NoCoolName Blog

Not a cool name, but at least a cool blog

I want to learn how to do more devops and I love Nix, so I have a new project I want to work on: automatic deployment of a website from a merged pull request, all using Nix.

I'm finding myself getting sidetracked by describing what Nix, NixOS, and Nixops are, so I'm just going to assume you've done all of the relevant reading on what those are. In short, Nix is a tool for building programs (and, perhaps a bit too confusingly, the language that build instructions are written in), NixOS is a Linux system fully administered using Nix language instructions, and Nixops is an environment deployment program for building and deploying NixOS systems to various targets like AWS or VMs. I already use all three to run my own private websites, but it's a rather manual process for getting updates deployed.

The current process is:

  1. I notice the need for a change (maybe a spelling mistake)
  2. I make a change to the source code, commit it, and push it to Github.
  3. I note the new commit (or tag a new version number) and change the instructions in nixops.
  4. I run a test build so that the shasum check against the new Github commit hash fails (I'm lazy, I know I could pre-hash this earlier but it's just easier to copy-paste it from the failed build log).
  5. I tell nixops to deploy the new system.

The process I want to get to:

  1. I notice the need for a change (maybe a spelling mistake)
  2. I make a change to the source code, commit it, and push it to Github.
  3. Since I'm ready to deploy I tag a new version number (or maybe make a merge request to merge it into a “release” branch, still not sure what the best way to go about this is).
  4. Nothing, because I want the rest of this process to be fully automated.

I know it may not be easy or even possible. It might be that I'll still need to manually update the version number and hash in some Nixops code. Nix is rather particular about no-exception enforcement of shasum checking of source code, and probably for good reason. If I can't have the system automatically deploy from a change in the source code, I want to automatically deploy from a change to the Nixops source code repo. We'll see.

Anyways, that's my goal and I hope to write another blog detailing my success or failure.

Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise; the Eternal Father greet: Bow ye thousands, low before him; Minister before his feet; Hail the Patriarch’s glad reign Spreading over sea and main.

Sons of Michael, ‘tis his chariot Rolls its burning wheels along! Raise aloft your voices million In a torrent power of song; Hail our Head with music soft! Raise week melodies aloft!

Mother of our generations, Glorious by Great Michael’s side, Take thy children’s adoration; Endless with thy Lord preside; Lo, to greet thee now advance Thousands in the glorious dance!

Raise a chorus, sons of Michael, Like old Ocean’s roaring swell, Till the mighty acclamation Through rebounding space doth tell That the Ancient One may reign In his Paradise again!

Just a bit of Adam-God completely normal Mormon poetry for today. This is still in the LDS hymnal (slightly altered, of course)!

Hello, fediverse

Now you can follow this blog from Mastodon and other federated platforms! Just search for to start getting my posts.


I've been working on updating my blog, and spending so much time going back over my series on New Testament Seminary Scripture Mastery, the Scripture Mastery removed from the Old Testament, and my initial attempts at illustrating the deep and fundamental problems with Callister's “Blueprint of Christ's Church” book made me wonder: there have been some major changes to the LDS Sunday and Seminary schedules, is there any change in teaching materials for this change? And it turns out there is.

And it's terrible.

No, wait, hear me out! The older manuals spent time detailing exactly what the teacher should go over. It spelled out what scriptural passages to cover, offered possible questions that could be asked to the class, and offered many explanatory sections to help the teacher present the scriptural texts with at least some historical context. They were restrictive and constraining, and, as I've detailed in my explorations linked above, they often presented outdated or even incorrect information. That's all admittedly pretty bad, so why do I think the new ones are worse?

Because while they have (thankfully) gotten rid of the specified verses that should be read (which produced a patchwork of biblical literacy for most Mormons featuring large gaping holes), they have totally removed nearly all of the historical context. The entire aim is now to merely play the old “Apply This To Yourself” game with Every. Single. Passage.

This is the game that goes, “I don't really understand this, but the general gist makes sense to me. And it reminds me of that time in my life when I [fill in the blank], so I guess it's about that.” It's both a recipe for producing a wonderful connection with the Biblical text as well as a recipe for producing terrifyingly incorrect assumptions of the meaning of a two-thousand-year-old library. (There is nothing in what Jesus said that is about whether or not you should ghost someone on social media who has upset you.)

It's one thing to be incorrect about a book, but it's another to be incorrect about a book and also feel divinely justified in your incorrect assumptions. And because so much is centered around group discussions, this will only help to perpetuate all of the old culturally-upheld misinterpretations commonly assumed by Mormons about the Christian New Testament and Hebrew Bible.

The good ship Zion may no longer be driven by a constraining current, but now it's taking on water and instead of a captain everyone gets to put their hand on the wheel together. And once you realize that the same Bible has been used throughout history to defend slavery, defend segregation, and defend killing witches, homosexuals, and transvestites you begin to see that any system that reinforces only what the general community believes without enforcing anything better can easily result in real danger for those who do not belong to the community.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But if you were looking for the “Come, Follow Me,” resources to actually teach you anything about the Christian New Testament you'll continue looking in vain. And that's a shame.

