01 August 2006

The Wisdom of Korihor

Korihor is a strange character. He shows up for the first time in Alma 30:12, where he is called the Anti-Christ.
...this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor -- v.12

After this rude introduction, Korihor speaks just about the only truth you'll find in the Book of Mormon. Here's what he says about the foolishness of faith:

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.

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. ... it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so. -- vv.13-16

And to the religious leaders:

And Korihor said unto him: Because I do not teach the foolish traditions of your fathers, and because I do not teach this people to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances and performances which are laid down by ancient priests, to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance, that they may not lift up their heads, but be brought down according to thy words. Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true. Ye 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. -- vv.23-25

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. 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. -- vv.27-28

Korihor is arrested for his wise words of honest disbelief, and then taken before the high priest, Alma.

Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?

And he answered, Nay. -- vv.37-38

Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.

But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. -- vv.43-44

Since Alma can't refute Korihor's arguments, he says he'll have God smite him so that he can no longer speak. It's better, he says, that Korihor's soul be lost than that he convince others that there is no God.

...it is better that thy soul should be lost than that thou shouldst be the means of bringing many souls down to destruction, by thy lying and by thy flattering words; therefore if thou shalt deny again, behold God shall smite thee, that thou shalt become dumb, that thou shalt never open thy mouth any more, that thou shalt not deceive this people any more. -- v. 47

So "Korihor was struck dumb, that he could not have utterance, according to the words of Alma." And he "was cast out, and went about from house to house begging for his food. ... And as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead." (vv.50, 56, 59)

So there you have it. Korihor was a freethought martyr and is the true hero of the Book of Mormon. We would all do well to follow his advice.

17 comments:

Max Udargo said...

It's interesting to speculate about Joseph Smith's conception of this character. If the assumption is that Smith concocted The Book of Mormon as a scam, then is not Korihor articulating Smith's true attitude toward the religious? Korihor's words may be the most true in more ways than one.

Stephen R said...

Moral of the story: Ask for evidence and die.

fontor said...

It's always been strange to me that Korihor sounds more like a 19-century rational thinker than a negative-4th-century Mesoamerican.

He's a great character though. Written to inoculate Latter-day Saints from the kind of things (I imagine) atheists were saying about Christianity at the time of the Book of Mormon's publication.

Anonymous said...

There's some very selective quoting and gross misrepresentation going on there. Are you interested in honest discussion or would you just like to claim that the BoM is wrong? I love religious discussion; let's just try to be fair here.

Here's my take on things: Half of what Korihor said was false, Alma did refute that part of it, Korihor was probably cast out for not following laws which attempted to be religion-neutral, and he wasn't killed by the Nephites, but by the Zoramites (who are not a people of God, as is discussed in the next chapter).

What did he say that was false? Korihor claimed that the leaders of the church were corrupt and took advantage of the people. [ v. 27: ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands ] Alma refutes this in vv. 32-33 [ I have labored ... with my own hands for my support, ... I have never received so much as even a senine for my labor, neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgement seat (public office?) ] Korihor would like to make it out as if religion was forced upon the people, when in fact vv 7-9: [ there was no law against a man's belief ... Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve. ... if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him. ] Alma doesn't need to refute Korihor on his religious arguments, because religion is voluntary and based on hope and faith.

What religion-neutral laws did Korihor speak against? Right after the verses that say that there was no law against a man's belief, come these: v. 10: [ if he murdered he was punished unto death, ... robbed ... stole ... committed adultery (100% religion-neutral? depends.) ] and v 11.: [ men should be judged against their crimes ... there was no law against a man's belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done. ] In the following verses, Korihor argues that their religion is false, but only to undermine the other laws too. In v 17 Korihor claims because there is no judgement and after-life, that in this life..: [ every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime. ]

When you, Steve, quote vv. 50, 56, and 59, you make it look like Korihor was killed by Nephites when begging for food, even though it clearly states that he was killed by the Zoramites, who in chapter 31 are portrayed as wicked, and then in 32 their treatment of poor people is once again discussed.

