My Book of Mormon Hero

The Book of Mormon that I carried with me for two years as a missionary in Russia is on my desk. It’s the standard edition that all Mormons have: The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price all in one. (My Bible is its own separate book.) This particular book is tattered and worn from years of use and study. In fact, it’s marked up, cross-referenced, and highlighted so much that no one could honestly tell me that I wasn’t sincere in my studies. I was. I still am. Only now I’m not fed on a diet of skim milk. I want -and get- the meat.

My Book of Mormon is still full of bookmarkers, photographs, and cards I received from Russian friends. As I was flipping through the pages, the book fell open to Alma, Chapter 30. This particular chapter was always hit hard in Sunday school, seminary, and a few times on my mission during conferences. In the chapter summary I have circled “all things denote there is a God” and in the margin of my book is written in my handwriting,“Korihor=antichrist.”

The name Korihor in Mormonism is synonymous with everything evil and vile. So I re-read the story for the first time in years with a fresh outlook and a freethinking mind. (It took about 5 minutes. It’s one chapter.) After I re-read the chapter it made sense that this guy is so hated because he actually makes a logical, valid and crystal clear argument for atheism. After all, Reason is the enemy of faith. And for the first time ever in all my studies of the Book of Mormon, I actually connected with a character.

Korihor is vilified in Sunday School classes because we are taught he was preaching that there was no god. But that’s not what he preaches. He says,
“13 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. 14 Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers. How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see, therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.”

He wasn’t preaching that there was no god. He was preaching, correctly, that when someone makes a claim, they better be able to back it up.

The people he was speaking to, the righteous theists, did to him what they usually do: used force and violence to illegally bring him before the high priest and chief judge of the land. They asked him why he was preaching false doctrine and speaking against the prophets.

Korihor answered brilliantly:
“25 You say that this people is a guilty and a fallen people, because of the transgression of a parent. Behold, I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents. 26 And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ. And ye say also that he shall be slain for the sins of the world 27 And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges. 28 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.”

That’s brilliant! Korihor is so eloquent in his remarks! When I read those words, I feel as if he’s describing the modern day Mormon Church. But the people don’t answer his rational questions. Again, they use force to bind him and take him before Alma.

Not surprising, Alma does not respond with any kind of reasoned answers. He does what Mormons call “bear testimony” which means, Alma merely makes a lot of assertions without any evidence. He says the phrase “I know” frequently then declares that all things denote there is a god. No evidence is provided. Alma does make a statement I find amusing. He asks Korihor:
“40 And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not?”

Huh? Wait a second! Alma asks Korihor to prove a negative. No one is ever called upon to prove a negative. The burden of proof always rests on the person making the claim. And then Alma says:
“I say unto you that ye have none [evidence], save it be your word only.”

Wait another second! Isn’t that all Alma has as well? Alma sounds more and more like a hotheaded teenager than a man of god.
Korihor asks Alma for a “sign” of some kind. I would call this evidence and in fact I ask for it all the time when people make bald-faced assertions. It’s a reasonable request, because believing things for which there is no evidence is not a virtue.

The story then turns into total drivel when Korihor is struck dumb by the power of god and admits that he was wrong and actually always believed in god but that the devil deceived him.
But it all works out in the end because the loving Heavenly Father forgives Korihor, they all make up and bake pies for all the sick people in the village. Oh, wait no, that’s not what happens at all. In the actual story Korihor spends the rest of his days going “about from house to house, begging food for his support.” He is later trampled to death. But remember, god is a forgiving, loving god.
Korihor and Alma are both fictional characters anyways; they never existed. But even so, Korihor, with his sharp intellect and rational thinking, is my Book of Mormon hero.

some image
  • Seafa
    April 17, 2010

    What the??????? Here is my question for you. If there is no god, and god doesn’t exist…. why would you care about what others think or believe in…….if we all die and their is NOTHING after death? This doesn’t make any sense to me at all. It shouldn’t matter to you if you were a true atheist because once one is dead, and their existence doesn’t matter to them any more because there in a state of nothingness…..what is it to you? Your not out anything at all. If I were to worship Bozo the Clown but only on leap year and offer him up dog crumpets….what does that matter to you? Once I die, I don’t go anywhere except the ground. All of my knowledge, arguments and experiences were all for naught. There was no point to my existence at all because I will die and not exist at a later time. So…..why do you give a flying leap if you will be having the same fate? Would’t it be better for you to go rock climbing, tour the country, get drunk out of your skull and eat lots of chocolate? I’d really like to hear this one my friend! Bring it on Bro!