#Mormon #SundaySchool #AcademicBiblical


Mormon apologists have found their new chiasmus: Early Modern English. What do I mean by that? I mean that apologists miss that sly feeling of being able to say, “Well, actually...” They miss being able to respond to someone complaining about the text being modern with a Dwight Schrute “False!”. They used to have that in chiasmus until people started looking too closely and asking too many pesky questions. And so, in their weakness, they turned to an apologetic they didn't entirely understand, much like the story of chiasmus.

The 1980s and 1990s were huge decades for Mormon apologetics. For much of the 20th Century before then, the scientific defense of the faith was usually isolated to one or two intelligent individuals at a time who made educated rebuttals to existing arguments and promoted arguments of their own: B. H. Roberts, James Talmage, John Whidtsoe, Sydney Sperry, Hugh Nibley. But in the 1980s BYU finally saw the organization of FARMS and the rise of the organized apologetic response. Even today we still have FAIR, the Mormon Interpreter, and the Maxwell Institute (though the aims of the Maxwell Institute are now oriented towards respectable scholastics instead of apologetic arguments). The typical critics of the LDS Church were caught completely off guard by this new movement and saw an energetic collection of parallel-finding, plausibility-stretching scholars who were more than willing to use their advanced degrees in defense of the faith. For a while, FARMS claimed victory over the old critics through their inability to keep up with and answer new apologetic arguments; these critics were still usually making their critique from an orthodox Christian standpoint and using their interpretations of the Bible as their main source.

FARMS people in power poses

The general LDS populace quickly learned of these new apologetic arguments through various firesides, Know Your Religion presentations, and books and audio sold at Deseret Book. One argument, in particular, captured the attention of most amateur Church apologists: chiasmus. Chiasmus is a poetic form where a sequence of ideas or themes are presented within a text and are then presented again in reverse order. It helps to highlight the central point where the sequence is reversed. Chiasmus can be found throughout the ancient world, including both in ancient Israel and the texts they produce (such as the Hebrew Bible) and Mesoamerican literature. At the same time the apologists made the claim that Joseph Smith could not possibly be aware of this poetic art form as he never made mention of it and did not have access to any materials that discussed it (some apologists would even go so far as to claim that the entire Western world had forgotten about chiasmus before the late 19th Century). Its presence in the text as evidence of ancient antiquity with no other solution than that the book was what its translator claimed it to be: a translation of actual artifacts from a Precolumbian civilization.

The power of chiasmus to allay the doubts of most Mormons is appreciable. It is still often brought up in defense of personal faith in the Book of Mormon. And the Christian critics didn't have much of an answer at the time. But since the turn of the millennium, the critics have increasingly themselves adopted a science-based critique and a few chinks discovered have led to the apologetic organizations having to revisit the issue.

Decayed Armor

It turned out that knowledge of chiasmus had not been lost before and during the 1820s (a claim never made by most of the professional apologists), but was often a bit of idle trivia reserved to those trained for Christian ministry. It was discussed in a number of Biblical commentaries, and while there's no evidence that Joseph read these commentaries they were easily available to him and were discussed by Christian leaders in the area on occasion. [Edit: Turns out BYU researchers have found evidence that Joseph Smith read and used these commentaries early in his career after the Book of Mormon project, so it's likely he was also familiar with these sources during or even before the timeframe of the translation! Thanks for the callout, Jonathan Ellis!]

Another chink was the discovery of small chiastic structures in items known or believed by most Mormons to be modern, such as sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, letters dictated by Joseph Smith, works of scripture produced by other charismatic leaders in the Latter Day Saint movement who didn't follow Brigham Young's leadership, and even in history books written in New England that purposefully mimicked the style of the King James Bible.

Green Eggs and Ham

Now the apologists had to defend much more difficult arguments. They had to try to prove that Joseph Smith never made use of the materials available to him (and as any LDS apologist will tell you when discussing other arguments it's very hard to prove a negative). They created computational algorithms to try to distinguish subconsciously-produced chiastic structures from purposeful constructions, thus creating the new problems of having to argue about the fine details of their algorithms and how well they accomplish their purpose. It used to be much more fun to simply discuss what chiasmus was, present some examples from the Book of Mormon, and present the simple argument about how they proved historicity. Now the job has become less about a bulletproof claim and more about finding out how to reject the new problems constantly presented.


Apologists have yearned to go back to those days of the simple claim. In their desperation, they've jumped upon a new argument, one that I am comparing to the story of the rise of chiasmus. It's basically the “new chiasmus”. But while this new argument is producing the same excitement and exhilaration as the early decades of chiasmus it is a very different argument and in some ways is much more confusing.

New Coke Same as the Old Coke

The argument is that the English text of the Book of Mormon is not, as most people claim, an imitation of Jacobean English from the early 17th Century (the King James Bible was published in 1611), but is in fact a text that shows signs of being a much older form of English, possibly as old as the 15th Century (the English spoken around when Columbus set sail). English was always evolving and transforming, but much of what we would recognize arose during the 1500s, so this is roughly when linguists assign the beginnings of “Modern English”. Before this time they classify the language as “Middle English” and it sounded much more like French with an Irish accent to our ears (Chaucer's “Canterbury Tales” were written in Middle English). However, the transition was, apart from a drastic cultural change in how vowels were pronounced that occurred in a short period of time for still-unknown reasons (called, simply enough, the Great Vowel Shift), a smooth one for those who lived in these centuries.