I'm not trying to be a religious nut claiming that the Book of Mormon is unquestionable and that Korihor was the devil. The first time I studied those chapters I agreed with him, but it seems like a lot of what he said was misapplied. Were the leaders of the church corrupt? As far as we can read from the material, no they weren't. Would his arguments apply to the church today, where the top layer - the presidency - is supported by tithing money but the rest of it remains volunteer-work? Perhaps.

Does that seem reasonable?

stephen r said...

well, He was arrested for his preaching (that is made clear from the text).

And, Alma didn't refute any of his arguments (excepting when he had god show up deux ex machina style to prove him right).
Even if Alma was a hard worker that doesn't mean that Korihor's criticism of the clergy wasn't unfounded. If I said "the catholic clergy is molesting boys" and someone brings me several priests who hadn't, that doesn't mean that the molestation is a non-issue. Likewise, Though Alma may not have been taking advantage of the people, some priests probably were; otherwise, Korihor's arguements wouldn't have been so dangerous that he would be arrested.

Alma brought him to the court to refute his beliefs, so that he would stop preaching and leading people away from relgion. Alma would have failed save for a plot device AKA miracle.

Tim Lindsay said...

I owe so much to the story of Korihor. My mother taught me that Korihor was not only one of the three Anti-Christs of The Book of Mormon, but that he was also a secular humanist. So in that moment when my faith finally gave way to critical thought, I remembered Korihor and knew I was a (born-again?) secular humanist. A simple Google search of "secular humanism" led me to secularhumanism.org, Point of Inquiry podcasts, and link after link to others who find wonder, awe, morality, and joy without a god. Thanks to Korihor, I am no longer just a self-ostracized Mormon; I am a part of the cure for a religious world.

erlybird said...

Wow. I just wrote something, an attempt at humor, I guess, and then I read your post. Pretty close. I take it one step further, however. I jokingly suggests that the final part of the story is not about Korihor being struck dumb but instead having his tongue cut out. Take a look...


The Zarahemla Problem

EL Rey del Cool said...

yess very interesting subject, this particular passage says a lot about mormon faith, and christianity in general, im currently studying the mormon faith with thwo missionaires, and this one was the first reading they reccommended to me since im a buddhist

it hink it is important in a number of ways

1

when asked about how c ould their god kill someone who had not sinned, they literally said "god preffers to kill one person instead of comdemning a lot more" this is an ourageous proposition, but a very serious one, a root for radical conduct by the hand of LDS members

2

korihor is punished for other's peoples sin, korihor is never said to sin, those who listen are the ones that "fornicate" he is not involved in ammoral conducts

korihor is innocent, while the guilty people are forgiven for their repentance and their belief in god

the nature of choice, the missionaries insist that free will was what differentiaded god from satan when both were holly candidates to come down to earth and lead us to justice

so they say that the is choice is supposedly free, you can either accept or reject god but yet, from this story we know that you cannot present the choice of not accepting god, not even with sound reflectons such as the ones brought by korihor

so then the alternative of belief is eliminated, by silence

this also echoes the way christianity has worked in so many cases, you take away the voice of reason, silence is the weapon, and men's greatest strenght against god lies on reason and on his own voice

3

the message it sends to members of the church is that dissenting voices should not be answered, but silenced

4

korihor was "infected" by the devil, a dark angel, so the origin of his sin is also spiritual, not rational, when rendered mute he confesses in writting that he always knew god existed

this is a terrible proposition, because it supposes that he did not came to these conclusions by himself, it denies a rational origin of these truths and blames them on "dark forces" which is how LDS stills deals with secular humanism and buddhism other forms of atheism

and of course, what you have already mentioned, that it suggests that without a god and a second comming ammorality is the logical result

the assumption that without a god an
im thinking of making a more concrete essay, its sucha fruitful chapter

Grego said...

