The Problem of Korihor

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In a time of relative peace, a man called Korihor went among the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla. He started preaching against Christ and the prophecies of the prophets and thus was called Anti-Christ. His being anti-Christ was not just because he preached against Christ and God but also because he did so dishonestly (I’ll expound on this later).

The Nephites were living in a time with considerable political freedom. Instead of kings, the Nephites were ruled by judges who were not appointed with lifetime tenures. They served for a time and then retired. The judges received compensation for their time but it is likely that at least a substantial portion of them worked other jobs (including running their farms) to have the necessary resources for survival. In other words, at this point the judges did not receive outlandish amounts of money for their time. This will be an important point later.

In this society with considerable political freedom, there was the freedom for people to believe and worship what they wanted to. A person was only punished for immoral and otherwise wicked behavior and crimes: “But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished. For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.” (Alma 30:10-11). However, with the freedom of this society came the potential for great abuse. Having the freedom to believe and do wrong gives us the greater responsibility to believe and do right.

Now that we have context, let’s move on to Korihor. I’m going to take Korihor’s arguments and counter them, poking holes in his logic; this is not something that any of the judges to whom Korihor was taken did (and is not usually recommend in similar situations – it can just lead to arguing), although Alma corrected Korihor on one point; Alma responded to everything else by bearing his testimony to Korihor.

Korihor said, “O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.” (Alma 30:13). What’s wrong with this? First, Korihor commits the informal logical fallacy of begging the question when he assumes that hoping for Christ is “foolish”, “vain”, and a “yoke.” He offers no proof that such a hope (faith) is vain, foolish, and a burden. What is worse is that Korihor makes the following statement a foundation of his arguments, “no man can know of anything which is to come.” If this statement is true, the Nephites could not know if Christ would later come but more importantly, Korihor could not state that Christ will not come because that means that he (Korihor) knows of something to come (i.e., that Christ will not come to earth). He destroys his argument himself.

Korihor goes on to attack the prophecies in the scriptures, calling them “foolish traditions” (verse 14). This is not a new argument, just a continuation and restating of his previous one.

His next argument is one of the foundational philosophies of modern science (I’m not attacking science; I am a scientist): “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.” (Alma 30:15). This is materialism – if we can’t see (or measure) something, it cannot exist. What about the other senses? They are implied in his statement but not stated. Even so, his statement is still untrue. There are many things we cannot see that still exist (e.g., gravity, atoms, sounds, smells – not all these were known in Korihor’s day but his argument still is not valid). Korihor also makes the assumption that we cannot see Christ (something that we know is not true – we all did see Him before our mortal lives and many people have seen Him at various times). Even if we do not believe that people have seen Christ (or ever will see Him), Korihor’s logic is, at best, incomplete (and that’s being generous).

Next Korihor gives what is a common argument – that faith and religion (seeking for a remission of sins) are nothing but the “effect of a frenzied mind” or the result of the “derangement of your minds” (Alma 30:16). This is a viewpoint that I read frequently in online discussions where religion comes up. Sigmund Freud put it this way, “Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. […] If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.” (Source). In other words, religion is an infantile neurosis that hopefully people will outgrow. Freud believed that if people only understood the world (science, naturalism, and materialism) then they would give up on using religion to explain things they do not understand. Korihor essentially made the same argument – religious beliefs are nothing but a “frenzied mind” – a neurosis. Religious people are therefore deranged. The problem with this argument is that labeling someone as crazy or neurotic or suffering from unresolved psychological problems just because you do not agree with their beliefs does not make your beliefs about others correct. What is worse is that I’ve already shown that the foundation of Korihor’s argument up to this point is fatally flawed so at best he is condemning others for using faulty logic that is different from the faulty logic he uses (although matters of faith do not always rely on logic; I have to add that that being said, I’ve yet to find anything as logically consistent and complete as the gospel of Jesus Christ as found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

I want to interject something Alma taught that counters what Korihor taught. Even though Alma was not responding to Korihor (he was dead at this point), his sermon that we have starting in Alma 32 seems like a general response to Korihor’s teachings. One thing he said is particularly pertinent at this point: “O then, is not this [faith and spiritual knowledge] real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?” (Alma 32:35). Alma directly counters Korihor’s belittling of faith; Alma states that faith is real and it is discernible. While we might not always see faith directly, we can understand it in a way that is at least as good as and usually better than sight.

Now back to Korihor. Korihor then moved into the realm of philosophy called humanism and its cousin relativism (not relativity): “And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men [again, what an interesting statement to make given that Korihor said that we cannot know the future], but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength [humanism]; and whatsoever a man did was no crime [relativism].” (Alma 30:17). While there is much to commend about humanism – it’s a philosophy that people can and should improve themselves – the problem of humanism is that there is no room for God in it. People do well because they do well on their own, not because they have a Father in Heaven who blesses them. Humanism is found in many other philosophies and fields – psychology, political science, sociology, literature, business. For example, a particularly extreme form of humanism is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The problem of humanism is that it is ultimately self-centered and selfish. Korihor also taught relativism (this could also be a form of moral nihilism) – that there is no sin, there are no set rights and wrongs – “whatsoever a man [or woman] did was no crime.” How common both these philosophies are today!