  • Seth Anderson
    April 18, 2010

    You conflate two VERY distinct issues into one: that religious belief is benign and causes no harm. How wrong you are. If the scenario you present was true (i.e. worshiping Bozo the Clown) you ask why it would matter to me. The answer is it wouldn’t if your belief was kept to yourself. HOWEVER (and this a big however) when people who worship Bozo the Clown force those who do not to believe the same way under the threat of violence, then there is a problem. When people who worship Bozo extort tax payer money (from people who don’t believe in Bozo) to fund “faith based initiatives” to promote Bozo, when people who believe in Bozo refuse to let science be taught in schools and instead replace science with the holy words of Bozo, when parents refuse to take their children to doctors and instead pray to Bozo for healing and their children die even though medicine could have prevented it, when parents marry their 12 year old daughters to older men because Bozo said so, and when people fly airplanes into buildings because Bozo is going to reward them in some mysterious afterlife, then there is a MAJOR problem and I absolutely care.

    If you can’t see how those ridiculous beliefs cause actual harm to actual people, then I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that your belief in unverifiable fairytales has polluted your mind to the point that you can’t see the suffering caused by it.

    I also feel sorry for you that you seem to think there has to be a god for you to have a “point to your existence.” Is that really how you see your life? That these is no meaning or value to it without a magical and invisible man who lives in the sky? I’ll let you in on a big secret: the purpose of life, is life. Live it. Love it. Learn. Experience the beauty of the world, of cultures, of others. Take care of your life, do the things which are necessary to maintain it. Don’t cause harm to other people, look for ways to intensify the happiness you feel. This life is wonderful, and it’s the only one I know I have, so I intend to live it free of delusions.

    I do go rock climbing, I go hiking, I go to the zoo, the desert botanical gardens, I write, I hang out with friends, I’m active in my community, I volunteer with an animal shelter, I teach Russian. I do many things that give my life meaning. And when I’m gone, my influence will be remembered in those people whos lives I touched. And whether or not there is nothing after death does not matter to me. I didn’t exist for billions of years before I was born, and that fact hasn’t impeded me.

    Your final sentence concerns me: “Bring it on Bro!” Are you picking a fight with me? I’ll tell you right now, I don’t fight and I don’t argue. If you disagree with my positions, that’s fine. Make your case using logic and reason, not spite and vengeance, and we can discuss anything.


    • Adelmo
      June 2, 2011

      Here you talked about not harming people and you think you’re doing with people who believe that Alma is a Hero? huh?

    • Seth Anderson
      June 3, 2011

      I’m challenging people to question the things they believe and not accept them on faith. Faith is not a virtue, it’s a vice. Asking that people use their brains to think logically is not harming, it’s liberating.

  • becky porter
    May 16, 2010

    I am not a political person at and dont ever care to be but I just feel soo sad for you!!When you talk about Alma and Korihor and you say that Alma bears his testimony and says “I know”, thats because he has faith. Nothing else is required to feel the way we do. When you went on your mission you obviously felt the spirit and knew the things you were doing were right. I dont see how you can just discount all those feelings and act like you dont care at all. YOu also wouldnt be able to teach russian to people if it wasnt for your mission so maybe take that into consideration when you are enjoying your awesome life that has no meaning. I dont care what religion someone is but we are all striving to be better in our lives and I can honestly say being a mother and birthing my children and feel life inside of my belly that there has to be a God to provide that for us. That is truly a miracle and God is the only one that could make that happen.

    • Seth Anderson
      May 16, 2010

      You don’t have to feel sorry for me at all. I have a great life! I love life and I live it. And who said my life has no meaning? That’s quite a leap to make and it concerns me that you do.

      Feelings are not tools of cognition, you can’t know something because you feel it. All you can know is that you feel something, but you can’t make claims about truth based on feeling. The funny thing is you know this already and live in accordance with it. For example, I’m sure you don’t go to a guy who “feels” he is a doctor; you go to the guy who has a diploma and a license to practice medicine.

      You presented an epistemological contradiction, made some assertions and failed to answer the problem you raise. If you feel that your religion is correct (I’m assuming you’re Mormon) and my Catholic friend feels his religion is right, and my Muslim friend feels that his religion is right, who is right? They can’t all be, can they? And if only one is, what standard are you using to determine it?

      My loyalty lies only to truth, truth that I can know and justify. The real work of inquiry, scientific exploration, questioning, and rigorous testing has given the world more transcendence and beauty than “feelings” ever have.

