Sunday, July 12, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 32-35


In this lesson, we continue the events regarding the Zoramites. As discussed before, they were probably descendants of that Zoram, who was Nephi’s friend.  Due to the change in the government from a king to judges, the Zoramites found themselves with no power nor recognition in the new order.  While the Mulekites, Ammonites and others maintained their own identity and power through having their own judges, the Zoramites seem to have been left out.

They developed a religion that opposed the Nephite faith, insisting that only the Zoramites would be saved, while the Nephites, Mulekites, Ammonites, and all others would not.

For a people who were so frustrated for being neglected, ignored, and pushed to the edge of society, they developed a government that was very oppressive to the poor.  There were many who worked hard to build up their lands, their synagogue, and the society, but the poor were kept out of government power. Worse yet,

“...they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—
Therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart” (Alma 32:2-3).

Because they did not have nice clothing, they were not permitted into the synagogues.  We see here a similar response by the wealthy Zoramites as they gave to Korihor.  In fact, it seems that with the exception of his atheism, Korihor’s teachings line up well with the Zoramites.  We will see that Alma will indirectly reference Korihor a few times in his teachings to the poor Zoramites.  It may well be that Korihor began among the Zoramites, and took his teachings to the Nephites, where he would mistakenly believe Alma and his priests were paid for their services, similarly to the Zoramites.  For the Zoramites, the poor were an important resource, as they used them as slave labor.  Being mute and deaf, Korihor would not prove to be a useful slave, and so was slain by them.

“And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?” (Alma 32:5)

They believed they had no place to worship God, and so were in a Catch-22. They wanted salvation. Salvation for Zoramites required access to the synagogue. However, being poor, they were not allowed inside the synagogue.

“And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (vs 6).

This is an interesting verse, as it can be read in many ways.  Most LDS read it thinking Alma turned himself about, faced the poor Zoramite, and beheld him with great joy.  Perhaps there are other ways to read this.  Being poor and abased, perhaps the Zoramite approached Alma with his head lowered, turned to the side, or was even kneeling at his feet.  If so, the Alma could have turned the Zoramite about, the Zoramite’s face immediately towards Alma.  In doing so, Alma could behold him with great joy, seeing the humility he had.

In the fantastic book, “An Experiment Upon the Word: Reading Alma 32” (Adam S. Miller, editor) are various articles by LDS scholars that take many parts of this chapter apart.  To really understand the chapter in-depth (more than I can explain in a blog post), I highly recommend this and other books offered by SaltPress.org.

Of note is that Alma tells the people they are blessed because they were forced to be humble.  Still more blessed are those who humble themselves by hearing the word of the Lord.  In other words, there are two methods to be humble and accept the gospel.  We can humble ourselves, or God will allow the world to humiliate us until we humble ourselves.  For the poor Zoramites, they left Nephite society being promised that as a new people they would all gain great power and access to God.  As reality set in, they saw that they had become mere slaves to the rich and powerful among the Zoramites.  Impoverished both physically and spiritually, they saw Alma as an opportunity to regain some stature, or at least some access to God.  Perhaps they thought that as chief priest, he would help them get access to the synagogues, or maybe help them construct their own.

But Alma does not immediately answer their request for help.  Instead, he discusses the importance of humility and repentance.

“Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe” (vs 16).

This is a very important thing to note regarding the natural man. Stubborness of heart is what keeps us from being humble, from believing in the word of God, from receiving the ordinances and covenants of God.  As Joseph Spencer has noted, we are like spoiled brats who pout because we are not getting our own way.  Meanwhile, God  stands before us, offering us the greatest gift imaginable.  Yet, because the gift is not in our favorite color, we pout.  We stubbornly refuse to accept it.  Some eventually give in, humbled because they finally realize that their current situation is rather poor, and what God offers is actually rather good.  Still, there are others that insist on having things their own way, and so never accept the gift.

For Alma, who as a youth refused the gift and was compelled to be humble before accepting the grace of Christ, he understood exactly where the poor Zoramites were coming from.  Still, he was not yet ready to explain to them how they could worship God outside of the constructed churches.

“Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.
Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.
And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?” (vs 17-19)

Alma is clearly referring to Korihor here.  Korihor is the connection between Alma and the Zoramites. Korihor was stubborn hearted.  Korihor demanded “except ye show me a sign, I will not believe” (Alma 30:48).  Korihor received his sign.  He had no reason for belief, and so was not able to receive his hearing back, because he did not have faith.  Knowing God’s will, but refusing to have faith and do it, Korihor left the Nephites and returned to the Zoramites, who also did not believe in Christ.  

“And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men....women...and children....” (vs 23)

Korihor saw a devil dressed as an angel, and believed when it said there is no God.  Why believe? Korihor said it made his carnal mind feel good. It opened the door to a life without any responsibility to an unseen being.  However, Alma now tells us that true angels of God also appear to people, to witness that God lives.  Alma has seen angels and knows of others who also have.. These angels teach faith in God and repentance.   Angelic visits is often the first step in the gospel being brought to, or restored to, a people.  It was an angel that announced Jesus’ birth to Mary and the shepherds. It was an angel that showed Lehi and Nephi the Vision of the Tree of Life.  It was a series of angels that restored pieces of the restored gospel to Joseph Smith.  Even today, angels come to those who believe, or desire to believe, and help them gain or strengthen their testimonies.  Not all angels are seen, but their works are experienced by mankind.

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).

This is an oft-quoted verse, however, we may not fully understand it in context.  Korihor’s perfect knowledge was not faith. It could not save him.  Only faith and hope in the unseen truths can save.  Now note, unseen is not the same as no evidence or unknown.  

Even in the realm of science, they deal with unseen things that they believe in.  At the time of this posting, Scientists are trying to determine the existence of the Higg’s Boson, a particle that theoretically gives all things its mass. Without some unseen force that causes mass, there would be no universe, stars, or us. Using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, scientists are launching atomic particles at each other at the speed of light, to see what particles and events occur on collision.  They believe they may have “found” the Higgs Boson (a particle), and within days will have stronger evidence.  And yet, none of them have seen a Higgs Boson.  No one has seen one, because theoretically they are so very small and only last for less than a billionth of a second. So, if they do not see it, how can they say they’ve found it?  Because of evidences that point directly to it.  For a moment, when the particles collide, they record changes that suggest mass (Higgs Boson)  is being produced.

Even as they must follow evidences, Alma will teach that faith on the word of God brings evidences of its reality.  He compares the word of God to a seed.  If we do not cast the seed from our hearts because of stubbornness and disbelief, it will begin to grow.  We will see signs that it is a good seed.  This still is not knowledge, as we know something good is happening, but we do not have a perfect knowledge.  Alma describes the spiritual evidences for us:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (vs 29).

Note our responsibility to not resist or pout.  As we allow it to grow within us, we experience a series of evidences.  1) a swelling or burning in the breast,  2. enlarging of the soul,  3) enlightens the understanding, 4) it becomes delicious.

Just as the Higgs Boson cannot be directly seen or experienced, neither can a spiritual witness be directly seen.  But there are important evidences that guide us to the belief.  Even with good evidence for the Higgs Boson, there still may be some who disbelieve the evidence.  Why? Perhaps they prefer another theory.  Perhaps due to religion, as the Higgs Boson is called the “God particle” because nothing with mass can exist without it, and therefore some may fear the Higgs Boson may replace God.  Yet, the evidence still exists for those who are open-minded enough to consider it.

Still, even with such evidence, one does not have a perfect knowledge. We have increased knowledge regarding what we’ve learned, and it advances our faith along.  When we have evidence of the Higgs Boson, we will not need to have faith in regards to the evidence, which strengthens our faith in the theory, but we still do not have total proof of its existence.  And when we gain a spiritual witness, we gain knowledge that those evidences are true, and can increase our faith until the day comes that we have a full witness of God (and of the Higgs Boson, for that matter).