The argument for the English of the Book of Mormon being Early Modern English arises from studies of what survives of the original handwritten manuscript of the Book of Mormon, as well as the hand-copied duplicate created to give to the Printer's office for publication. Even when first published, the text had been modified to remove what most current historians have accepted as folk grammar in Joseph Smith's 19th Century Northern Appalachian vernacular. The Early Modern English hypothesis, however, makes the claim that there are no “folkisms” in the text but that these rough phrases are instead relics of much older English than even the King James Bible or the works of William Shakespeare!

The argument is actually remarkably similar in form to that of chiasmus in the early days: Elements of EM English can be found in the book's text, Joseph Smith could not have produced those elements, and therefore the text cannot be Joseph Smith's creation.

Hillybilly wondering where his English done come from

It's been an intriguing idea for apologists since it was first proposed by Royal Skousen following his extensive study of the original manuscripts. Stanford Carmack, a Standford-educated linguist from Massachusetts who specializes in Middle and Early Modern English (hey, what are the chances?), is one of the few other apologists who has both the expertise to evaluate oddities from the Book of Mormon as EM English and who also accepts the core assumption of the EM English hypothesis: that it is more likely that these language features arise in the text independently of Joseph Smith's context as a Rural American English speaker in the early 19th Century. There are many apologists who accept Skousen and Carmack's argument without the expertise necessary to fully evaluate or even disprove it, and there are a few faithful LDS linguists who (privately) don't see it as impossible for these features to enter the text through Joseph Smith's linguistic context.

Union Venn Diagram

Note that the argument as I've presented it doesn't have a point as to why the text would be written in EM English. We'll discuss what eventually developed as the current explanation in a bit, but for a few years, the pure mystery of the hypothesis carried enough passion to firmly embed it in the apologetic community. Various famous figures in FARMS, FAIR, and the Mormon Interpreter, a journal made by apologists ousted from BYU's Maxwell Institute who reformed themselves into a journal that coincidentally carried the same acronym as their previous org, loved to bring up the hypothesis for two reasons: the mystery of purpose was intoxicating and sensational (WHY would the Book of Mormon text be even older than the Bible it usually associated with?) as well as it had ability for them to laughingly rebut the claims of critics that Joseph Smith was simply, and badly, imitating the King James Bible. How could he be imitating the Bible when the words and grammar he was using are older than that Bible? Checkmate, critics!

Nerd Fight

That mystery of why the text would be older than expected continued to swirl through the apologetic community. A few individuals made their own guesses and positions, often based on Mormon doctrine of angels or of inspiration given to humans during the Great Apostasy. Perhaps the Book of Mormon had already been translated centuries before Joseph and he was just receiving the words? If so, who did this translation? Various individuals were posited, including the spiritualist of Queen Elizabeth's court, John Dee, a man who mirrored the folk magical story of Joseph Smith in many ways but was decidedly non-Mormon in others. Other apologists continued with the idea, but guessed that the individual or individuals may have done the work posthumously, and famous individuals such as Tyndale or Wycliffe were advanced as people who had translated scripture into English and been forebearers of light that would eventually lead to Joseph Smith's ushering in of the Restoration of Christian truths. Even the Three Nephites, a group of quasi-immortal individuals who survived the destruction of the Nephites at the end of the Book of Mormon and have lived among humankind ever since, have been brought up as the possible translators of the Book of Mormon, presumably doing so in their free time while chilling in the English countryside circa 1500 or so.

Three Knights on a Curelom

Understandably, while all of this exploration was immense fun within the apologetic community, it really bothered them when the critics themselves encountered these explanations and began mocking them. Joseph Smith wasn't a translator, he was channeling a text translated by ghosts! While apologists enjoyed the mystery, they began to realize that mystery is not an apologetic argument at all, and the mocking began to really annoy them as it focused on that weakness.

Angry Apologist

They cast about for an explanation that didn't involve ghosts or Renaissance wizards and found one. Maybe, posited those apologists with training in recognizing language elements from EM English, the text was given to Joseph through the seer stone with elements of EM English as a sort of divine signature embedded in the text that would be readily apparent in the 21st Century to individuals with training in recognizing language elements from EM English! It was so simple; it was almost as if the Book of Mormon was a mirror and the closer they looked in the text the more they saw their own training within it! This is the current explanation in vogue for why the text has EM English grammar: it means that the language by definition cannot be an imitation of the King James Bible, but rather shares more in common with the English that led to the KJV's eventual creation. God purposefully inspired Joseph to write the text in more the English of Wycliffe and Tyndale, and its very antiquity in comparison to the King James version means that if the text somehow fell back in time even individuals in King James's England would still recognize the text as old. The Book of Mormon is not meant to imitate existing scriptures, but to live alongside them as an equal and so it was given a text that establishes its pedigree as equal to that of the oldest Modern English translations.

One of these things is not like the other

Of course, this explanation itself is still reeking with mysteriousness and lack of purpose. It's as though God purposefully colored Joseph's translation with this grammar as a sort of signature that would hide in plain sight for nearly two centuries. It's almost like a genetic marker, much as we would have expected to find among the indigenous peoples of the Americas to show evidence of the Lehite and Mulekite immigrations. Except that in this case when experts turned to look the evidence actually emerged! Much digital ink has been spilled by both Skousen and Carmack that they never initially expected to find EM English in the Book of Mormon. It must be truly miraculous, then, that this marker was lucky enough to be discovered by two faithful experts. In many ways, it's how researchers like Dr. Simon Southerton expected things to go, but this time they were lucky enough to not find evidence against their faith.