    • Adelmo
      June 2, 2011

      What is the evidence that the person you’re with loves you? Love is a feeling?

    • Seth Anderson
      June 3, 2011

      Love is an action.

    • adelmo
      June 3, 2011

      Logic, I understand! thanks …
      love is action but I understand, but the feeling comes first.

  • Richard Winn
    November 14, 2010

    In the BOM, the Chief Judge put forth his hand and wrote to Kori(w)hor(e). Why? He was struck dumb not deaf…..The Chief Judge must be a real idiot. LOL…..Or the book is fiction. Wait….forget evidence just pray really hard and you’ll conjure some warm fuzzy up eventually.

    • Seth Anderson
      November 14, 2010

      And if you don’t get the warm fuzzy feeling you’re doing something wrong or just sinful so keep praying until you get the answer that we say you should get and if you don’t get that precise answer then you are not trying hard enough. lol

  • donald buswell
    November 25, 2010

    Seth, fantastic arguments! For me, it was a hard break to make from LDS Inc., as many friends and loved ones still are there, and I’m the ‘bad seed’ when all I’ve been doing for 10+ yrs is questioning everything, and, finding NO answers in any part of Mormonism from their universities, to a Temple President, to the very scriptures! It’s all a maze! I was told to NOT ask about certain things — which I completely went in search of, vs. the tried and false method of ‘feeling’. The first thing I thought of was the feeling I have when I take a big dump — that’s a feeling, does it make my shit true? Sure! Everything is true! lol.

    • Seth Anderson
      November 25, 2010

      Thank you. It bugs me to no end that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” but we are not allowed to ask questions about it. If in fact it is the most correct book then it should hold up under scrutiny. If it doesn’t then we have a whole other set of questions to address.
      Thinking is difficult and it’s probably why so many people like to rely on feelings. You don’t have to do anything to feel something. But thinking and asking questions and searching for answers that are verifiable and based in reality is very difficult.

    • Adelmo
      June 2, 2011

      One question: We will seek answers verifiable and based on reality, but we realize that true? feelings will be felt at the exact moment that we have acquired the real answer?

    • Seth Anderson
      June 3, 2011

      Feelings are not tools of cognition.

    • Seth Anderson
      June 3, 2011

      Absolutely not. So if you have a feeling that the book of mormon is true but your Jewish friend has a feeling that only the old testament is true and your Muslim friend has a feeling that the Koran is true, who’s right? All of them? If so why does it matter if the book of Mormon is true?

  • Cindy Harder
    November 26, 2010

    “Feelings are not tools of cognition”.

    Just found your blog via my brother. As a former Mormon myself, I appreciate so much of what I’ve read so far. How refreshing to find kindred spirits who “get it”.

    I love your blog, and I KNOW it’s true. In fact, I now have a testimony of it. :)

    • Adelmo
      June 2, 2011

      Feelings are good yes, it behooves us to identify them if they are good or bad it will benefit us or not! Thanks! I live in Brazil excuse my English.

  • Adelmo
    June 19, 2011

    Hi, Seth, please can I have an opinion about the temples. Please thank you!

    • Seth Anderson
      June 19, 2011

      That’s a big question. What in particular would you like my opinion on? I think the history of the temple, from the Kirtland temple to Nauvoo to today is fascinating. A lot of things have been changed. I think the new ones that are built are very boring, lacking the craftsmanship and pride of others. They look like any McMansion you would find in suburban tract-housing. I think that’s sad. I was never impressed when I used to go. I always found it an exercise in total boredom. “Wake up and do something more, than dream of your mansions above” was a refrain that echoed in my mind when I was in the temple.

  • Adelmo
    June 19, 2011

    Thank you for you to be honest I admire that in you, the information here in Brazil I think sometimes I do not get the complete form. Do you miss going to the temple?

    • Seth Anderson
      June 19, 2011

      No, I don’t miss the temple. There are things about Mormonism that I miss but going to the temple is not one of them.

  • Adelmo
    June 19, 2011

    I’ve seen and read so much time on some people make protests about the temples in Utah, what do you feel about these protests and they even wear the clothes of the temple?

    • Seth Anderson
      June 19, 2011

      Those are rabid, anti-Mormon, Christian fundamentalists who have nothing better to do but be hateful and ugly. And there is a very clear distinction between what they do which is just mean, and promoting a healthy dialogue about Mormon history, thought, and objective facts.