Zenos and Zenock prophesy of Christ
Alma 33

After his discourse on faith, the poor Zoramites then ask him if they should believe in only one God (vs 1). The Zoramites knew of only one God, and yet they knew the Nephites believed in the Son of God.  They wanted to know what to worship.   Instead of answering this directly, Alma finally answers their first question.

“And Alma said unto them: Behold, ye have said that ye could not worship your God because ye are cast out of your synagogues. But behold, I say unto you, if ye suppose that ye cannot worship God, ye do greatly err, and ye ought to search the scriptures; if ye suppose that they have taught you this, ye do not understand them” (vs 3).

He now answers their question in worshiping in the synagogue!  He shows them that the Zoramites are wrong concerning worship in the sanctuary, so that he may then show them that the Zoramites are wrong regarding who to worship.  He first quotes Zenos on man’s ability to worship God in the wilderness, in their private places, etc.  It is a marvelous poetic prayer that Zenos leaves us regarding worship. Only after answering this question, does he make a slight transition:

“And now Alma said unto them: Do ye believe those scriptures which have been written by them of old?
Behold, if ye do, ye must believe what Zenos said; for, behold he said: Thou hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son.
Now behold, my brethren, I would ask if ye have read the scriptures? If ye have, how can ye disbelieve on the Son of God?
For it is not written that Zenos alone spake of these things, but Zenock also spake of these things—
For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son” (vsa 12-16).

Zenos and Zenock were prophets of ancient Israel.  With my post on the Documentary Hypothesis in lesson 1, we see that the Brass Plates (from which Alma would get these prophecies) probably came from the Nothern Kingdom of Israel.  It is most likely that Zenos and Zenock were prophets in Israel between 800-721 BC.  Being prophets in northern Israel may explain why we do not have their teachings in the Bible today (which mostly focuses on Judah).

Ancient Israel did not understand Moses or the other prophets when they taught of Christ. They did not understand the symbolism in the Paschal Lamb, the high priest, the bronze serpent, or other symbols that foresaw Christ. They were stubborn and hardened their hearts against the fullness of the gospel and Christ.  Because they refused to look at the bronze serpent, many perished in Moses’ day.  Now many perish because they will not look upon Christ and believe.

“O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes (at the bronze serpent) that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?
If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works” (vs 21-22).

“Begin to believe” is an important step.  Desire to know, or to want to know is necessary. The person who refuses to look, will never see any of the evidences, will never feel the spiritual witness.  Today’s Korihors pride themselves in not believing in God or Christ.  They think their knowledge of the universe is sufficient to know that God cannot exist.  They do not see things as Socrates did, when he may have noted “I know one thing, that I know nothing.  Socrates actually did know many things, and was smarter than most other Greeks around him.  Yet, he realized that compared to all things in the universe, his knowledge was like a speck of dust in the wind.  

An Infinite and Eternal Sacrifice
Alma 34

Amulek arises and begins his speech by reaffirming the things Alma has taught.  He then discusses more in-depth the atonement of Christ.

“For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:9-10).

When we think of Christ’s atonement and resurrection, we usually think of Gethsemane and the Calvary.  While these two moments were perhaps the pinnacle of Christ’s suffering, they only are a portion of the “infinite and eternal sacrifice” of the Lord.  Christ’s atonement is infinite.  It extends back to before the Creation and will extend long beyond this earth’s mortal existence.  LDS believe he is the Savior of all God’s worlds.  This means that Jesus’ atonement was in place on worlds previously created, and will continue impacting other worlds in the future. Gethsemane and Calvary bring about the resurrection, and help Christ to understand the pains, sins and sufferings of mankind.

There are various theories on how the atonement works.  Many of these require that Christ must suffer or pay the penalty so that we may be saved.  God being God, why could he not put something else into place where an innocent man would not have to pay such a penalty?  Alma previously noted:

“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” Alma 7:12).

