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A Fireside from Hell or Someplace!?

Don - February 27, 2006

My son Bret and I attended a Stake fireside last night.  It was advertised as answering questions about the Da Vinci Code.  We were encouraged to bring our non-member friends.

The speaker was presented to be someone who was qualified to speak, being a "Historian" and other such things.  WOW, were we in for a surprise!

The title of the fireside actually turned out to be "The great apostacy and the restoration".  He mentioned the Da Vinci code a couple of times very very briefly.  His total output about Mary, Mary Magdaline -worship was to say it was caused by the Roman belief in female gods.

This guy was so off base that he said that Constantine embraced Christianity and made it the state religion. (He didn’t, it actually took place later).  And the one that blew Bret and I away was he said that within 25 years after Columbus arrived in 1492 that 90% of the Indians were wiped out.  Yes, I re-read that last sentence and that really is what he said, he even had it on his overhead slide presentation.

Bret and I got up and left.

I am so glad we did not bring a non-member to this.  I was embarrassed enough to have brought my son, it would have been so much worse with a non-member.  As we were riding home Bret made the comment that one of the worst things about this whole thing was the members who would now go home and quote / teach / talk about what they learned last night.  It was Stake sponsored, given by a real authority…so it must be right. 

The scary thing to me is all those who attended and really didn’t have a clue, and those who actually brought a friend to learn what we think of the Da Vinci code and found out that the Catholic Inquisition lasted until 1828 with lots of gruesome pictures….I guess we’ll all have to wait for the movie and make our own opinions.


  1. Don, he was right about Constatine, sorry to inform you.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — February 27, 2006 @ 7:59 pm

  2. He was also right about the indigenous population of the Americas. The moment Europeans made contact, smallpox decimated their civilizations. For instance, before contact, the Peruvian Andes were perhaps the most heavily peopled place on the planet; one in four of the earth’s inhabitants lived in the Inca empire. By the time Europeans actually encountered the region some decades later, the Andes had seen a 95% decline in population. It made the Black Death look like a mild epidemic.

    It was nobody’s fault, of course. Native Americans had developed a somewhat unusual immune system, geared more toward protection from parasites than viruses.

    Comment by Serenity Valley — February 27, 2006 @ 8:22 pm

  3. Constantine changed Christianity’s legal status so it was no longer illegal. But he did not make it the official state religion. I heard this recently from the mouth (via mp3) of NT Prof. Bart Ehrman.

    Comment by Ben S. — February 27, 2006 @ 8:23 pm

  4. Ben S. is right. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 making Christianity legal, but it wasn’t till 381 that Theodisius made it the state religion (and only Catholic Christianity at that).


    Do you have a primary source on that? I’d be very interested to see how they can predict that. Peru maybe, since the Incans kept census records (though much of that was destroyed by Pizarro) but for the entire hemisphere? I still cannot believe the number to be that ridiculously drastic. Obviously more indians died of disease then any bullet could kill, but 90% in 25 years reaching from pole to pole?

    One thing dad forgot to mention was some bold assertions he made as well that are far from conclusive, such as that the Knights Templar went underground till 1628 when they reappeared as the Masonic order in London.

    Anyway, the point he makes is that it was very disconcerting to see a church sponsored fireside with innaccurate and outlandishly bold claims that many will mistakenly think as (possibly official) church viewpoint.

    Comment by Bret — February 27, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

  5. D. Fletcher, Sorry but both Ben and Bret’s comments are correct about Contantine – Bret’s a history major with substantial knowledge of this.

    No, he wasn’t right about the indigenous population of the Americas. He possibly is right about the Central and South American natives but not the the “Americas”. And there is considerable debate about both the population size and the decrease from the diseases that Columbus brought. Also a great deal of debate about how long it took for the decrease to take place. Even Wikipedia indicates that the epidemics were enormous “killing millions of people—in excess of 90% of the population in the hardest hit areas” Wikipedia and the sources used don’t go as far as to say the 90% extended over all the Americas…only in the worst hit areas.

    Wikipedia further states: “While disease ranged swiftly through the densely populated empires of Mesoamerica, the more scattered populations of North America saw a slower spread.”

    It wasn’t just these two “facts” that he didn’t get quite right, it was much of the rest of the presentation and the fact it was to explain the Da Vinic code and was nothing more than a come on for the Mormon idea of the apostacy and why we need a restoration.

    Comment by don — February 27, 2006 @ 8:58 pm

  6. Bret, thanks for backing me up on this one. I forgot about the Knights Templar becoming Masons. You’re a good son! And by the way WE ARE RIGHT!

    Comment by don — February 27, 2006 @ 9:03 pm

  7. One more comment about the Native American population decrease. I could possibily agree with a 90% decrease if you took the date into the late 1800s. Then you have disease exposure to the North American natives, the wars, and the European population growth in all the Americas taking over, but not 90% by 1517.