Sad Simon Southerton

All right, enough attempting (and failing) at being coy. I have tried to represent the argument accurately, even it if may not be nice. What is wrong with the hypothesis?

Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

First, there is the issue I've already discussed somewhat. It becomes more than a little concerning when people approach the text of the Book of Mormon looking for evidence to prove a theory instead of trying to disprove said theory. Whether the initial hypothesis was arrived at unexpectedly is a rather useless point now. Even if Skousen was struck by a particular turn of phrase as he examined the original text, the multiple subsequent articles published, supposedly after having been “peer reviewed”, in the Mormon Interpreter are all about accumulating more evidence. So the majority of effort made by apologists about this theory has been to return time and again either to the text to find another archaic form of grammar or to return to the corpus of written EM English to find examples of odd BoM grammar. The lists may be long but that doesn't establish an argument; it simply shows how much free time you have to make an analysis of a large body of English texts. And the lack of debate among faithful LDS apologists is not evidence in favor of the theory. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon does not rise or fall on the accuracy of the Early Modern English hypothesis. We should expect to find the same objections raised by myself and others within the apologetic community. Frankly, we should have been expecting such debate for years now, even when it came to the early claims of chiasmus. But it seems that if there are those who doubt the hypothesis among the faithful scholars they find themselves hindered from voicing their objection.

I want to object but can't

However, it's not like we haven't seen apologists critique other apologetic arguments already. At the present time there has been a wide attempt by LDS anthropologists, geneticists, and other scholars to point out the flaws in the “Heartland Model” of Book of Mormon geography, which places the events of the Book of Mormon in the Appalachian and Midwestern states of America and presents the Hopewell Cultures as the evidence of Lehite settlement and architecture. The theory also claims genetic evidence, and all of it has been very thoroughly analyzed, critiqued, and rejected by the largest apologetic groups of FAIR and the Mormon Interpreter. But we have yet to hear about the flaws of the Early Modern English hypothesis from anyone besides critics of the LDS faith.

Napoleon Dynamite in front of a map of America

The largest flaw that we should be expecting to hear from faithful critics is the assumption that Early Modern English constructions couldn't have entered the text through Joseph Smith's own linguistic context. Joseph's personal English is presented as being far removed from Early Modern English as spoken in Britain, but the truth is that Joseph's English did have a closer association than one might at first assume. Also, this issue in defining Joseph's English in opposition to Early Mormon English often treats EM English as a much simpler context than one might at first assume.

English is a language, not a solid collection of facts, words, and dates. It is alive, changing, and extremely variable across both time and distance. We often forget just how huge the world is when you don't have anything faster than a horse or a ship for travel. The island of Britain is immense and during the time periods of Middle and Modern English we see huge variety across the island in grammar and vocabulary. At that time, it was as easy to identify where someone was from within Britain by what words they used and how they used them as it is for us to identify whether someone is from England or America merely by the words they use and how they use them (I mean beyond accent; you could probably still do it if presented with a written transcript). Which makes the large lists of examples we see from Carmack about EM English a little disconcerting: they arise from all over England and Scotland, and if the examples are centered in any particular areas more than others it's because they represent that those areas have simply given us more texts. If we can identify the text to within a century, it should not be unreasonable to also expect a similar identification with a rough geographic area as well. Is the text of the Book of Mormon more of a Northern dialect, or is it something more akin to English spoken in Cornwall? Does it show more of an influence along the Channel?

Also, while English has always been in flux, it never moved at the same rate across all areas. Linguists have known for a long time that cities, with their higher population density, evolve their language faster than rural areas. Languages can preserve extremely old words and grammatical forms in the countryside, sometimes for centuries. Scots, the English dialect/language forced upon Medieval Scotland, is a vast repository of Old, Middle, and Early Modern English words and grammar that the more-densely populated England, to the south, long ago left behind. And the same story holds true for America. English immigration to America often came from rural farmers seeking a better life, and the original English colonies became very attractive places for entire communities to transfer themselves to, and in so doing American English has preserved many older English words and phrases. That's why we usually use the word “Fall” instead of how the British usually use “Autumn,” and is even why Yanks usually pronounce our letter “r”s while Brits tend not to. And the difference in speed between the cities and the rural countryside also held true in America, meaning that what we perceive as “hillbilly” English is often a time capsule of older forms of English carried over from England centuries ago and preserved here, or bent by the same forces of linguistics back into a form mirroring the past.

I should take a brief tangent to say that there is an active effort by American nationalists to push this idea to the extreme: that white Appalachian Americans are the true inheritors of the language, ideas, and gravitas of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. This is carrying the idea much further than the evidence suggests; Appalachian English is still a descendant of Early Modern English much as “proper” American English is, though it is much more conservative in how much it has changed over time since.

Part of why the white nationalists are eager to claim Shakespeare as one of their own is that Americans continue to foster a negative cultural association with Appalachian culture and speech patterns. Terms like “hick” (itself a term from Early Modern English!) are derogatives applied to people in the rural outskirts of Atlantic states, many of whom are seen as often poor, poorly educated, itinerant workers. Basically, people just like Joseph Smith and his family! On the other hand, this stereotype is just as classist and privileged as when people mock urban black dialects. It's not fair to paint an entire group of people with a broad brush, and it's also not fair to apply that brush merely because of how someone speaks.

