Annotated Book of Mormon
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Alma Chapter 32

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Book of Mormon Annotations

Chapter 32

This chapter features some of the cognitive biases encouraged by Mormon instructions on how to learn the truth about LDS teachings.

The analogy of treating the word of God as a seed may demonstrate how mindfully practicing a principle may uplift or inspire you, but how do you think these techniques would work if applied by religions with beliefs that are mutually exclusive of LDS truth claims?

1 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and began to preach the word of God unto the people, entering into their synagogues, and into their houses; yea, and even they did preach the word in their streets.

 

2 And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—

 

3 Therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.

 

4 Now, as Alma was teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill Onidah, there came a great multitude unto him, who were those of whom we have been speaking, of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world.

 

5 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?

 

6 And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.

 

7 Therefore he did say no more to the other multitude; but he stretched forth his hand, and cried unto those whom he beheld, who were truly penitent, and said unto them:

 

8 I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye.

 

9 Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God.

 

10 Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?

 

11 And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?

 

12 I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.

 

13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.

 

14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?

 

15 Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.

 

16 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.

 

17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.

Alma 32:17-19

Apparently a sign would lead to knowledge, and with knowledge there is no cause to believe. So a sign must not be the same as evidence because with sufficient evidence I have cause to believe. For example, the evidence for the germ theory of disease is overwhelming, so I believe it.

Book of Mormon examples of evidence leading to belief in a good way:

2 Ne 11:4, 6-7 - Nephi’s “soul delighteth in proving unto [his] people the truth.”

Helaman 5:50 - Prisoners see sons of Helaman, Nephi and Lehi, encircled as if by fire; see angels; and hear voices. When the prisoners told the Lamanites about this, “the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences.”

We are not to seek after signs, but proof and evidence seems to be good according to the Book of Mormon, so should we not seek evidence?

18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

Annotation for Alma 32:17-19 above

19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?

Annotation for Alma 32:17-19 above

20 Now of this thing ye must judge. Behold, I say unto you, that it is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work.

If Mormonism is true, and believing that Mormonism is true is the result of putting enough work into it, then we can always say a person who fails to believe didn’t work hard enough to believe in Mormonism. This type of situation is often called a double bind—a situation in which you are given a choice or dilemma, but there is no good choice. Either way, you fail.

If someone spends what they believe to be sufficient effort to learn whether the Book of Mormon is what it claims, and they conclude it is not, then according to this verse, they have not exerted enough effort. The double bind is that if they fail to put more effort into studying the Book of Mormon, their conclusion about the Book of Mormon is due to their lack of effort. If they decide to study the Book of Mormon further, they are likely to think they are wasting their time.

Consider the effect of Jehovah’s Witness (JW) missionaries teaching a person their conclusion about the JW Church shall be unto them according to their work, and that if they put enough work into it, they will reach the “right” conclusion—that the JW Church is Jehovah’s only authorized organization. What kind of effect or influence might this have on a person studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

Doesn’t this idea of faith work equally well for Islam which claims Jesus is not a Christ? Does it not work just as well for Catholicism which claims exclusive apostolic authority?

22 And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.

Encouraging biases - Leveraging desire for social reciprocity and suggesting reward for belief.

 

This verse reminds a believer of God’s mercy for believers. The message is at least two-fold here.

 

First, a believer is reminded of a debt of gratitude. As a social being, a believer in God’s mercy will want to reciprocate, so it primes a believing reader to want to do what the Lord wants, and this verse says God wants the person to believe what is claimed to be the word of God.

 

Another message in this verse is that a person who believes in God will receive God’s mercy (and the obvious correlate:  that a person who does not believe in God will not receive God’s mercy). If accepted by the reader, this could promote reward anticipation for belief or fear and guilt for disbelief. All of this, if believed to some extent, promotes a desire to believe further, hence it encourages motivated reasoning followed by the blatant admonition to “let this desire work in you, even until ye believe.” (See Alma 32:27)

23 And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.

 

24 And now, my beloved brethren, as ye have desired to know of me what ye shall do because ye are afflicted and cast out—now I do not desire that ye should suppose that I mean to judge you only according to that which is true—

 

25 For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.

 

26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.

 

27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

The use of the word “experiment” may give an impression that the process described here for developing faith is somehow similar to the scientific method, but the verses actually encourage something quite different from a scientific experiment. The scientific method would promote careful experiments to minimize the effects of biases and help sort through the facts regardless of which religious claim is investigated. These verses promote biases that could encourage belief in whatever faith was being investigated using these principles.