Christ’s resurrection broke the bands of death.  His suffering allows him to understand our sufferings so he knows how to succor, or comfort and heal us.  Christ has sent out many types and levels of grace to mankind since the beginning.  He sent out the Light of Christ throughout the universe, filling “the immensity of space” (D&C 88:12).  This gives life and light to the universe, and a conscience to the human mind (D&C 88:11-13, Moroni 7).

Christ provides an abiding saving grace. It just waits for us to stop being stubborn and accept his gift through faith and repentance.  Once we accept it, we are rescued from spiritual death and hell, even as Alma was (see next lesson).  It may be that Gethsemane may not directly pay for our sins, but was an experience Jesus needed so that he could fully understand the human condition.  How could he heal others, when he did not know their sufferings first hand?  The atonement, then, is infinite and eternal. Christ is able to succor and heal us because he’s suffered as we have and more.  In descending below all things, he now can lift us above all things.  His simple embrace absorbs our pain, our sins, our weakness, and makes us whole.  It makes us able to stand in God’s presence again.

“And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption” (vs 15-16).

What great work is required for us to be worthy of the atonement? Must we perfectly keep all the commandments?  Must we crawl humbly upon the ground to show our humility? No.  We only need to believe to the point where we humbly repent.  At that point, Christ’s atonement overpowers all things  Justice states that we are fallen and in our sinful state are unworthy to enter into God’s presence.  We are out of God’s grace, because we refuse to accept it on God’s terms.  Faith and repentance means we have humbled ourselves sufficiently to believe and repent.  Once this is done, we are instantly snatched from the jaws of death and hell by Christ’s mercy.  Commandments come later, as we develop greater faith and desire to “do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2) as an outward sign of our mighty change of heart.

Amulek continues with a psalm that encourages them to humbly pray in all times and places, again answering the Zoramite’s first question regarding worshiping in the synagogue.  He then refers back to Korihor:

“And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men” (28-29).

Doing good comes after we are saved by grace and mercy.  The judgment of our works determines our level of salvation.  Here the people are warned about their previous actions to the poor and needy.  Korihor was not charitable.  He was literally cast out and trodden under the Zoramites’ feet! Amulek is telling them to repent and do good works, or they will find themselves in Korihor’s position.

Amulek continues to discuss the importance of good works.  This is the time of our probation.  We determine in this life, by our works, whether we become Celestial, Terrestrial, or Telestial.  Salvation is freely given by grace, upon faith and repentance.  Exaltation requires us to become as Christ is.  Why? Because we would not be happy in God’s presence if we do not have a “portion of the Celestial glory (D&C 88:28-32) within us.  In Alma 12, we see those who are not righteous, will wish the rocks would fall upon them and hide them from the Lord’s presence after the resurrection.  Our time of probation isn’t just the time to be saved, which Alma has already taught regarding faith and repentance, but is a time for the saved to now do good works, so as to become like Jesus.  It is not too late to do believe and repent after we are dead and in the Spirit World. However, if the saved wait until death to do good works, they are too late to become holy. Becoming holy and like Jesus is necessary for growth in spiritual things and to receive a greater portion of exalting grace.

In Revelation 20:12-15, the Book of Life and other books are brought forth.  Those not found in the Book of Life are cast into fire (Outer Darkness). To be saved means one’s name is in the Book of Life. To be in the Book of Life requires faith in Christ and repentance. Then we are judged for our works from the other books. Note that it says men will be judged of their works by the books, not the Book of Life, and those not found in the Book of Life are cast out.  Therefore, those judged of their works are among the saved, who then will receive the exalting grace of God depending on who they have become.

“For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked” (vs 35).

The worst thing we can do is procrastinate our day of repentance. To refuse to repent until spiritual death kicks in, means we have given up salvation.  Even in the Spirit World, there is time to believe and repent. However, it will be difficult.  The same stubbornness we have here will follow us there. In the Spirit World, until one repents, the devil has power over them. As with Alma (discussed in next lesson), there is a space of time allotted to repent.  But if we refuse to do so, we remain wicked.  We refuse Christ’s grace, atonement, and rescue.  It becomes the final state of the wicked.