    Comment by don — February 27, 2006 @ 9:07 pm

  8. I’d have to hear exactly what the guy said about Constantine. But he was baptized on his deathbed, making him, in fact, the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — February 27, 2006 @ 9:11 pm

  9. The statement about the loss of Native American populations does seem extreme when extrapolating throughout the entire continent. But this paragraph from After the Fact, by Davidson/Lytle does relay something similar to what the speaker was suggesting:

    “If the records from a region provide two population estimates a number of years apart, a ratio of depopulation can be established. For example, Spanish Tax records might indicate that in some villages the Indian population dropped by 50 percent over forty years. Using that ratio, it is possible to project earlier populations for regions that have figures only for the later period. Cross-checking this technique with others, historians have concluded that the population of Mexico dropped from perhaps 25 million in 1500 to only 3 million in 1568—a mortality rate of 88 percent in only two-thirds of a century. Textbooks have finally begun to take note of these large-scale epidemics…”

    Comment by D. Fletcher — February 27, 2006 @ 9:48 pm

  10. Um, by the way, apostasy is spelled with two s’s.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — February 27, 2006 @ 9:54 pm

  11. Well, at least someone found something in history that I can’t blame on the Limeys.

    Comment by Steve EM — February 27, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

  12. http://www.usna.edu/Users/history/kolp/HH345/PRE1492.HTM

    Comment by D. Fletcher — February 27, 2006 @ 10:31 pm

  13. As I recall, Constantine didn’t want to be a Christian, and he was only baptized on his deathbed because he was too powerless to do anything but go along with it. But I can’t cite sources on that.

    I would be quite angry if I was in your shoes- what a horrible trick to play on the members! And worse, the non-members- how many people wanted to hear more about the church after finding out that “church teachings” include things like that? Can you talk to the stake president about this and keep it from happening again?

    Comment by Ariel — February 27, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  14. The actual foundations of Freemasonry are often disputed but many trace their beginnings back to the Knights Templar crusading order that established its headquarters on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 1919. These knights were essentially the security forces of the Crusader State in the Latin East. Over time, the influence of the Knights Templar crusading order spread into other areas. Eventually, the Order became too rich and powerful for its own good. Members of the Order amassed incredible amounts of wealth which drew the envy of no less than King Philip of France, who pressured the Pope to outlaw the order in 1307. Templars were summarily executed and their order almost completely disbanded. A few Templars survived and the Order went underground for the next few hundred years, until, as the story goes, it reappeared again in England in 1717 in the form of the Masonic Order.

    Comment by greenman — February 28, 2006 @ 6:03 am

  15. 90% in 25 years reaching from pole to pole?

    Yes, it took longer, but much of the early Pilgrim experience involved harvesting food and other assets from empty native sites where everyone had died.

    90% is probably accurate to one significant figure. The changes were dramatic, and one of the reasons Cortez and others were so successful.

    Sounds like Time-Life Books history though.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — February 28, 2006 @ 8:57 am

  16. Off topic, I just read a book about the gospel of Mary, although I think it’s true name is something else. I forget.

    It said that Joseph was a widower, older and other interesting stuff.

    Comment by annegb — February 28, 2006 @ 9:53 am

  17. The romanticized history of the current Masonic Grand Lodges is certainly debatable, and since the DaVinci Code’s success as well as Disney’s National Treasure, there have been a proliferation of books on the subject.

    It’s tenuous to say that the Masonic Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland were the remnants of the Knights Templar. Certainly the rituals used by the Masons use the Templar history as a framework.

    The actual history of the stonemasons forming their guilds, or lodges, as they were called to protect their craft was not uncommon in the 15th ccentury The lodges in England, Ireland, and Scotland then formed Grand Lodges in the 18th.

    I haven’t read any histories which credibly link the stonemason lodges to the Knights Templar, and I remain sceptical, but open-minded.

    greenman, I have to ask, was your Templar/Mason history taken verbatim from Disney’s National Treasure? I apologize if not, but it is hauntingly similar. Does anyone know of any good Templar history sources that aren’t romanticized also?

    Comment by Polly — February 28, 2006 @ 10:16 am

  18. Um. Maybe this is a dumb question, but what was the point of having a fireside about the Da Vinci Code in the first place? How is it that works of fiction warrant discussion in the context of a religious meeting (fireside though it may be)? I find it a little disconcerting to know that LDs folks are jumping on this bandwagon. Just my two cents worth.

    Comment by Brandon — February 28, 2006 @ 11:49 am

  19. Brandon, not a dumb question. In fact I had the same question (and that’s why it wasn’t dumb… because I had the same one…)

    It’s one thing for a bunch of Mormons to be sitting around talking about it but for it to be a church-sponsored activity is another regardless of false/pseudo-doctrine/truths being told.

