Lesson 27: “All Things Denote There Is a God”
Reading: Alma 30–31
We begin chapter 30 seeing the winding down of the events with the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, now called the Ammonites. They are settled by the Nephites near the border and wilderness with the Lamanites, in a land called Jershon. There are some LDS researchers that believe the land of Jershon was possibly in the current land of Belize, surrounding an ancient city named, Lamanai (Mayan for "submerged crocodile"), perhaps a cognate of Lamoni or Laman. For me, this is an interesting thing, but I am not sure if it is evidence or a coincidence at this time.
Korihor is one of the major contenders in the Book of Mormon. He is described as "Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ" (Alma 30:6). Instead, Korihor preaches a new doctrine, somewhat similar to that of Nehor, but still different.
"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" (vs 13-14).
How do slick and charismatic people convince others to become atheists or unbelievers? First by telling them that what they hope for are "foolish traditions." To enhance his teaching, he insists that no one can know the future. Their scriptures are full of myths and legends, even as we would look upon Aesop's fables or Greek mythology today. Why can Christians today believe in prophecy and Christ, when they are no more logical than a belief in Zeus, Hercules, and the Hydra!
Korihor continues his logical discussion:
"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.
Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, 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" (vs 15-16).
Korihor insisted that we should only believe the things we can actually see, touch, hear, or smell. We cannot see God, or whether he exists or not. The prophets are not real, but are affected by psychological problems. They and their followers are either deranged, or deceived! No one can know that God or Christ exists or will come.
In our day, there are many Korihors that abound in the world. Some of them claim to be Latter-day Saints, while others gleefully rejoice in their apostasy and seeking to convince others to join them. I know several of these people, and am actually friends with a few. One former saint, Dan Vogel, writes frequently on the Church. He believes that Joseph Smith hallucinated in regards to the First Vision and other events. For Dan, Joseph Smith is a pious fraud. Another is John Dehlin, who began questioning the Church several years ago, and so began Mormon Stories podcasts to discuss his questions with others. Today, he has stopped attending Church or believing in God, and uses his podcasts to help others gently ease their way out of the Church and Christianity. As professor Daniel Peterson notes, Korihor introduced the first echoes of Social Darwinism, and many atheists and agnostics today use the same logical tactics today that Korihor used anciently.
While some may not consider Vogel or Dehlin anti-Mormons, they may be considered anti-Christs, for their active teachings are based and biased on their disbelief, seeking to lead others to stop believing as well. We will shortly see how Alma handled such active unbelievers.
"And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime" (vs 17).
Daniel C Peterson has a recent article in the Deseret News regarding "Korihor and Social Darwinism." Insisting we cannot know the future, Social Darwinists mandate we must not believe in the mythologies of ancient or modern peoples, that we must see natural forces (and not God) involved in all things, and that we all must manage by the "survival of the fittest" is all we can hope for in this humanist religion of scientific atheism. By the way, Darwin did not begin his voyage of discovery until the end of 1831, and the concept of Darwinism being used in all the natural world developed much later, with the term "social Darwinism" not coined until 1877, all after the printing of the Book of Mormon!
Once brought before Alma, the battle of minds began. Korihor claimed that the people were "bound down" by the priests' traditions, and taking power from the people. He insisted that the priests earned their wealth off the tributes and contributions of the poor. Alma quickly explained that he and his priests took no money from the people, but solely worked as a service to God. This quickly ended this argument from Korihor, and he went on to other arguments. But why would Korihor make such a claim? I suggest that Korihor had been among the people of the Zoramites (to be discussed in the following chapters), where the lead Zoramites did bind down the poor and sought tribute from them. In seeing how the Zoramite religion performed, he presumed that the Nephite church worked similarly.
Korihor sets up several straw men logical fallacies. He takes a belief, twists it into a 2 dimensional character, and then easily knocks it down with his logic:
"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" (vs 25).
As an example of a straw man, we see Korihor taking a small portion of Nephite belief, and tearing it apart. For example, the belief that mankind is guilty of transgression because Adam fell, is not fair. Yes, mankind is fallen, and that would be a tragedy, except for the understanding of the Fall and the Atonement. LDS do not believe men are punished for Adam's transgressions, but only our own sins (Article of Faith 2). Christ saves all mankind from Adam's fall.