 

Rather than a scientific experiment, it’s more like being given a sample of a product, told what the product is supposed to do, and encouraged to look for anything that might support the claims of the product manufacturer. It’s like leveraging placebo effect, without control groups, to convince someone of the product claims rather than looking at the evidence.

 

The instruction to “let this desire to believe work in you” is the essence of motivated reasoning (see also Alma 32:22).
“Motivated reasoning refers to the unconscious tendency of individuals to process information in a manner that suits some end or goal extrinsic to the formation of accurate beliefs” (Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School, “Motivated reasoning & its cognates”).


The danger of motives for reasoning other than getting at the truth is that it encourages all sorts of biases in favor of supporting the motive, even at the expense of truth. Motivated reasoning is a sort of catalyst for the biases. As Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella explained, motivated reasoning “is a catchall covering the suite of biases and cognitive flaws that lead people to arrive at confident conclusions they wish to be true, rather than objectively following facts and logic wherever it leads” (“Solution Aversion and Motivated Reasoning”).

 

What if you took the admonition to desire to believe and applied it to the teachings of some other religion that claims to be the only true religion of God? Isn’t the following likely? “People may ultimately come to believe that the weight of evidence supports the position that they already wanted to believe was true.  And they will believe this without recognizing that their own desires influenced the evaluation of the evidence” (Art Markman Ph.D., “You End Up Believing What You Want to Believe”).

28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma 32:28-35

Yet there are lots of contradictory “seeds” that cause this swelling and enlightened understanding and that begin to be delicious to their recipients. Some of these seeds are that Catholicism is the only true religion, others that only Islam is God’s religion, and yet others that only Mormonism is the true religion of God. By the explanation in this verse, although they contradict each other, they are all good “seeds” since many are enlarged and enlightened by these various, contradictory teachings.

Also, according to these verses, the seed will grow, unless you cast it out by your unbelief and resistance to the Spirit of the Lord. This teaches that if you study the Book of Mormon, but do not conclude it is what it claims to be, you are to blame for casting it out. This type of situation is often called a double bind—a situation in which you are given a choice or dilemma, but there is no good choice. Either way, you fail.

If someone studies the Book of Mormon, and they conclude it is not what it claims, then according to these verses, they cast out the teaching with their unbelief. The dilemma is that they either stop trying to believe and are accused of casting out the word, or they continue trying to believe even if they justifiably think they have done their due diligence.

Consider the effect of Jehovah’s Witness (JW) missionaries teaching a person they will know the JW Church is Jehovah’s only authorized organization as long as they don’t cast out the truth of the Jehovah’s Witnesses by their unbelief. What kind of effect or influence might this have on a person studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

Also, consider the reasoning in verse 34. If your knowledge is perfect in a thing, your faith is dormant in that thing. If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Christ, then, by the reasoning of this verse, is your faith in Christ not dormant?

35 O then, is not this 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?

Annotation for Alma 32:28-35 above

36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.

 

37 And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.

The more care you provide a seed of any tree, the more likely a tree will sprout from it. If a person takes care of the word as taught by Catholicism, Hinduism, Scientology, etc. in this way, isn’t it more likely the person will end up believing the religion they are studying is the only true religion?

38 But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.

Alma 32:38-40

According to these verses, if the seed withers, it could be because of your neglect or because your ground was barren. This teaches that if you study the Book of Mormon, but do not conclude it is what it claims to be, you are to blame for your neglect or your barren ground (unfit heart?). This type of situation is often called a double bind—a situation in which you are given a choice or dilemma, but there is no good choice. Either way, you fail.

If someone studies the Book of Mormon, and they conclude it is not what it claims, then according to these verses, the seed did not grow because of neglect or barren ground. The dilemma is that they either stop trying to believe and are accused of neglect or barren ground, or they continue trying to believe even if they justifiably think they have already done their due diligence.

Consider the effect of Jehovah’s Witness (JW) missionaries teaching a person they will know the JW Church is Jehovah’s only authorized organization as long as they don’t neglect the JW teachings or have barren ground. What kind of effect or influence might this have on a person studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

Annotation for Alma 32:38-40 above

40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.

Annotation for Alma 32:38-40 above

41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

Alma 32:41-43

The more care you provide a seed or seedling of any tree, the more likely a tree will sprout and grow to provide some benefit. If a person takes care of the word as taught by Catholicism, Hinduism, Scientology, etc. in this way, isn’t it more likely the person will end up believing the religion they are studying is God’s only sanctioned religion?

42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

Annotation for Alma 32:41-43 above

43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.

Annotation for Alma 32:41-43 above

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