Alma 30

Alma 30

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.

(Alma 30:6)

There’s much we can learn from Alma’s response to Korihor. Notice how he:

  1. 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).
  2. He remembers his own testimony (v. 41)
  3. He remembers the testimony of others, including the prophets, and those in the scriptures (v. 41)
  4. 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…

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Oh, hi Korihor!

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:

motte-and-bailey

Like this, but with ideas

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.

(Alma 30:28)

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)

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.

(Alma 30:60)

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.

Even experts are ignorant – UnHerd

There’s an interesting article on UnHerd today, about a book called The Hidden Half: How The World Conceals Its Secrets by Michael Blastland, which apparently examines how strange reality really is, and how little we sometimes know about it (or even how little know we know about what little we know).

Some highlights:

So what caused these differences if not genetics or environment? Answer: we don’t know. And most laypeople – myself included, before I’d read Blastland’s book – didn’t even know we didn’t know. You, like me, probably thought that the argument in science was between genes and environment; not between genes and environment and… this other thing. Yet this other thing – this hidden half, called “enigmatic variation” – doesn’t just apply to crayfish. As much as half of human variation can’t be accounted for, writes Blastland, by either genetic or environmental factors.

 

You all know by now, for instance, that economic forecasting isn’t hugely reliable; perhaps it seems obvious that that’s in the nature of the thing. Animal spirits, irrational exuberance and all that, right?

But economic reporting, it turns out, is just as dodgy. Not only do we not know what’s going to happen, we don’t know what did happen. ONS figures for the economy two or three years ago continue to be revised in light of what has followed – and are often subject to confidence margins that can make the difference between a boom and a recession (Blastland cites one where a fall in unemployment of 3,000 was sombrely reported with a confidence margin of +/-77,000 – i.e. the figure could be a rise of 74,000 rather than a fall of 3,000).

 

And then there’s the “replication crisis” in the social sciences, where results on which whole subsequent fields of research have been built turn out to be, literally, junk science. Again, as many as half of the accepted results in the whole of social science or medicine are feared to be unreliable or plain wrong. The experiments simply don’t replicate. Even medicines that we know work may only work for a tiny percentage of patients – and we can’t predict which ones and we don’t know why.

Read more at Even experts are ignorant – UnHerd

What is Scientism? | AAAS – The World’s Largest General Scientific Society

An interesting article here. I’ve spoken with a fair few people – including some very highly educated people – who have made claims about what “science” shows, but who don’t realise they are making metaphysical assumptions. Likewise I’ve seen people educated in the sciences make blithe and ignorant statements about historical or theological or other matters, who were simply too ignorant to be aware of the research showing that they are incorrect. That’s all part of the distinction between actual science, and Scientism, which the below link explores quite succinctly:

What is Scientism? | AAAS – The World’s Largest General Scientific Society

“Love Wins,” and Charity Loses

A great article has been put online, first presented by Ralph Hancock (a professor of political science at BYU) at the 2016 FAIRMormon conference in which he discusses the modern ideology of “love” and the confusion some have had between such concepts and the ideal of charity, and the consequent belief that obedience towards God is less or unimportant. Read it here: “Love Wins,” and Charity Loses – FairMormon (link courtesy of Daniel Peterson’s blog here).

Personally I am reminded of Matthew 22:35-40:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Love is certainly central to Christ’s teachings, but it should never be forgotten that loving God comes first.