If I could ask them one question . . .
Come Follow Me, Lesson 27
For Come Follow Me, lesson 27, Jul 6-12, Alma 30-31
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Are Book of Mormon stories about anti-Christs helpful?”
Things to consider:
- Korihor is a go-to Book of Mormon example of what an anti-Christ or atheist is supposed to be like and how to deal with them.
- Korihor labels teachings of the prophets as foolish or silly (Alma 30:13-14) but does not substantiate his claims other than to say “you can’t know that” (which, if taken a little further and in the right context, could be a good argument). Sure, there are atheists today who make assertions without substantiation, but if you do even a little research, you’ll find many an atheist who will back up their claims with sound reasoning and evidence (Huge list of atheist agnostic skeptic humanist websites and Atheist Websites Directory for some examples).
- Korihor says the hope people have in the gospel is the result of a frenzied mind. Now, maybe God meant something other than what frenzied actually means, but it means “feeling or showing great or abnormal excitement or emotional disturbance” (Merriam Webster). Such a mind could lead to irrational or unfounded beliefs, but it is not the only cause. In fact, calm, sane, normal folks believe in all sorts of superstitious, irrational, illogical, unsubstantiated claims. If someone claims Mormons believe in Mormonism because of frenzied or emotionally disturbed minds, I’d defend the Mormons as generally not having such frenzied minds. Many non-Mormons may think the beliefs of Mormonism are strange or baseless, but I don’t think they generally think Mormons believe what they believe because of frenzied minds. I used to believe in Mormonism’s truth claims, and I don’t think that belief was the result of a frenzied mind.
- Korihor taught that, “whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:17). This philosophy seems to be like some fringe form of anarchism. I’m sure there are some atheist anarchists, but I don’t think they are common. Alternatively, if by “crime” this verse means “sin” or “immoral act,” then such a person who believes that whatever they do is not bad or immoral is a sociopath. Again, I’m sure there are some atheists who are also sociopaths, but I don’t think they are common. This portrayal of anti-Christs or atheists fails to account for the desire to have joy and to help others have joy even if you have no belief in a god. It fails to account for the fact that most atheists realize that joy is in many ways inextricable from pro-social behavior.
- The reading says there was no law against a person speaking their beliefs (Alma 30:7, 9, 11-12). Then the believers bind and kidnap Korihor and take him to be judged (Alma 30:19-21, 29). Who’s acting as if nothing they did was a crime? Reminds me of this quote by A. C. Grayling:
Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn’t argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we’re doing is, we’re presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.
- Korihor accuses the religious leaders of glutting themselves on the labor of the believers (Alma 30:27, 31), to which Alma says, “Nuh uh” (Alma 30:32-35). But the irony is that if Alma’s argument were valid against Korihor, it’s definitely valid against modern prophets, seers, and revelators who receive six-figure incomes (Deseret News and Mormon Leaks).
- Korihor has been teaching that there will be no Christ, and when Alma asks him if he believe God exists, Korihor says “No.” Now, with Korihor’s strong assertion that there will be no Christ (and assuming he also strongly asserted there would be no God), Alma makes a good point in, “And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only” (Alma 30:40, this is what I meant in the second bullet point above that sometimes when a bold, unsubstantiated assertion is made, it can be a good argument to say “you don’t have evidence to know that”).
- Alma and his Church are making extraordinary claims of an all-powerful God who intercedes in the affairs of man. Since he and his Church initiate the extraordinary claim, the burden of proof would generally be theirs. However, because the character Korihor has claimed “there shall be no Christ,” as if he knows that, then Korihor would have the burden of proof to substantiate his claim to know such a thing. This is a good reminder that it is not rational to claim to know something that is not justified by evidence. It would have been much more rational for Korihor to proclaim that since he sees no evidence for Christ, there is no reason to believe in Christ. If pressed on the point, I think that’s closer to the stand most modern atheists would take on the matter.
- But after Alma’s good beginning argument, I think he argues poorly asserting that all things testify that there is a God and that Christ will come (Alma 30:41, 44). Isn’t that just Alma’s interpretation of “all things” and what they mean? What of the cruel and horrific torment of the innocent (even small children) by human depravity and by nature? Many interpret this to show that there is no omnipotent, all-caring God (see Lesson 23, about the problem of evil). The argument is that if such a God were omnipotent, then he doesn’t care enough to end unnecessary suffering, or if he cares, then he must be impotent to end the suffering. At any rate, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because of the universe, therefore God exists. A person may feel like the existence, order, or beauty of the universe testifies of this, but feelings lead to all sorts of contradictory conclusions. Look at all the people who have felt the Spirit of God testifying that theirs is the only true Church even though such beliefs contradict one another (for examples, see My LDS Journey - Follow the Spirit).
- Then it’s Korihor’s turn to be silly. He says, “except ye show me a sign, I will not believe” (Alma 30:48). I don’t think this is helpful to the anti-Christ or the believer. A modern anti-Christ or atheist might demand a sign for rhetorical effect, to taunt a believer, but what I think a modern atheist is more likely to demand is evidence. I have personally been accused of seeking signs because I have expressed that I will not believe in extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence, but let’s consider what it means to seek for evidence vs. seeking for signs in the context of the Book of Mormon. Here are a couple of examples where proof and evidence apparently led to belief in a good way:
- Nephi’s “soul delighteth in proving unto [his] people the truth” (2 Ne 11:4, 6-7).
- 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” (Helaman 5:50).
- And, don’t forget that Samuel the Lamanite describes the signs of the death of the savior (Helaman 14:20-27) then tells us that these signs were “to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them” (Helaman 14:28-29). Doesn’t the explanation by Samuel make more sense? Shouldn’t I be held accountable for following the evidence wherever it leads rather than to be held accountable to extraordinary claims with no substantial evidence?
- After being struck dumb, Korihor writes and admits that he became anti-Christ because he was fooled by the devil who appeared to him in the form of an angel and told him there wasn’t a God. He apparently taught the words of the devil at first because they pleased him and then because he came to believe them (note: bearing testimony creates belief even in something false). When you stop to think about this one, it’s actually kind of funny. I mean, I wonder how many atheists today cannot believe in God because … the devil appeared to them in the form of an angel? This makes no sense at all. Maybe there are some atheists like this, but they have to be an amazingly small percentage of the population of atheists.
- Regarding Book of Mormon anti-Christs, it’s been said:
They are all of one breed and brand; so nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and underdeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator”
(B. H. Roberts, member of the first council of the seventy from about 1888, as quoted in this “Dialogue” article, p. 89).
- I couldn’t agree more. Korihor and other Book of Mormon anti-Christs seem to be naive caricatures of atheists.
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- The contrast of modern prophets to Alma’s boldness seems stark to me (Alma 30:49).
- Also, it’s ironic that Alma, who received a sign that got him to stop his bad-boy behavior and eventually believe, is the one who gives Korihor a sign (being struck dumb) to Korihor’s eventual destruction (Alma 30:49).
- Alma justifies leaving Korihor dumb by saying if he lifted the curse, Korihor would again lead folks astray (Alma 30:55). What? So God couldn’t stop him from doing that?
- Another problem with this curse is that it shows God can intervene to prevent evil (at least sometimes?), which undermines the moral agency defense against the problem of evil (see my If I Could Ask … Lesson 23 about the problem of evil).
- “Sword” seems to be anachronistic (Alma 31:5).
- Reasons given for personal apostasy seem cult-like (Alma 31:9-11).
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 27