Then Korihor (who was particularly a hit with women – see verse 18) continued with his form of nihilism: “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof” (Alma 30:18). Korihor preached against morality and meaning in life. People were to live life however they wanted to and then die, which was the end of their existence. Korihor would have got along splendidly with some of the major philosophers of the 20th century.

We’ll skip ahead a bit. Korihor finds some successes in his preachings but he is taken before local judges in a couple of the lands (the Anti-Nephi-Lehis would have none of his teachings nor would most of the people in the land of Gideon). Then Korihor, before the judge Giddonah, just becomes confrontational, saying essentially, “You say this but I say this instead. You say you are free, I say you are in bondage” and so forth. He also shows his conceit: “Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true.” (Alma 30:24). He said, “You think you know this but you really don’t.” He had the audacity to tell Giddonah what he did or did not believe.

Korihor then goes back to one of his favorite arguments (it’s getting old by this point): “[You believe in] God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.”(Alma 30:28). So much for not being able to know of things to come! That’s quite a prophecy that Korihor makes: “No one has ever or could ever see God and no one ever will. In fact, He doesn’t exist!” It’s impossible to defend a universal negative categorical proposition like that though. So Korihor demonstrated that at no point in the universe is there a being who exists who we refer to as God? Of course he didn’t! That’s one of the problems with universal negatives of that nature.

Eventually Korihor is taken before Alma because no one else knows what to do with him. Korihor starts getting angry, going on and on about how the judges and priests “glut themselves” upon the labors of the people; he basically says they are like the wicked king Noah (who really did that). But they are nothing like Noah, especially Alma. Korihor starts blaspheming and then verbally abusing Alma and the other political and religious leaders. This is where Alma directly refutes what Korihor is saying. Korihor says that Alma and the other religious leaders are becoming wealthy by living off the people. Further, those who are judges are also doing the same.

Alma replies: “Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people. And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time. And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren? Then why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain?” (Alma 30:32-35).

There is not much to say more than this. Korihor was lying about Alma (and other church leaders) – it was an obvious lie – so Alma countered Korihor on this point.

After this, Alma and Korihor go back and forth a bit. Korihor denies there is a God. Alma doubts his assertion and bears his testimony of God and Christ (which is the best thing to do in circumstances like this). Korihor remits a bit, stating that he will believe Alma if Alma shows him a sign. Alma states that God gives enough signs if only we take the time and effort to see them.

Now we start to see changes in Korihor. He goes from being atheist to agnostic (he’s still lying though, as we will discover): “Now Korihor said unto him: I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe.” (Alma 30:48).

So Alma consents; he’ll give Korihor a sign: “This will I give unto thee for a sign, that thou shalt be struck dumb, according to my words; and I say, that in the name of God, ye shall be struck dumb, that ye shall no more have utterance.” (Alma 30:49). It’s not usually wise to ask for a sign because you might just get one and you might not like it! Korihor was struck dumb, not being able to speak any more (thus also not being able to lead away more people in wickedness).

Now comes the great confession from Korihor – the confession that shows why he is called Anti-Christ. In writing or sign, Korihor admitted: “Yea, and I always knew that there was a God. But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” (Alma 30:52-53). So Korihor always knew there was a God. He deliberately preached against this knowledge. He stood out in the light of the sun and denied its existence. That is why he was Anti-Christ. He preached against God and Christ. He saw Satan and listened to him, teaching what he said instead of what he knew was right. After teaching it enough, Korihor started believing it himself but he had gone against the light.

Korihor then begs the curse be taken from him. Alma refuses saying that he brought it upon himself and that Korihor had not repented. Korihor was cast out and went house to house begging for food. People took care of him until he wandered over to the land of the Zoramites, who it turns out had apostatized from the church. The righteous Nephites treated Korihor well; the wicked, not so much: “As [Korihor] went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead. And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” (Alma 30:59-60).

We can see the callousness of the Zoramites – they trampled him to death. Our faith in God is manifest in how we treat others – the Zoramites were wicked. But Korihor’s ignominious death at the feet of the Zoramites served as an object lesson of Satan’s character. He’ll have someone help him with his work and then will cut them off as soon as they are no longer useful. All he wants is for more people to be miserable with him. He will do whatever it takes to hurt others in the worst way possible – to get them to knowingly sin against God. Satan is a coward and without loyalty. He doesn’t even care that his arguments are often so full of holes that if they were buckets, we’d call them colanders. He only needs to get people to believe him as mindless followers (which is not what God wants – mindless followers; God wants faithful followers but not mindless). Korihor’s tragic death shows that Satan does not care for his supporters, all he cares about is how to do the most harm to the most people.

Thus ended Korihor! A long chapter is devoted to him, which might indicate its importance for us to understand. His teachings are alive and well in our day. We need to recognize the Korihors around us and not follow their insidious doctrines. We need to recognize these philosophies of men (and Satan) for what they are and listen to and heed the living prophets of God.