And there's evidence that Joseph Smith himself had something of a “twang” in his voice, which can be recovered from the original Book of Mormon manuscript! Since the project involved the transcription of the audibly spoken text, no matter how “tight” of a translation process the apologists want to hold to they still have to account for the fact that Oliver Cowdery wrote down the words he heard Joseph saying out loud. In those cases where he scribbles out one incorrect word for another that sounds similar we can see a clear pattern of Oliver hearing one word through Joseph's accent and figuring out that another word was meant by the context of what followed. One example is that Joseph's “where” was very close to his “were” (Cowdery fixed just such a mistake in 1 Nephi 3:14); the vowel in these two words are very similar in rural New England dialects and apparently was also similar for Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith sounded like a “hick.”

This is why we should be seeing even faithful apologists questioning the Early Modern English hypothesis. The argument says that Joseph Smith was too separated from EM English to reproduce them in his text. It's true that similar works like “The Late War” have been shown to not hold as many Early Modern English variants as the Book of Mormon, but not enough work has been done on the English of rural, Appalachian New York versus urban New York to see if that could reasonably account for the difference.

In fact, it is this lack of work that is currently the main thing keeping the Early Modern English hypothesis buoyed up. If the Mormon Interpreter wants to be seen as doing true scholarship they should be encouraging apologists to examine the evidence and see if they can disprove the theory. They should be demanding reasonable and testable extrapolations of the theory as I have already done by asking if the theory can point to a geographic area of Early Modern English for the text's language (and then showing that the emigrants from this area didn't wind up in New England). We should be looking at whether these lists are false positives because they show up in other areas we wouldn't expect to see them, such as in the writings of Joseph's mother, or the writings of religious leaders of the area. Much has been written on the influence of Milton on early Mormon thought: does Paradise Lost show similar elements of EM English in some of its more “scriptural” sections? If the purpose of providing a divine signature is accurate, do we see this “scriptural signature” in the Doctrine and Covenants, and in the revelations of Brigham Young, or Joseph F. Smith? And do we not see it in the revelations delivered in the voice of God by the leaders of various modern Latter Day Saint communities like the FLDS Church?

Also, the idea of the “scriptural signature” is difficult to place against the claims of Joseph's other scriptures (D&C 1:24 “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding”) and Apostle George A. Smith said that when “the Lord reveals anything to men He reveals it in language that accords with their own. If any of you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding, and this very objection to the Book of Mormon is an evidence in its favor.” (Journal of Discourses 12:335) Should the LDS Church be trying to emulate the presence of old language in their translations? Was it wrong for Joseph Smith to publish versions of the Book of Mormon that erased his “Early Modern English” grammar?

Confusing Bible Meme Picture

The conservative-leaning faction of apologists have always disliked the idea that Joseph Smith was partially responsible for the English text of the Book of Mormon (“loose translation theory”) instead preferring the idea that God gave the text directly to Joseph with every word chosen by divine power and approval (“tight translation theory”), but the poor grammar of Joseph's early revelations (which tended to match his early letters) combined with how the errors lessened over time coinciding with more education seemed to point to Joseph Smith is an active participant. This is what has convinced most faithful historians of Joseph Smith's life that he was closely involved, and has led over time to a constant back and forth between apologists about loose versus tight translations (or both, as was pointed out as an option by Blake Ostler, the translation may have flowed at times between tight and loose such that the parts that look tight were tight and the parts that look loose were loose).

The Early Modern English Hypothesis has become the main argument of the “tight translation” faction. In fact, when Carmack writes he no longer uses any hedging language of “might”, “maybe”, or describes the argument as a hypothesis. In his recent articles, the idea is always presented as previously established fact beyond discussion, and his articles increasingly only look to establish how yet another case of “bad grammar” is merely an example confirming that the text solidly is Early Modern English. And his explanation increasingly centers on the idea of a self-fulfilling evidence apparent most readily to experts like himself. (I can't wait until the first jack-ass apologist promotes the idea, à la Blake Ostler, that the English of the Book of Mormon is both Early Modern English and Appalachian English; I imagine the web servers of the Mormon Interpreter will implode in frustration!)

I'm a Mac, I'm a PC, and I'm Linux

The mystery has held sway for a long time, but it's time for testing to see if Early Modern English is as strong of an apologetic as chiasmus seemed in its early days, or if it's merely a linguistic illusion as chiasmus has turned out to occasionally be. I'm human, so I've got an opinion and I fully expect that Upstate New York, Shakespeare, and the King James Bible are together more than enough to account for the evidence, but I also want to be humble enough to say that I was wrong, so I look forward to what emerges from scholarly critique. I'm just not holding my breath for any of that critique to come from the faithful apologists: they've got the simple claim that befuddles the critics when they present it to them, and that's some heady stuff.

Final Dwight Image

#Mormon #Counterapologetics #EarlyModernEnglish

Many who have experienced crises of faith in the LDS Church are bewildered at the explanations given by those who have never deeply struggled with doubt in the faith. Often, the explanations given in a typical Sunday School are that individuals were “offended” by a local leader, “wanted to sin” through infidelity to spouse or the LDS Word of Wisdom, or simply became “tired” of having to do all of the things expected of a stalwart Mormon believer.