I disagree with most of this, here are some particulars:

"Moral of the story: Ask for evidence and die."

Other possible morals of the story:
1. Don't lie.
2. If you listen to and choose Satan over God, there will one day be unpleasant consequences.
3. Asking for evidence when you just got some, is not a cool thing to do.

-=-=-=
"Korihor is arrested for his wise words of honest disbelief"
"well, He was arrested for his preaching (that is made clear from the text)."

It is *not* clear that Korihor was arrested for his preaching *religious beliefs*. He could have been and likely was arrested for his preaching, but for a slew of legal reasons, not religious.

-=-=-=
"Since Alma can't refute Korihor's arguments, he says he'll have God smite him so that he can no longer speak."

But he does. Alma told his side; yet Korihor has no evidence whatsoever that what he was preaching against the priests was true; when you accuse, you need evidence, and he had none. There is more to why Alma did what he did with the striking dumb part, and it doesn't have to do with not being able to refute Korihor's arguments.

-=-=-=
"Though Alma may not have been taking advantage of the people, some priests probably were; otherwise, Korihor's arguements wouldn't have been so dangerous that he would be arrested."

Logically, this doesn't necessarily follow.

-=-=-=
"Alma brought him to the court to refute his beliefs, so that he would stop preaching and leading people away from relgion. Alma would have failed save for a plot device AKA miracle."
He was sent to court by others (and rightly so); Alma was there to defend against the charges. How would Alma have failed? And would it matter? Lots of things succeed only by miracles.

-=-=-=
"when asked about how c ould their god kill someone who had not sinned, they literally said "god preffers to kill one person instead of comdemning a lot more" this is an ourageous proposition, but a very serious one, a root for radical conduct by the hand of LDS members"

Wait, did God kill someone here? Are you serious that you believe Korihor was sinless? Please, how have you seen this as a "root for radical conduct by the hand of LDS members"?

-=-=-=
"korihor is punished for other's peoples sin, korihor is never said to sin, those who listen are the ones that "fornicate" he is not involved in ammoral conducts

korihor is innocent, while the guilty people are forgiven for their repentance and their belief in god"

No. Korihor is not innocent. Also, there is a crime some societies have, called "abetting". Was everyone let off of their crimes because they repented? Can you show me where the text says that, or even implies that?

-=-=-=
"so they say that the is choice is supposedly free, you can either accept or reject god but yet, from this story we know that you cannot present the choice of not accepting god, not even with sound reflectons such as the ones brought by korihor"

Sure you can. The story shows no such thing. The Book of Mormon doesn't either. What "sound reflections" did Korihor have?

-=-=-=
"so then the alternative of belief is eliminated, by silence"

How so?

-=-=-=
"the message it sends to members of the church is that dissenting voices should not be answered, but silenced"

It does? How so?

-=-=-=
"buddhism other forms of atheism"

Buddhism is a form of atheism? What?!?

-=-=-=
"Korihor was a freethought martyr and is the true hero of the Book of Mormon."

No, and no.

erlybird said...

Ultimately, even IF you accept the very UNLIKELY premise that the BofM is what Joseph Smith SAID it is...which is simply ridiculous anyway, but there ya go...even IF you believe the BofM to be a true translation of golden plates delivered to the young Joseph, you STILL have to accept the fact that the story of Korihor in the Book of Alma is completely, utterly ONE-SIDED. This is Alma telling us what happened. This is HIS account. I don't care HOW righteous he might have been. The PRIESTS were the JUDGES....hell-LOOOOO. Would you like the PRIESTS of today to be on the SUPREME COURT?

Struck dumb? Nah. He was taken into a room and his tongue was cut out. The struck dumb story was just what they told the crowd outside.

catalyst (LDS) said...

Alma had an answer to every single one of his accusations, apparently you've conveniently misplaced them.

I think it's ironic that you're using the examples of ill-fated Anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon to uphold your prideful beliefs. It might do you well to read FARMS' well-balanced take on this story. Just Google "Korihor" and it's one of the first things that pops up.