Only in believing in Jesus and repenting fully of our sins, does grace embrace us.  We are rescued from sin, death, hell and pain, when we humbly come forward to Christ, and stop fighting him. We are justified by his mercy when we repent.

“...he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb” (vs 36).
.
Here, Amulek notes temple symbols: being made holy to dwell in God’s presence (sanctification), and being washed clean and made sinless in the blood of Christ (justification).

Zoramite craft destroyed
Alma 35

In converting the poor to Christ, Alma destroys the priestcraft of the Zoramites. They designed a government and religion wherein the rich and powerful got gain off the backs of the poor and needy.  In freeing them from worship in the synagogues, and in worshiping the strange God of the Rameumptom, Alma also freed them from being slaves to the wicked Zoramites.

Those who believed in Alma’s words were cast out.  They moved to the land of Jershon.  This is interesting, because they were once cast out from the Nephites (or felt they had), and so joined with others who also had been cast out from God’s presence until they repented.

The wicked Zoramites then realized that the poor castaways were being treated humanely and as equals among the Ammonites. This enraged them, as they wanted the poor to receive the same destruction as Korihor received when he was cast out.  

The Zoramites went into league with the Lamanites and began a war with the Nephites. Amulek warned of those who refused to repent being sealed to Satan.  Here, is a symbolic embrace between evil men among the Zoramites and Lamanites, even as with Cain and Satan (Moses 5:18-28).  Today, many of us make peace with the Devil. Some are in league with him, and don’t even realize it.  The Zoramites were a religious people that were certain the Nephites were wrong. For them, it was better to join up with the Lamanites than to see the Nephites be right.  Sadly, many believers of God make leagues with the devil  through a variety of political/religious/social/humanist movements and organizations that replace Christ with their own version of what God should be like.  They seek to justify sin as something good, because they refuse to truly believe in Christ and repent of their sins.  They refuse to let God heal them, because they believe their marks are emblems of glory.

Let us hope they do not procrastinate their repentance until it is everlasting too late for them.  And let us quit fighting against God and his Christ, and offer up to them a humble heart in sincere faith and repentance.

Bibliography

“An Experiment Upon the Word: Reading Alma 32”, Adam S. Miller editor: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=mi

Higgs Boson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson

Documentary Hypothesis from Book of Mormon lesson one: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/12/book-of-mormon-gospel-doctrine-lesson-1.html


 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Come Follow Me: Alma 30-31


Come Follow Me: Alma 30-31

Lamanai and Jershon 
 
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" and is the original ancient name of the location), perhaps a cognate of Lamoni or Laman.

Korihor
Alma 30

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 wrote an article for the Deseret News in 2012 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 Nephites 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. 

Evidences exist in nature, particularly astronomy, that were unknown in Joseph Smith's time. Scientists cannot explain why anything survived the Big Bang, as the matter and anti-matter should have annihilated each other. We have yet to find dark matter/energy, which is 95% of all particles in the universe, and is necessary for creating a universe that does not fly apart. They note that Jupiter anciently dropped into a lower orbit that cleaned up the junk in our cosmic neighborhood, then was pulled back by Saturn, allowing us to live in an area generally free of asteroids and comets. 65 million years ago, an asteroid hit the earth and wiped out dinosaurs; hitting the Yucatan; had it hit seconds later, it would have hit the ocean and the dinosaurs would still reign on earth. There are dozens of "coincidences"  in cosmology that suggest an invisible hand manipulated things so that Earth could be a safe dwelling for life.

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 Zoramites
Alma 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 felt 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.

Rameumptom

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?

Bibliography

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

City of Lamanai: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamanai

Logical Fallacies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist): https://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Scientist-Henry-B-Eyring/dp/1573454095

Patrick's conversion mentioned in the Ensign for the temple dedication: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1986/02/news-of-the-church/seoul-temple-dedicated.html?lang=eng

Sherrie Mills Johnson, “The Zoramite Separation: A Sociological Perspective”: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1391&context=jbms