in the Mormon afterlife and is still practiced by “Mormon” sects such as the FLDS. For these reasons the polygamy issue is probably impossible to divorce [short of an LDS Prophet decree to total divorce from polygamy in this life and the next.

So the smart apologists take on issues that are defensible, issues that are possible while foolish apologists continue to defend the indefensible issues. Sadly it seems that most issues are considered defensible by most LDS apologists while people looking from the outside would consider most issues indefensible [especially issues of sexuality, counseling of members by unqualified people, polygamy, issues of money for starters.] But that’s the state of Mormon apologists in my opinion.

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Windows Opened. Blessing Poured.

Windows Opened. Blessings Poured.

Scott Floyd
Deseret News

June 3, 2008

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints convened a press conference Tuesday Morning to publicly acknowledge what they referred to as “The opening of the windows of heaven.” Recent reports from all over the country prompted this public expression of gratitude.

“In the last week, we have received dozens of emails and phone calls from church members in every part of the country. Each expressed gratitude and an increase of faith as a result of tangible, unexpected blessing.” said LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter. “Bishops from all over report an outpouring of gratitude in their Sunday meetings.”

In what many members are referring to as “The Miracle of May”, faithful tithe payers in the Church have been surprised to find that their sacrifices have “brought unexpected blessings from the Lord”. One such recipient was Cynthia Mabel of Boise, Idaho.

“After paying the rent and electric bill in May, we didn’t have enough to pay both tithing and our car payment. But I knew what I had to do. I paid my tithing, and put the rest in the Lord’s hands. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But the Lord took care of me, and it was with gratitude but not surprise that I discovered a check for $1,200 in the mail just two days before the car payment was due. It was almost the exact amount we needed for the payment on my Mercedes 500SL with custom 3-tone indigo paint job. The check said it was from the US government, but I know it was from the Lord.”

Another email from Florida shared this experience. “Tithing has always been a difficult thing for me, and it was with great trepidation that I finally wrote my tithing check and gave it to my bishop in the first week of May. I didn’t know how I was going to get by. But the Lord provides for His own, and sure enough, I received a surprise check for $600 in the mail that very week. I was able to buy my groceries and pay for a weekend at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino to celebrate.”

The Miracle does not seem to be isolated to one part of the country. Saints from every community have been blessed, with married couples reporting a double blessing. And this financial endowment to the faithful is most justly reported by members just struggling to get by. Wealthier members have been gracious in their realization that they have enough for this world, and haven’t expected such an rare and treasured reminder of the Lord’s goodness.

Some Bishops have also noted the specific nature of the blessing, with it appearing most frequently to the most faithful tithing payers. The Lord has meted to those who have been most faithful in paying tithing, and even those who pay the “widow’s mite” report receiving checks for $300. From Omaha, Nebraska, Tracy Lalane of the Omaha Stake writes “I only work part time at Wal-Mart since retiring, and I faithfully pay my tithing even on my meager income. After all, it’s not my money, it’s the Lord’s. I’m just grateful He only asks for 10 percent back. But I never expected such a wonderful blessing of $300. Truly my faith has made me financially whole, if only for a few days.”

Church leaders have expressed caution along with the gratitude. In his remarks, President Monson cautioned “In today’s uncertain times, the rain falls as well as the sun shines. I remember the bouncing buggy wheels on my grandmothers white carriage. Ever to be remembered. Never to be forgotten.”

Says Trotter, “That really sums it up for us. This Miracle of May has been a sign to the world of the Lord’s favor towards this Church, with which he has said he was well pleased. We only ask that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints record this miracle in their journals, and remember it always. Just as Church members in the past have been blessed for paying their tithing, this Miracle of May has invigorated the faith of so many (American) members of the Church. And for that, we thank the Lord.”

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What do the Nephites and Munchkins have in common?

In 2006, prominent (LDS) Mesoamerican archaeologist John Clark stated his belief that we’ve found many Book of Mormon cities already. It’s just a matter of identifying them as such.

I can hardly believe John Clark made this statement. It seems to be that special brand of claim that rings solidly in the ears of the believer, while being entirely non-sensical to those that are even mildly skeptical of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

The problem lies in the redefinition of the “Jaredites” and “Nephites” as being a subset of a dominant group. Where their language, culture and religion are all perpetuated as a minority group overwashed with pagan Olmec or Mayan culture.

To see the weakness in Clark’s statement, simply replace the words “Book of Mormon” with any fictional or made-up society of your choosing:

QUOTE
The logical challenges with the first assertion, that no cities have been located, are more subtle. Book of Mormon cities have been found, they are well known, and their artifacts grace the finest museums. They are merely masked by archaeological labels such as “Maya,” “Olmec,” and so on. The problem, then, is not that Book of Mormon artifacts have not been found, only that they have not been recognized for what they are. Again, if you stumbled onto Zarahemla, how would you know?

Try any of these:

“Cities from the Land of Oz have been found, they are well known, and their artifacts grace the finest museums. They are merely masked by archaeological labels such as “Maya,” “Olmec,” and so on. The problem, then, is not that artifacts from the Land of Oz have not been found, only that they have not been recognized for what they are.”

Or this one for fans of “The Lord of the Rings”:

“Remnants of Middle Earth have been found, they are well known, and their artifacts grace the finest museums. They are merely masked by archaeological labels such as “Maya,” “Olmec,” and so on. The problem, then, is not that Middle Earth artifacts have not been found, only that they have not been recognized for what they are.”

Try it with your own favorite land of make-believe!

As you read the two examples above, what is your initial reaction? What would you think if someone, even a respected archaeologist, made the claim? You would probably do what most other archaeologists have done since Clark made the claim: ignore it.

But what if you felt compelled to engage the claim? Would you deny the truthfulness of the claim based on the obvious fact that Oz and Middle Earth aren’t real places? Well aren’t you closed minded (and, apparently, part of the problem). And can you answer this simple question: If someone did find Oz or Middle Earth, how would they know? As your assumptions are laid bare, I can show you how either Oz or Middle Earth, or any other supposedly fictitious land, can be made to fit the geography and archaeology of Central America.

If I can only shift the burden of proof onto you, instead of me having to support my claim of “invisible evidence”, I can dance around all day as you frantically try to find something in the thousands of pages of historical records of Oz or Middle Earth that can’t be evaded.

Can you imagine how convincing the Oz books and Middle Earth books will look to people in the future? I can only imagine John Clark’s great, great, great grandson following in his footsteps as he seeks to bolster the faith of the Followers of Oz, who insist that Oz was a real place with archaeological evidence carefully hidden among the ruins of 20th Century midwestern-America.

Just to be clear, I am not arguing that either Oz or Middle Earth were located in Mesoamerica. Obviously, Oz and Middle Earth were not in Mesoamerica. That’s where the Lamanites and Nephites were, and everyone knows you can’t have two fictitious lands coexisting with a real culture.

The only exception to this is when the lands “crossover”, and people from one land visit those of another, but these are very dangerous, and are usually a last-ditch attempt to revive public interest, or a gimmick to lend legitimacy to one of the creative works (such as when DC’s Batman fought The Incredible Hulk in 1982, or the New Testament’s Jesus visited the Nephites around 33AD)

Everyone knows that Middle Earth didn’t take place in Mesoamerica; it was in what is now called “Eastern Europe”. Sadly (or luckily), the face of the Middle Earth changed drastically after the destruction of the ring, so the ancient geography will never match up exactly. But modern scholars are optimistic, especially since they now realize that the ancient battle statistics were traditionally overinflated for dramatic effect, so a battle that supposedly engulfed hundreds of thousands may have only been a few dozen guys with wooden swords and green robes.

And Oz wasn’t in Mesoamerica either. Before the final magical spell was placed over it, it could easily be seen by airplane or balloon north of Kansas, south of Canada. Oz archaeologists generally place the Emerald City in Dewey County, South Dakota, although there is some support for the recently expressed and controversial “Two Emerald City” theory. As with the Book of Mormon, our record of Oz begins in an easily identifiable place (Kansas), but due to lack of precision in recounting the details of getting there, a final location is unlikely to be agreed upon.

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