  • Adelmo
    June 21, 2011

    Ok my friend Seth if I may call it that, “my friend”. I am happy to know that your opinion is correct, correct the same I think. Thank you!

  • Alex
    April 4, 2012

    Something that just occurred to me for the first time:

    The story of Korihor is used to dissuade members from asking for a “sign.” Korihor asks for a sign, and he gets one, but it has a severe and negative effect on him. The unspoken lesson here is that if you’re audacious enough to demand a sign from God, you deserve whatever punishment he gives you.

    This encourages Mormons not to seek out evidence and instead to rely on their feelings to determine truth. It’s one more way to beat people into submission and keep them coming to church and paying their tithing.

  • john burnett
    March 23, 2013

    Hi Seth.

    I think you mean Alma 16, no? Anyway, it’s interesting to read the BofM as Joseph Smith telling a story in response to people he was actually encountering as he was writing it. Obviously it has to be something like that; it’s quite obviously not the pre-Christian Jewish document it claims to be, since it’s permeated through and through with 19th century American frontier Protestantism.

    But Korihor reads well as someone (or as a composite of people) whom Smith had encountered in real life, a person or persons who were advancing such arguments, and Smith’s way of dealing with them, as usual, is to tell a story in which those persons and their arguments are met with threats and, when those don’t work, are finally punished. I read the BofM a long time ago, and that is actually my main recollection of what happens in it all the time. And, as James Fowler points out in his book *Stages of Faith*, most people never get beyond authoritarianism in their spiritual development; thus, ludicrous as it might seem, this strategy will actually work for a large section of the populace. At least they will fear that it *might* be true, so let’s not take chances! Well, I don’t suppose there’s any way of verifying, at this distance, that Smith was writing in response to people he was encountering, but it’s a reading that works quite well and i wonder if anyone else has proposed it.

    Your analysis, in any case, of Alma’s response to Korikor is a good one: You can’t demand that someone prove a negative. Beyond that, the message is, Ask questions, and the church authorities might even make sure you’re struck dumb and even killed. And that’s just what happens. So the moral? Rudyard Kipling couldn’t have put it better: “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” (16.77).

    Hmmm. Just so!

    But the story is followed by the long and repetitive one (well, very little of the BofM is not long and repetitive), about the Zoramites in “Rameumptom” (gotta love that!), with their strange religion that had

    “a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person. Therefore, whosoever desired to worship, must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven; and cry with a loud voice, saying: Holy, holy, God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit for ever. Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; And also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ; but thou are the same, yesterday, today, and for ever; and thou hast elected us, that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee…” (16.89-92).

    This part of the passage deals with the same issue of denial of prophecies, but from the standpoint of separatists who, unlike Korihor, believe in God. Smith’s image of “a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person” (16.89) is actually a fairly canny picture of American Protestant individualism. This surely presented a problem for Smith and his missionaries. Well, the mormons “began to have success among the poor class of people” (16.122), even if, even among them, “there are many which do say, If thou wilt shew unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe” (16.139), which was what Korihor was saying.

    So evidently the narrator feels that the story Korihor’s punishment was not enough to compel assent, and he has to deal with the underlying problem of “belief”: “if a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it…. Faith, is not to have a perfect knowledge of things… Ye can not know… at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.” (16.140, 143, 150). But “if ye can no more than desire to believe, [then] let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (16.151).

    So you get to belief by wanting to believe and trying to believe. Now, of course, there’s a threat, but mainly a promise if you do manage to “believe”:

    “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… [but if] 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. (16.169, 170-172).

    At this point, Alma says, “Do ye believe those scriptures which have been written by them of old?… If ye have, how can ye disbelieve on the Son of God?” (16.185-187). In the story, he begins talking about the prophecies of a fictitious prophet named “Zenos”, but this would be Smith the missionary’s question to potential converts, “Don’t you already believe in Bible prophecies? Then what ground would you have for not believing *my* prophecies?” And the fact that in 16.191ff Smith goes on to refer to Moses and the bronze serpent / type of Christ in the wilderness shows that this is precisely the move he’s making. (The prophets’ names Zenos and Zenock also transparently recall the patriarchs Enos and Enoch in the Bible).

    And this brings me to my point: The entire religious milieu that the BofM presupposes is all about “belief(s)”. Alma asks Korihor: “Believest thou that there is a God?” (16.46). In other words, Do you subscribe to this idea? Korihor correctly points out that Alma’s “God” is “a being which never hath been seen nor known, which never was nor ever will be” (16.35).