Korihor's arguments are so obviously flawed to anyone with reason. It appears you're so blinded by pride, that somehow you're able to miss the point entirely. It's not "ask for evidence and die". The issue was that he was given all the evidence he needed. If he were to receive anymore, it would be an infringment on his agency. The faithful receive signs, because they already believe. He knew the truth. He confessed he did. He wasn't asking for proof, he was tempting God.

I have a feeling you know the truth as well, that's why you're able to harden your heart against the most blatant of examples of truth and deception in the Book of Mormon, and harden your hearts against them. Most Antis focus on obscure stories and misconceptions in the Church's early history, or on defaming the prophet Joseph. But you're so blatantly hard-hearted that you can make mockery of the most plain and prescious truths, and even sympathize with apostates. This is the mark of someone who knew the trut, and who has blinded himself so thouroghly that the spirit of truth has no place in him.

baby said...

Leave it to an LDS member to come in here and label everyone as being prideful and having hard hearts just for discussing this story in the Book of Mormon. It is you who is clearly prideful, anyone who doesn't see that way I see must be X

Daniel said...

"Serve God who gave you everything or disobey Him & face death."

I think this is the most important sentence in the entire thread. If you love Him and serve Him who gave you everything, you'll be rewarded. If you step out of line just a little, you'll suffer.

God is an abusive spouse.

Shelly Ru & Tigger Too! said...

It is interesting to me that the chapter stresses that there is no law against people who believe different things, at the beginning of the chapter... and yet, not only is he bound and banished from 3 cities, but he is made dumb, which leads him to have to beg, which leads him to die... But don't worry-- we don't have a law sentencing him to death or anything. We just do that anyway.

Shelly Ru & Tigger Too! said...

catalyst (LDS), I only have one response to your comment. I don't bother responding to the rest. Korihor has a couple straw-man arguments in his beliefs... but for the most part, they are much more logically sound than Alma's. It is more logically sound to not believe in something that has no proof (the earth, the sky, the movement of the earth, etc existing does not point directly to a Supreme Creator-- i address it, because it is the proof Alma offers Korihor for there being a God), than to believe in something that has no proof. Alma's argument-- "Can you prove it ISN'T true? Well, then it's just your word.. but MY word (my testimony) is INCREDIBLY more reliable" Do you see the fallacy? Two fallacies: 1) he says Korihor's word is not enough, but his is, 2) It is not the responsibility for those who do not believe in something to prove it, but rather the person who suggests something exists. If someone said that unicorns exist, it would not be logically sound for them to say "Well, you can't prove they don't, therefore they do."

Shelly Ru & Tigger Too! said...

Sorry to post again, this is the last time I think.

I think Korihor's concerns about the leaders gaining financially from the people's labor is better suited for our modern day "prophets" than it is for Alma-- who, as he says anyway, didn't even earn a senine.

BrokeJoker said...

Thank Shelly Ru for having the only good response in the entire comments section. I'm going to read more about this Korihor. I remember sermons teaching us the dangers of thinking in line with him, and now I see him in a completely new light. He is a victim of this portrayal of theocracy. One of the largest dangers to the growth of Mormonism is free-thinking, which is why the church is hard on offenders. Slight offenders, even, are excommunicated for their revealing publications and research. Korihor was added to the BofM as a tool to condemn anyone who questions the authority of church leaders. It's terifying to watch apologists try and back Alma in these verses. You seriously would have a man struck dumb for questioning what he was taught and raised to believe? It's not whether God would or wouldn't, because he obviously doesn't(Case in point, the world). It's a matter of political and social ideology. Should one man not have a voice simply because it shakes the very foundations of the current political structures? Theocracy is not an ideal form of government, simply because no man communicates with a deified being. Not your "prophet" or anyone else. True revelation is inspired in our own minds, just as the Book of Mormon came from the mind of an uneducated, gold-seeking, farm boy.