Yet, Korihor separates the Fall from the Atonement, knocking each of them down as separate items that are not correlated:
" ...ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ....[the people are afraid to] 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." (vs 26-28).
Dividing and conquering, or so he thought, Korihor was able to convince many of his teachings, but not Alma.
As noted, Alma began by first refuting the idea that he and his priests took tribute from the people, and weighed them down with sorrow. Alma noted that the people were happy and living in peace.
"...why sayest thou that we preach unto this people to get gain, when thou, of thyself, knowest that we receive no gain? And now, believest thou that we deceive this people, that causes such joy in their hearts?
And Korihor answered him, Yea.
And then Alma said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And he answered, Nay" (vs 35-38).
Alma then uses Korihor's own logic against him:
"Now Alma said unto him: Will ye deny again that there is a God, and also deny the Christ? For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
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.
But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? Believest thou that these things are true?" (vs 39-41).
If Korihor insists we can only believe what we can see and experience, Alma can question him about his knowledge of things Korihor has not seen, but others have. Alma has seen angels and heard the Lord's voice. He knows people like Ammon and Lamoni, who have seen Christ in vision. He has the scriptures of Nephi, Lehi, Isaiah, and many others, who have witnessed the mission of Jesus Christ. Can Korihor see across the world, through the whole universe, and determine that God does not exist? Or does he only have his limited observations? Does he know anyone else that has observed there is no God through out all the universe? And anyway, who made Korihor the expert on whether visions and revelation should count as evidence or not?
Alma doesn't stop there.
"... 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" (vs 44).
Who hasn't walked through nature and felt a special power or force that has created the beauty that awes us? Many scientists today DO believe in God, because the complexities of the universe statistically seem to be too great to create all things from mere chance. One renowned scientist and Latter-day Saint is Henry Eyring (father of the apostle). He saw God's handiwork in creation, evolution, and all things of science. He disagreed with some LDS apostles who did not agree with evolution, yet he stayed very faithful to the Church, raising his son up to be First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. I met brother Eyring a couple years before his death, where he spoke on cloning, which was a big topic at the time. He had no problem with it, believing that in the resurrection, God may not use the exact matter we are made of, but by using DNA just replicate a body for us. The testimony he shared of God and Christ will long be remembered.
The secret here is that there is no perfect proof that God does or doesn't exist. But instead of allowing imperfect science and religion confuse us, we need to ask ourselves this question: does a belief in Christ bring joy to our souls? If it does, then why allow someone to dissuade us from that joyful belief? If it is a choice between a hope in a glorious resurrection and heaven, or being worm food, then why give up a great hope for nothing? I often come across people who struggle with their faith. They will say that there was a time when they were very active and HAPPY in the gospel, but now question this or that, and are not happy any longer.
Patrick was like that. In 1985, I was stationed by the Air Force in South Korea. I worked as a military working dog handler, patrolling installation borders and fences. I heard of a new guy that recently came on shift. He had already gained himself a reputation for being a carouser. He actually had a very vulgar nickname that every one else called him, because of his reputation. One night, I saw that for the first time, I was to be stationed with him on an offsite ammo dump. I did not look forward to spending a 14 hour night shift with someone that had nothing in common with me.
When we got out to our post, one of the first things he said to me was, "I really admire you. I once was active in a Christian church, and was very happy in it, but fell away from it. Now I'm not happy at all. I wish I had what you have."
We spent the rest of the night talking about Christ and the gospel. By morning, he wanted to meet with the missionaries. I set up an appointment with a missionary couple out of Seoul to come down to our base and teach him once a week. In August of 1985, the four of us traveled to Seoul to see the temple under construction. As Patrick and I walked around it, I showed him where the cornerstone was and about both the cornerstone ceremony and the dedication ceremony. He asked if he could touch the temple, and I told him to do so. He touched the cornerstone and said, "this is where I want to be married after I'm baptized." In September, I baptized him in the base swimming pool. He found the joy that he once lost, and it amazed other co-workers that the sleaziest person they knew could make such a major change in his life.
So it is with all of us. If you feel the Spirit and the atonement filling you with love, peace, hope and joy, do not let the Korihors in the world offer to replace that joy with distraction, confusion, and misery. The greatest evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the world, is the peace and joy we find in our lives when we are close to Him.