The confusion arises because often individuals who are struggling with their faith have their own internal experiences and explanations rebuffed by other members who somehow feel as though they know better what the real problem is than the very people they are talking to, or about.

While in the past there have certainly been many “Jack Mormons” who continue to believe in orthodox faith but no longer adhere to orthopraxic practices, in the 21st Century the reasons for leaving are much more complex and nuanced. This has been acknowledged by the highest Church leadership (See Elder Uchtdorf's talk, “Come Join With Us”), but even so the common explanations continue to be shared.

Why is that?

In the end, it comes down to issues of effort and our human response to avoiding difficulties if we can.

We're all humans, and all of us are imperfect. According to Mormon Doctrine, all of us suffer a propensity towards the “natural man” that must be overcome. All of us suffer from causing and taking offense, all of us are guilty at various times of wanting to sin and indulging in it. And all of us have times where we become tired of effort.

The common excuses of why people leave the LDS Church (or at least go inactive) are all basically reformulations of the following: you left because of human failings.

The problem is that because all of us are human and all of us have failings, there is no possible solution to these reasons for why people leave. You can't prevent people from leaving the Church for human reasons without removing the flawed humanity of LDS Church members. It's simply impossible.

What this means, though, is that there is nothing members or leadership of the LDS Church could do to prevent people from leaving. Indeed, they almost have a moral obligation not to take any action, because the issue is our inherent humanity. There is no onus on the membership or leadership to make any changes or to be worried, and the fault for the exit of those who leave lies fully on the doubters themselves.

However, as soon as reasons for leaving are acknowledged that arise from issues that could be resolved to one extent or another, you immediately have shifted some of the responsibility to the membership and even the leadership generally. Any action that they could take to resolve the issues that cause people to leave means they bear some responsibility for those who leave.

If people truly leave for issues such as financial transparency, historical transparency, social justice issues, women's issues, LGBTQ issues, institutional confusion between what is established “doctrine” and what is merely “policy”... those issues have the possibility of at least some resolution and change. Those issues for leaving are not purely the responsibility of those who leave.

That is why the typical answers for why people leave have such sticking power: because they don't represent any responsibility for the believing membership. There is no action to take, no worries to resolve, no lack of knowledge or action to figure out. There is no subconscious fretting about what the inverse of D&C 18:15 might mean: if bringing one soul to the truth brings great joy in the next life, what will be brought to each of us if we play a role, however small, in sending someone away from it?

That is the feeling behind these excuses. That is the reason people can say, “If you don't like the Church you should just leave” without having to consider the theological ramifications of what they've just said to an individual they believe to be a fellow child of God. In the end, believing Mormons can't do anything that would actually cause people to leave, because the only real reasons people leave are all based in actions and situations beyond anyone's real control except for the doubter themselves.

If it's true that people leave for reasons of offense, pride, or unrealistic expectations then it's also true that regular members bear no responsibility for the eternal ramifications of people leaving.

If it's true that people leave for reasons more nuanced, however, that one-sided responsibility no longer exists and members and leaders have to worry about what actions they may need to take, both individually and institutionally, to resolve the problems.

It's just human nature to not want to deal with such difficult issues! ;–)

I've gotten the transfers back, and there is good news all around! It took much less than either I or the transfer company had assumed, so the total costs for the project are extremely low compared to what I had planned for.

This leaves us with much more available to continue transfer of other film reels. I plan on sending the next two, “Meet the Mormons” and “You Make the Difference” this evening and they'll get started on them hopefully within the next few weeks.

The transfer process went well enough considering the age and care of the film I obtained. The reel is over a half century old and had not been well preserved. The film was extremely red in color and contained numerous scratches that were minimized as much as possible by the company. I'm sure that other people can go through and perform some manual post work to remove them entirely, but as it is we have a full copy of the movie as contained on the reel of film we started with.

It's quite fun to watch the original next to the 1979 revision. For the vast majority of cuts it's obvious that they were made for time. Most of the montages have been streamlined and this shaves a few minutes off of the total running time.

There are a few obvious choice edits when the 1979 revision was produced, however.

Most obviously, the order of the parade/celebration in St. George for the visit of President Snow and the planting of the fields by the Stake President were swapped so that the Stake President of St. George started planting immediately following the conference. This helps streamline the plot such that we see President McArthur begin planting after his line, “I'm going to plant!” instead of cutting first to the parade.

Another purposeful edit is at the beginning of the film, where the 1979 revision cuts Presidents Snow's line, “I realize, it's true, He [God] hasn't shown the way as of yet, but I know He will.” This is followed by a “Brother Stout” who presents a plan for improving Church funds by soliciting donations from the members along the lines of a $1000 club, a $500 dollar club, a $100 club, all the way down to a dime. This idea is rejected by President Snow. My own opinion is that the scene was cut because it presented the Church leadership as though they were casting around for ideas all over the place instead of just waiting for a divine answer to their problems. The idea that the leadership would press forward with their own ideas when God is silent seems to be one that wouldn't fly very far in the modern LDS Church.

Also cut is a fun little interlude at the telegraph office. It adds nothing to the plot, but the humor of the scene helps to provide some humanity to the somber tone of much of the rest of the film.

