Alma 30 features the appearance and teachings of one Korihor, generally regarded as one of the three “Anti-Christs” depicted in the Book of Mormon (along with Sherem and Nehor in Jacob 7 and Alma 1), and the only one to actually be given that title (v. 6, 12). Unlike as discussed in regards to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, it’s quite clear that “Anti” prefix here is used in the traditional English (and originally Greek) sense of opposition. Thus Korihor:
…was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ.
There’s much we can learn from Alma’s response to Korihor. Notice how he:
- Points out the inconsistencies in Korihor’s teachings, including the falsity of his allegations against the priests, and his own lack of evidence for his teachings (vv. 32-35, 40).
- He remembers his own testimony (v. 41)
- He remembers the testimony of others, including the prophets, and those in the scriptures (v. 41)
- He also remembers other truths that lead to the big questions, the questions that Korihor avoids, such as the question of existence itself and the existence of order, truths that one can indeed see, but which lead to questions that Korihor’s philosophy cannot address.
But I also think it’s worth noticing the pattern of Korihor’s own argument. There’s a reason space if given for his, and for that matter Sherem and Nehor’s teachings, for these are patterns we can recognise in the world around us today. This is, as we shall see, especially the case for both Korihor’s teachings and his style of argument, which aren’t new, but are of relevance today.
The teachings of these three figures – Sherem, Nehor and Korihor – differ quite markedly, and perhaps the only unifying factor is their denial of prophecy and their denial of Christ. Thus Sherem supposedly stood in defence of the Law of Moses, denying the coming of Christ on the basis that it converts the Law of Moses into worship of another being, and is “blasphemy”, as no one can know “of things to come” (Jacob 7:7). Nehor taught priestcraft and universalism, preaching that God had created all men and so had saved all men (Alma 1:3-4), an idea that naturally denies the need for repentance and thus lessens any need for an atonement or a redeemer, views clearly seen in followers who deny the coming of Christ, and likewise the possibility of knowing “things to come” (Alma 21:7-8).
Korihor likewise denies revelation and Christ (Alma 30:13-15), but goes further, denying the existence of God completely (v. 28). He dismisses any notion of revelation and spiritual experience as the “effect of a frenzied mind” and “belief of things which are not so” (v. 16), insisting that “ye cannot know of things ye do not see” (v. 15), a materialist approach that not only insists upon empiricalism as the only route to knowledge, but which also implicitly insists that anything that cannot be empirically known doesn’t exist (which affects far more than religion: it also logically denies such ideas as justice, mercy, freedom or love. There are no “love” particles, after all). He consequently teaches that “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature” – that whatever happens to an individual is down to their individual capacity – and “whatsoever a man did was no crime” (v. 17), a denial of morality that encourages others into hedonism (v. 18). These are views that seem so modern, I think I’ve seen them on a bus somewhere…
Even Korihor’s style may seem familiar, as shown by his aggressive attack on the motives of the priests (accusing them of seeking to ‘glut’ themselves, despite the fact that they are not paid, vv. 27 32-35), and his use of the “Motte and Bailey” rhetorical trick:
Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.
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.
As verse 28 shows, Korihor is lying. He very much does deny the existence of a God. But when confronted the question as to how he knows this, he employs the Motte and Bailey tactic and abandons the less defensible and more controversial claim for a more restricted one and more defensible claim: “oh no, I was really saying I simply didn’t believe there was a God”. The idea is for the opponent to give up, since they’re now faced with a different claim, and then “win” the debate by default for the first, original idea. As Korihor’s example shows, this is fundamentally a dishonest approach, pretending one wasn’t really arguing something as a temporary deceit aimed at securing victory for it.
It doesn’t work in this case since he asks for a sign, and Alma and the Lord are perfectly prepared to show him one. Note, however, that even though he’s struck dumb and temporarily prepared to confess to all sorts of things (that he “always knew that there was a God”, that the devil appeared to him as an angel, that Korihor taught his words because they are “pleasing unto the carnal mind”, and because of success came to believe his words were true), Alma asserts that “if this curse should be taken from thee thou wouldst again lead away the hearts of this people”, and leaves Korihor’s request that the curse be taken from him in the Lord’s hands (v. 55). That the Lord does not then act suggests Alma is correct. Thus even when given the sign he requested, Korihor is not prepared to change his ways, and indeed I wonder how sincere his “confession” actually was. Was he simply telling Alma what he thought Alma wanted to hear in any effort to get his speech back. There’s a distinct contrast with Sherem, who’s deathbed confession at least seems sincere, and who was permitted to address the people once more (Jacob 7:16-22). Korihor himself seems unreformable; however, sometimes it’s important that such ideas be confronted because – like those who followed his teachings – there are others who follow such ideas who are (v. 58)
Again, it’s also worth remembering (and emulating) how Alma responded to Korihor, an approach that involves both using one’s head (in spotting the logical flaws, for instance, and recognising the big questions that can lead one to the truth), and also the spirit, remembering own’s own testimony and that of the scriptures and the prophets. But it can also help to recognise the pattern here, and see how many things that the world would offer up as new thinking are simply old errors repeated.
The last verse of this chapter is part of a transition to events in the next chapter, but always causes me some reflection:
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.
Korihor’s final fate – trampled by a people who themselves have gone astray – is a demonstration of a point that Mormon draws out here: even those who do Satan’s work (whether unknowingly or, at least according to Korihor’s confession, knowingly) will not receive anything good from him at the end. He desires everyone’s misery, including those of his servants, and so while he may well try to offer us all sorts of things in tempting us, he is always seeking to cheat us.