For Anti-Mormons It’s All About Joseph Smith

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There is a disease far too prevalent in the world that I’d like to call morbus spiritus. In English this means disease of the spirit. While we all have this disease to one extent or another I will focus on one symptom. This particular symptom is called antipathy. Antipathy is a set of negative emotions towards someone or something. Where apathy is not caring about something antipathy is fighting against something.

One of the insidious forms of antipathy is well-known to many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are people who spend all of their time and efforts fighting the LDS Church; within the Church we commonly refer to such attacks as anti-Mormon. I’m not claiming that members of the LDS Church are unique in antipathy directed towards them – there is much discord and hatred in this world, some of it much more violent and deleterious than that directed at Mormons. However, I’d like to focus on the vitriol directed at LDS Church members and our beliefs.

There are numerous sources of anti-Mormon materials. There are churches who devote much of their efforts to “setting people right” about Mormons and Mormonism. I served my mission in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., which is a hotbed of people who have unkind feelings towards the LDS Church and its members. I had conversations with people who tried to convince me – genuinely – of the errors of my ways; none of them were ever really interested in what I had to say. Some listened politely but they were not listening with an honest heart. Before I continue I want to point out that there are many people outside and inside the LDS Church who have honest questions about doctrines or history or other issues; I’m not writing about these people; I’m writing about people who are full of animosity and antipathy towards the Church. Many of these people were church members at one point, they left the Church but cannot leave it alone. Some of those full of antipathy have never been LDS Church members.

This hatred towards those professing God’s Restored Gospel started as soon as Joseph Smith started telling about his vision of seeing Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. What surprised the 14 year old Joseph was that people did not just not believe him, some (usually led by ministers) people started verbally attacking (and soon, physically) him as soon as he related his experience. This wasn’t apathy or just disbelief, this was unbridled antipathy. In his own words, Joseph’s experience is as follows:

“Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.

I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.” (JS-H 1:21-23).

Joseph Smith wasn’t someone living in a self-built prison of victimization, he was actively persecuted from that time forward until his assassination at the hands of an angry mob 24 years later.

From Joseph Smith’s day to ours, nearly every anti-Mormon attack, given some time and a few iterations, boils down to an argumentum ad hominem (i.e., an argument against a person’s beliefs or statements based on a personal characteristic or belief or action of that individual). This is (usually) a fallacy of logic, which is a problem when a person is trying to make a case against someone else’s argument (I use the term argument in the formal logic sense, not in the “emotional and heated disagreement that people sometimes have” sense) because it is also basing one’s position on attacking the person and not the position.

Now how about an example. First a general example: “I cannot accept anything Frank says about politics because his feet are smelly!” That’s an extreme example but it gets my point across. Now with a real example. One common argument I’ve heard about the Book of Mormon is the following: “The Book of Mormon isn’t true because Joseph Smith was a gold digger” (implying that Joseph Smith was a treasure hunter who stated he found a set of gold plates from which he stated he translated the Book of Mormon). There are many more salacious attacks on Joseph Smith that I read or hear on occasion but they are not fit to include here.

I am not stating that all negative questions and concerns about the church stem from some conscious or subconscious antipathy towards Joseph Smith but almost all anti-Mormon materials essentially boil down to impugning Joseph Smith’s character, at least in the attacks to which I’ve been exposed. This is because the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to His living prophets is Truth; it is sound and without contradiction. This does not mean that our understanding is perfect, nor have we been revealed everything yet (not even remotely) but the gospel is true. Any supposed imperfections are caused by our lack of understanding. I am also not implying that Joseph Smith was perfect, he would be the first to recognize his faults, but none of the anti-Mormon attacks on his character are warranted. I know some disagree with that statement but it’s easy to defame the character of people who are dead.

People can have honest disagreements. Those of us who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can have enriching discussions with all people, should they and we do so with an attitude of honesty and respect. We in the LDS Church do not have a monopoly on truth or inspiration. We do not have a monopoly on goodness or virtue. What we do have is membership in Christ’s church, which is a blessing and a responsibility. We are responsible to never be arrogant or exclusive. We have a responsibility to share what we have with others. Membership in Christ’s true church is never an excuse to look down on others, it is a calling to raise others up. We must never let the symptoms of antipathy dwell within us. We can never find happiness in tearing down others. Antipathy is part of a disease that will spread and consume us with its cancerous cells.

Can I answer every question that anti-Mormons have? No, and I don’t want to. I will answer honest questions people have – there are always answers to those questions – but responding to anti-Mormons is a fruitless task for me. There are some within the LDS Church who do and do so very well (check out LDS FAIR Apologetics) but in general there are too many things that we do not know to spend much time bickering over things that we really do not know. I’m not an ostrich sticking my head in the sand in the face of such attacks, I simply choose to fight other battles.

One last note, any questions of Joseph Smith’s character should be cleared up as the Joseph Smith Papers volumes continue to be published. There are few comparable projects focused on any single individual of a similar magnitude (although within the past 100 years or so our archival of records has improved dramatically; however, documents are not always made public in an easily accessible manner). It is especially rare to have access to that wealth of primary sources for any major religious leader (or political or military, for that matter).