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.