Finally in St. George, President Snow discusses how dire the situation had become when the Church had to offer bonds totaling $1 million. The 1979 revision cuts the rest of his dialog such that the bonds had been purchased by Church members themselves. I feel this was to keep the story of the Church's financial difficulties as though they were purely the fault of the US Government, instead of the actual history where the financial problems lay in large part in poor internal business decisions by the Church leadership as well as external pressures such as the official and permanent dissolution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter0day Saints and seizure of its properties by the US government. The film presents the problems as relating to the newly incorporated organization having to purchase these properties as the main source of funding issues, but in truth the LDS Church was also indebted to its own membership as well as the national banks.

Anyways, that's the status of the project so far. Those who wish to use the uncompressed original digital transfer can find the entire 93 GB file here. Make sure you have room!

This link will also provide access to all of the digitized 16mm films I am hoping to make available over the next few months. I have already sent out “Meet the Mormons” and “You Make the Difference” so we should have those films back soon!

Thank you all for you help. I couldn't have done it without you!

Project Funding

Public and private as of 2 August 2016
Payment Services Fees
(Paypal, GoFundMe, etc)
Shipping "Windows of Heaven" to CinePost-$33.90
Film prep-$50.00
16mm xfer to ProRes 422 HQ/HD-$590.00
1TB USB3 Hard drive-$100.00
Return shipping for "Windows of Heaven"-$34.50
Shipping "Meet the Mormons" and "You Make the Difference" to CinePost-$44.85
Current Funds

#HardToFindMormonVideos #Mormon

There isn't as much to say with this update, but regular updates are better than no news.

The film is now in the queue to be scanned by a professional company and the resulting files will be mailed back to me on a USB hard drive within a week or two. At that point I will have a final bill for the process and can update how the funds have been spent. I will also send in some of the other films at that point.

I have also decided to spend my own funds to hire an analyst at the US Copyright Office of the Library of Congress to determine for certain if the film currently being digitized, “Windows of Heaven,” has indeed let its copyright protections slip by not renewing those protections renewed before they expired in 1991. This was not part of the original project and requests for assistance, so it seems right that I should cover the costs myself. I am highly certain that the film has indeed entered the public domain, but by following this process I will be able to back up that assertion with good faith through this attempt.

I'll have more information soon, I hope.

Project Funding

Public and private as of 6 July 2016
Payment Services Fees
(Paypal, GoFundMe, etc)
Shipping to CinePost-$33.90
Current Funds

#HardToFindMormonVideos #Mormon


I've been involved with the “Hard-to-Find Mormon Videos” YouTube channel for a few months now. It's been a lot of fun. From what originally grew out of an attempt to put together get a group of easily-mocked videos á la Mystery Science Theater 3000 has grown a collection of hundreds of films over nearly an entire century of time. The channel get dozens of messages a week from current members, former members, and people who have never been officially associated with Mormonism who thank the channel for finding some old gem they'd nearly forgotten.

So far the videos have all come from a small handful of sources. The largest source is old VHS videocassettes.


Even most of the oldest videos were obtained through VHS tapes produced by the LDS Church using even older materials. It's relatively easy to digitize a videocassette with an old VCR and some specialized S-Video-to-USB hardware. And there are hundreds of old VHS tapes to be found. The majority of the tapes I've personally added to the YouTube channel have come from chapels in my own home stake (sort of a Mormon “diocese” for those unfamiliar with the lingo; a collection of local congregations or “wards”). A ward library often has a few drawers and cabinets that haven't been opened for years if not decades, and you can often find something in them that is interesting.

The other source has been eBay and people who have been generous enough to send me some of their own VHS tapes that they have had access to. Between these two sources (eBay and personal lending) I've been able to find a number of old videos that I had never even heard of before!


Recently I have begun to branch out from converting old VHS tapes, if only because I feel like I'm now scraping the bottom of that particular barrel. I'm sure there's many more tapes yet to find, but the time it will take to find them is just too long. If I am to feed my obsession, I need to turn to other sources of media.

Before the invention of the VCR in the late 1970s, the LDS Church used film, both 16mm projection film (featuring motion pictures) and 35mm filmstrips (single-frame presentations where an audio track would be synced up to the displayed frames with an audible beep).


I already have over a hundred filmstrips on the YouTube channel, but they had all been obtained from existing VHS transfers. However, scanning filmstrips has been my most recent challenge and I've been able to get a number of old presentation submitted to the channel.

The next adventure is 16mm motion picture film.


I have been able to gather six films so far. It's been a lot of fun fun. Here's the list:

  • Meet the Mormons (1973)
  • You Make the Difference (1973)
  • The Three Witnesses (1968)
  • Windows of Heaven (1979 Version)
  • Families are Forever (with Gordon Jump, 1982)
  • Windows of Heaven (1963 Original)

Digitizing these films could have been done with obtaining a projector and filming a projection, but the results would have been grainy and not very good. Besides, the last item I've listed, the original version of “Windows Of Heaven” is historically significant.

So I made a crowdfunding effort that helped me through public and anonymous assistance to fund the digitization of at least the three films that are not available in any other medium than 16mm film!

I decided to start the process due to the exciting feedback I got from the campaign with the original Windows of Heaven.