Korihor's forced conversion
After dismissing all of Korihor’s arguments with witnesses and the concept that the people are actually happy following the gospel of Christ, Alma gave Korihor one more chance to admit he was wrong.
“I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe” (vs 48).
Korihor’s pride got in his way. He demanded a sign from Alma to prove that there is a God. The sign the Lord gave was for Korihor to be deaf and mute. Why deaf? Because the chief judge had to write:
“...Art thou convinced of the power of God? In whom did ye desire that Alma should show forth his sign? Would ye that he should afflict others, to show unto thee a sign? Behold, he has showed unto you a sign; and now will ye dispute more?” (vs 51).
In reality, many of us have signs that God exists, but we’re too proud and stubborn to recognize them until it is too late and the only sign remaining is destruction. As with Laman and Lemuel rebelling on the ship, sometimes we only begin to believe when we are faced with imminent destruction.
“I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me” (vs 52-53).
Do you notice that Korihor admits he “always knew that there was a God”? When we let our intellect outweigh the evidence given to the spirit, we can convince ourselves to disbelieve. How is it that Korihor could believe in angels and believe an angel telling him that there is no God? Isn’t that contradictory? God is a supernatural being. Angels are supernatural beings. If angels (or demons in this case) can exist, then why not God? You’ll note that the devil’s message of disbelief was “pleasing unto the carnal mind.” With no God, a person can do whatever he wants without guilt.
This is an age old pattern that Satan used with men. “Cain loved Satan more than God” (Moses 5:18). He slew his brother Abel, “And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands” (Moses 5:33).
Much of mankind wishes to be free from God. They desire independence and to have happiness on their terms. But we find that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).
Korihor admitted his sins, and then was sent off to fend for himself. He had wanted independence from God, and now God would not heal him, but show him what life is like without God to help us.
“And it came to pass that as he went forth among the people, yea, among a people who had separated themselves from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites, being led by a man whose name was Zoram—and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead.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” (Alma 30:59-60).
As I suggested that Korihor had previously been among the Zoramites, we get a notion of how they dealt with the poor and destitute. We also see how Satan only supports a person until their soul is sealed to him. Then, he cuts them loose to experience misery, even as he is miserable. Satan was cast out of God’s presence. “And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind” (2 Nephi 2:18).
The ZoramitesAlma 31
Possibly due to the death of the once infamous Korihor, Alma learns of the condition of the people of Zoram:
“Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people” (Alma 31:1).
It is very possible that the man Zoram was a descendant of the first Zoram, keeper of the Brass Plates of Laban and later friend of Nephi, who accompanied the family of Lehi to their land of promise. Lehi promised Zoram that he would be blessed with progeny and blessings with Nephi.
Now, centuries later, we’ve heard almost nothing about the descendants of Zoram. With the inclusion of new groups like the Mulekites and Ammonites, as well as the new reign of judges, the Zoramites have been left out of the equation. Sherrie Mills Johnson suggests that they feel slighted by the Nephites. They do not have political nor religious power. For them, their only option was to create their own community and therefore establish a new political and religious platform of their own. In doing so, their leader/king Zoram established an Anti-Nephite society.
“Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites.
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (vs 4-5).
Occasionally, Nephites first used the power of the sword to force dissidents from joining the Lamanites. In this instance, Alma wanted to first try the word of God. It changed the hearts of many of the Lamanites, and perhaps it could prevent a disaster and future war. We shall see that Alma’s decision to do so ends up being a two-edged sword. The Zoramites will be divided among believers and non-believers, causing drastic actions to be done by the new extremist powers. So it is with political and military choices in the world today. When we pick up one end of the rope, we pull along the other end with us, even though we may not see what may be connected to it. For example, when Woodrow Wilson established new national boundaries in Europe after World War I, he could not see that those artificial boundaries would bring conflict decades later among Serbians, Croatians, and others, who long had been enemies. It seemed a good idea to arm the Afghanistan’s Taliban decades ago when they were fighting the Russian army, but it definitely was not seen as such a good idea on September 11, 2001 when Islamic radicals trained by the Taliban and Al Qaeda shook the world.
Alma observed that the Zoramites no longer followed the Law of Moses, the commandments of God, or even to have daily prayer.
The Zoramites did have a weekly worship to their god.
“ Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
For they 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....” (vs 12-14)
Today this may not seem so shocking, as many people worship once a week, and then go about their lives afterward. The form of worship was completely different than anything Alma had previously seen, as Zoram developed a religion for the Zoramites, having nothing to do with Nephite influence. Upon the holy stand, they proclaimed:
“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 forever.
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 art the same yesterday, today, and forever; 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; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen: (vs 15-18)
Rather than a prayer, they made a confession of their faith. They believed in their God and that God was holy. Their god was a spirit that would never be a mortal or resurrect. Even as Lehi was separated from the Jews in Jerusalem by God, the Zoramites felt that the Nephites were in a fallen state, and so they were led away to create a new chosen people of God. Only the Zoramites would be saved, as the Nephites no longer believed in a way that benefited the Zoramites.
“Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.
Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.
Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner” (vs 19-23).
The Rameumptom was a tower, or high and holy stand, upon which each person could loudly proclaim his being chosen and elected by God, while all the rest of the world would perish. (it is from this Rameumptom that I have my Internet nickname, as the Internet tends to be my tower from which I make many proclamations). Notice that they were grateful for not being led away by foolish traditions regarding future things. This is something that Korihor was also espousing in his teaching.
Once they had checked off the box requiring them to say their rote prayer, they went home and did not think again about God until the following week. They were able to do whatever they desired in that week, and when at church did not have to repent, because they were already chosen of God. This is one of the few differences between Korihor’s and Zoramite belief: whether God existed or not. All the other components are relatively the same. Even the Zoramite belief in God is minimal, as it only requires a moment of time once a week, so it does not differ significantly from Korihor’s beliefs.
So what did the Zoramites do and worship the other 6.5 days of the week? “...their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods” (vs 24). As Korihor was focused on social Darwinism, you may consider this the social gospel of prosperity. Since they were chosen of God, they were meant to be rich and extravagant in their possessions. Even as the Rameumptom was ostentatious, so would their personal lives reflect the same.
Now, compare the Zoramite prayer with Alma’s prayer here:
“O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?
Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.
Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.
Yea, and they say that thou hast made it known unto them that there shall be no Christ.
O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.
O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people.
O Lord, wilt thou comfort my soul, and give unto me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me—yea, Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, and also my two sons—yea, even all these wilt thou comfort, O Lord. Yea, wilt thou comfort their souls in Christ.
Wilt thou grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them because of the iniquities of this people.
O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.
Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee” (26-35).
While the Zoramites focus on themselves and getting gain, Alma anguishes over their state. While they proudly proclaim there is no Christ, he sorrows that they do not believe there needs to be an atonement. While they insist they are chosen and have no need to repent or be righteous, Alma pleads they may repent. While they rejoice that the Nephites will be destroyed, Alma cries that their souls might be turned and saved. Alma prays for strength and comfort that he may be a blessing to the Zoramites, and bring them back to Christ.
We can see that the Zoramite people had replaced their Nephite faith in Christ and goodness, to a selfish and proud salvation for them, with rejoicing that others will suffer.
Now, the tough question. Who do we pray like? Do we pray for riches and power? Or do we pray for others? Do we confidently go about boasting we are saved? Or do we plead for the atonement of Christ to enter deep into our souls and cause the mighty change necessary for us to be saved on God’s terms as his covenant people? Do we pray for our enemies, or do we rejoice when they suffer or are destroyed? Do we just worship God once a week, or every single day? Do we seek to keep the commandments, or do we jump upon our personal Rameumptom, thinking God will save us just the way we are?
Who or what do we really worship?
Daniel Peterson, "Korihor and Social Darwinism", Deseret News: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765584731/Korihor-and-Social-Darwinism.html
Lamanai and Jershon from the Book of Mormon Resources blog: http://bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com/2012/02/expansion-of-nephite-nation.html
Lamanai and Jershon from the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, article by Stephen Carr: http://www.bmaf.org/node/108
Logical Fallacies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies
Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist (excerpts): http://eyring.hplx.net/Eyring/faq/evolution/EyringReflections.html
Patrick's conversion mentioned in the Ensign for the temple dedication: http://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/02/news-of-the-church?lang=eng
Sherrie Mills Johnson, “The Zoramite Separation: A Sociological Perspective”: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=14&num=1&id=362