    Comment by Rusty — February 28, 2006 @ 12:21 pm

  20. Rusty and Brandon, I think the answer was because the subject would attract interest. It did do that. The chapel was full and also clear back almost all the way to the back of the cutural hall. They got the attention and the people showing up….the problem is we (and the non-members) were deceived about the actual subject matter and many of the “facts” are at best questionable. Why does the church do these kinds of things?

    Comment by don — February 28, 2006 @ 1:27 pm

  21. If you want to know the truth about all those shadowy groups (from the Knights Templar to the Rosicrucians to the Masons and on and on, you all just need to read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s all in there, plain and simple and complicated. Kudos to you if you can make sense of it all.

    Of course, if you can make sense of it all, you deserve to be told, as the main character in the book was:

    Monsieur, Vous êtes fou.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 28, 2006 @ 2:04 pm

  22. Don-

    I still think the more significant question is not whether the material presented was accurate or not (though I think that is important, being a historian myself), but whether a fireside is an appropriate venue for such material. I understand how the subject would garner a lot of interest, but with all due respect, is that the best criterion on which to base a decision about whether or not a particular topic merits a fireside. If it is, then why not open the flood gates to include discussions of romance novels and the latest installation of _The Work and the Glory_ (wait, maybe that’s already being done!)

    Comment by Brandon — February 28, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

  23. Don–

    I’m also somewhat incredulous that stake sponsorship would be afforded to this topic, just because it would pique audience curiosity. Is the goal is just to fill the stake house on Sunday nights? And since when does Dan Brown’s silliness merit serious and officially-sanctioned attention?

    Comment by Justin H — February 28, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

  24. Oops, I see Brandon beat me to it.

    Comment by Justin H — February 28, 2006 @ 2:43 pm

  25. D.

    I’m sorry. After re-reading the post I see that you were addressing the fact that Constantine embraced Christianity, which is true. What the speaker said that was innaccurate was that he made it the state religion, which as I stated before, did not happen till Theodosius made it so in 381.

    Brandon, Rusty, etc.

    I had the same feeling going into and coming away from it. I think it should have (if done at all, which it shouldn’t have considering the content) been labeled a “forum address) or something of that sort and done on a different day than Sunday if for no other reason than to not let people get it confused with church doctrines or beliefs.


    Amen. I enjoyed Dan Brown’s books because they were fun but I don’t like that it has led to all this romanticized history and conspiracy theory. So many people think that if they read it in a book by someone who’s got a degree (or even NO credentials!) it’s got to be fact.

    Comment by Bret — February 28, 2006 @ 3:16 pm

  26. Perhaps we should mention the fact that for the entire time we were there (which granted, was probebly half his speaking time) his lecture had no direction. He gave the title as being about apostasy and restoration but then jumped from one subject to another without really tieing them together or basing them around any thesis statement. What does Knights Templar, his family geneology, or the gory details of the inquisition have to do with the need for a restoration besides the fact that, yes, people got screwed up on doctrine and did bad things. Bad, NAUGHTY things!

    Comment by Bret — February 28, 2006 @ 3:21 pm

  27. It’s not quite the same thing, but this reminds me of a fireside we had recently featuring a soldier returned from Iraq. I expected (dumbly, as it turns out) that he’d talk about the challenges of being faithful in such a difficult environment and that sort of thing. He didn’t even address that subject, instead spending most of his time talking about military hardware and how we should support Bush’s policies. Grrrrr.

    Comment by Being critical — February 28, 2006 @ 6:06 pm

  28. Mark B, Ha ha! Foucault’s Pendulum is one of my all time favorite books. I love that stuff!

    Comment by meems — February 28, 2006 @ 11:53 pm

  29. I know we’re encouraged to bring non-members to firesides, but I didn’t realize anyone actaully did this. They’re so hit-or-miss that I’d never dare. We took a Vietnamese investigator to one in Australia, and it ended being about how boat people from Asian countried were detroying family values in Australia. We never made that mistake again. I’ve never been to one like that here, but I have been to some that were pretty bad as far as quality goes.

    Also, am I the only one that think’s Browns book is horrible? Horrible characters, horrible writing style and some really strange pacing. I broke down and read it after everyone I heard talk about it raved, and only finished reading so I could feel honest telling them how bad it was start to finish.

    Comment by jjohnsen — March 1, 2006 @ 9:33 am

  30. I did get your point that that fireside was mostly… useless, either as a tool for uplifting the spirit, or for awakening the spirituality of non-member friends.

    But truthfully, most firesides are pretty useless. The blogs give better information.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — March 1, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

  31. Yeah, I’m not impressed with Dan Brown either. I couldn’t get past the cardboard characters and the ridiculous dialogue. The story of the Da Vinci Code is interesting, but it’s like he never really gets into it; forever skirting around the meat of the issue; as they run from place to place.

    I don’t think I’ll ever attend another fireside again; I was forced to go to too many in my youth. Any soft spots that I may have had for firesides have been cauterized out.

    Comment by Chad — March 21, 2006 @ 12:12 am

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