This is the largest reel of film I have, nearly 2000 feet long! It's also the oldest, as the film was released March 1963.


I have sent the reel off this very evening to a service in Georgia that will transfer it to digital files for me. I will then upload these files to YouTube, the Internet Archive, as well as making the raw files I receive from the service available by request from a simple website I will put together for this. The website will also go into the history of the film and the historical context of why it was made as well as into the historical issues of the story it presents that supposedly took place during the summer of 1899 (the truth being, as usual, more nuanced and less miraculous than the film presents).

So far the only costs incurred for the project have been the shipping to send the reel to the digitization company, for a total of $33.90. It was a bit pricey because I thought a 53-year-old reel of 2000 feet of rolled gelatin-coated plastic tape should be sent with “fragile” handling! This picture is actually the box I received the film in because I forgot to snap a picture at FedEx when shipping it out.


I will next update this blog post series with the results of the digitization as well as any additional information about the process I can get. I anticipate that the service will cost anywhere between $985 and as much as $1800, but we'll see how much it costs in the end.

To all who helped support (and who continue to support as the campaign is still open) you have my heartfelt appreciation! The next blog post should be up sometime next week.

Project Funding

Public and private as of 6 July 2016
Payment Services Fees
(Paypal, GoFundMe, etc)
Shipping to CinePost-$33.90
Current Funds

#HardToFindMormonVideos #Mormon



Hey guys! I want to digitize a hugely influential Mormon film that has not been easily available for nearly a half-century! The film is now public domain (I think, there might be some issues with the musical soundtrack: copyright is complicated) so the result of this is a film that anyone can use and re-use however they want! However, it's too expensive to accomplish quickly. If you want to help things get done faster please get in touch with me personally or you can also follow the link at the end of this post for other options.

Who I Am

The “Hard-to-Find Mormon Video” YouTube channel has helped to bring to light a lot of videos that have been lost over the years. A video from the channel tends to get shared every week or so around the Internet as someone finds another diamond/coprolite in the rough (which makes me happy every time). The project really has turned into a (wait for it!) labor of love to me! (commence vomiting now for use of that phrase)

So far the project has centered almost entirely around old VHS videocassettes from assorted ward libraries and eBay (a lot of eBay wins). I've recently begun scanning in old filmstrips, but it turns out that a ton of libraries have either films or audio tapes for these presentations but often not both, so that's been slow going as I try to match inventories from various buildings

But that's not the exciting news...

I Have Some Actually Lost Videos!

I now have about 6 reels of 16mm films to be digitized (and more in the future whenever I can find them). Some of them I already have versions on the channel, so I'm not too interested in digitizing them (yet). Still, the fact that 16mm film is very high resolution (it's actually akin to 2K resolution!) might mean that it'd be fun to get better versions of these existing films online (“The Three Witnesses”, “Families are Forever”, and the short version of “Windows of Heaven” re-edited in 1979).

Included in this new collection I've started are:

  • Meet the Mormons (1973) – A famous interview collection with worldwide Latter-day Saints, though not really that impressive of a concept in 1973, let alone over forty years later when the Church made another film of the same name and style that everyone seemed think was somehow groundbreaking. There are a lot of people who have been clamoring for me to get this video and I'm happy that I can (hopefully) oblige!
  • You Make the Difference (1974) – Some Mormon kids would rather watch X-rated films than study their Seminary coursework. Oh noes!

and then there's the grand item I've called your attention to today:

Windows of Heaven (1963 The Original Version)!

That's right, I have the original version! I go into its significance on the crowdfunding page, but the long and short of it is that this film is famous both for popularizing an enduring-though-fabricated LDS tithing miracle as well as helping in no small part in resolving a budgetary crisis for the LDS Church through increasing tithing awareness and payment. It's something of a big deal, and I can't wait to put it up on the YouTube Channel and elsewhere so it never gets lost again!

Why I Need Your Help

But it turns out that it is way more expensive to do this than I had previously anticipated: painfully expensive.

So I'm reaching out to the wider community for some help. Obviously, I'll just save up on my own budget if this doesn't work, but everyone who helps cuts down the wait time on this as it means that much less for me to wait to amass in my monthly budget.

My aim is high, but that is two-fold: first I'm aiming for the stars and will be satisfied if I hit the moon instead. Two grand will get us nearly the highest quality version of this old and damaged film possible. Less than that will still get us a version, but perhaps without as much post-processing and cleanup. And if I can get even more than that I will be applying that extra cash towards those other film reels I currently have and will continue to get in the future.

I will be 100% open and upfront with how I use any assistance. It will never be spent on anything but further preservation options and I will always post opening both on the YouTube channel and here and elsewhere what I am spending it on.

Anyone can help immensely by sharing the crowdfunding link on Facebook and other places. The more people who see it the easier and faster this will be.

Be Part of Recovering History!

Let's bring this old film back. I'm sure it's a terrible movie so I'm very much looking forward to what is done with it by others. My hope? I want a full MST3K by some group, and I want an expert like Mithryn or Daymon Smith to create a version with voice-overs and short tangents about the history of Lorenzo Snow and tithing and about the rise of Correlation (all subjects that intersect in this film). But human inventiveness and imagination is pretty amazing; who knows how it could be used!

Thank you guys!

#HardToFindMormonVideos #YouTube #WindowsOfHeaven #Fundraiser

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