    What is more, religion itself, and specifically the Bible, is taken to be about “beliefs” of that same kind— “prophecies” (i.e., predictions). In Smith’s story, the “prophecies” in question concern the coming of the “Christ”, the “son of God”; for Smith’s audience and for many (especially “among the poor class of people”, 16.122) they would concern the End Times or the Second Coming or the “Book of Revelations”, as some of my friends tellingly put it. As it was in frontier America, so still today the Mormons style themselves “Latter-Day Saints”. But for all such “beliefs”, Korihor rightly judged that there simply is no evidence.

    Well, Korihor was disposed of in 16.77. But the question still remains, how are we to know the “beliefs” Smith proposes are “true”? Well, if faith is about the “belief” “that there is a God” (16.46) and about certain “prophecies” given in an authoritative book, who indeed can say Smith’s new prophecies are any less true than those we’re already disposed to believe?

    So the section of Alma 30 that deals with the disenfranchised of “Rameumptom” lays out the obstacle and the struggle, if one wishes to “believe” as a Mormon:

    Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness (16.191), “but there were many which were so hardened that they would not look; therefore they perished… because they did not believe…” (16.193-194). Obviously, they were just stupid, for indeed, “if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes,… would ye not behold quickly…?” (16.195). So then!— all you have to do is “cast about your eyes and begin to believe…. plant this word in your hearts, and … nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life” (16.196-199).

    All you have to do is “cast about your eyes and begin to believe” (16.196).

    Of course, if you don’t, you will “perish” (16.195). Just like Korihor, in fact, only this time it’s just a threat, not an act.

    After Alma calls upon the Rameumptonites to “just believe”, Amulek then gets up and reproduces an interesting, if somewhat garbled version of the standard American frontier Protestant theory of “penal substitutionary atonement” (16.201-217). Again the theory comes down to a threat: “he that exercises no faith unto repentance, is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore, only unto him that hath faith unto repentance, is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption” (16.217). “Faith” is, again, a “belief” “that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world” (16.207); if you “believe” this, then your sins will be atoned for, but if you don’t, then you’re on your own; and “Christ” is the one who saves us from the justice of God.

    At this point, there’s something odd, by which i mean dishonest, although because the language of the BofM is so wretchedly convoluted, i doubt if anyone ever notices it— the logical hiccup in 16.212-213. Smith/Amulek is trying to explain the necessity of the “atonement”: “if a man murdereth, behold, will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered”. This would seem to suggest that no “Christ” could atone for anyone else’s sin. But Smith continues, “**therefore** there is nothing, which is short of an infinite atonement, which will suffice for the sins of the world; **therefore** it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice” (16.212-213). How did we get from “justice will not be satisfied with vicarious satisfaction” to “therefore Christ has to make an infinite sacrifice”?

    Well, I never took Smith to be a deep thinker. And actually, this isn’t solvable.

    At this point in the story, Amulek then passes on to an exhortation to pray, and makes what is effectively an altar-call; and the Zoramites consult together, decide to become Mormon, and end up suffering persecution.

    Btw, yes, the modern temples look just like suburban tract homes, utterly devoid of any sacred vision, as far as i can see. I suppose the earlier ones looked just like the houses of those eras too; it’s only our distance from them that we think they look cool today. But in both cases reflecting little more than cultural convention. It’s a sad commentary on our culture that our conventions, both architectural and spiritual, are so drab and empty.

  • john burnett
    March 25, 2013

    hmmm. i discovered i was looking at the original version of the BofM, still published today by the Church of Christ / RLDS, but that the chapter divisions in the text now official for the SLC church have been redone, so that what i was reading as Alma 16 (RLDS) is now Alma 30-35 (SLC). Now i get why you said “Alma 30″ in your post— for i couldn’t imagine why you had made a mistake like that!

    I’m happy i found the RLDS version first, though, because the fact that all that material was in one section helped me to see the continuity of the different parts of the story— and evidently, Smith originally thought of them as one.

    Also, i discovered I got sloppy at the end, and made a few mistakes as to place names, etc— but none of that affects the substance of what i wrote, so i’ll just leave it as is, if you accept it. But kindly forgive if i caused any confusion!

  • Bryan
    January 14, 2014

    This is brilliant! Similar to your experience, several years after reading that section of the BoM, I picked it up with a fresh outlook and … Wow! Haha, Korihor makes some really good points. I also noticed that they make a point that nothing he was doing was “illegal,” yet they keep kicking him out of places and putting him on trial. It would seem as if Alma and the rest were acting illegally, according to their own laws.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline