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Don’t believe in god? Then you’re the antichrist

July 3, 2011

Shortly after I had come out as atheist two years ago, two women in the ward called me Korihor, Mormonspeak for the antichrist. That’s right. Two Mormon women called me the antichrist. Why? Because I had the audacity to suggest on my Facebook page that there is no evidence for the effectiveness of intercessory prayer.

So who is this Korihor? He’s a character from the Book of Mormon. Alma 30 establishes that Korihor is a naturalist who rejects supernaturalism, a skeptic who finds no convincing reason to believe in God. Korihor espouses many of the same beliefs that most atheists probably agree with. For example:

 – Regarding the coming of Christ, he says, “no man can know of anything which is to come.”

– He refers to prophecies as foolish traditions of one’s fathers.

– He says that one cannot know something with a surety that which cannot be seen.

– He says that an atonement cannot be made for people’s sins.

– He says that when we die, that is the end.

– He says, “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.”

Funny—he sounds more like a 19th-century product of the Enlightenment than a 4th-century Mesoamerican evildoer.

From my perspective, these are all perfectly rational ideas. However, in the middle of these thoughts we find the statement that Korihor’s preaching caused others “to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms.” This effectively confounds atheism with wickedness.

Then, God strikes Korihor dumb, and Korihor is forced to go from house to house, begging for food. Eventually he is trampled to death, “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.”

The moral of this story is “Resist valuing evidence, because it will turn you against Christ, you’ll become heard-hearted and wicked, and you’ll be drug down to hell.” This cautionary tale carries a lot of weight with faithful Mormons because it is found in the Book of Mormon, believed to be “the most correct of any book on Earth.”

This chapter serves to support the misconception among many members of the LDS church that when people cease to believe in God, they no longer can be trusted to be moral. But the maintenance of the myth that skepticism leads to wickedness and hell goes well beyond Alma 30, of course. It is also a tactic used by members of the in-group to discourage members of the group from leaving it. In fact, the then-bishop asked me to read Alma 30 after I had come out as atheist. This was clearly an attempt at psychological manipulation. If individuals are not discouraged from questioning their faith, they are more likely to become a member of the out-group and pose a threat to the in-group.

A children’s version of the story can be found in the Book of Mormon Stories, or watch the video to have it read to you. Get ‘em while they’re young. You don’t want kids asking for evidence of your religious claims.

[Notice how Korihor, the antichrist, has black hair, whereas Alma, the good guy, is blonde.]

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  1. Anastasia permalink

    I’m always struck when people say things like “you’re not going to heaven” or more directly “you’re going to hell”. It’s like, you’re a believer, so even though I don’t believe in an afterlife, you believe I’m going to suffer forever. Often this condemnation isn’t even combined with attempts to prevent me from going to hell. Not very nice, is it?

  2. Jonathan permalink

    Let me point out here that Korihor admitted to being deceived by another supernatural being. He knew he was lying. He also taught things such as, “whatsoever a man did was no crime.” This is clearly contrary to what you and ethical atheists teach (note that there are obviously atheists who are completely unethical, at least in part due to the feeling that they don’t have to answer to anyone), but shows that he was not evil simply because he did not believe in God, but because of the justification of evil actions that followed his lack of belief. And Alma actually values evidence, contrary to your statement, though he interprets his evidence differently from you: “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” (Alma 30:40-41). So your “moral of the story” is wrong. Another thing is that Korihor (and you) are not to be interpreted by these women as THE anti-Christ of evangelical Christian teachings. That key article “the” is not to be found when related to anti-Christ in this chapter, and there were clearly others who taught similar things and others who were more evil and influential than Korihor in the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, Korihor was opposed to teaching and believing in Christ; hence anti-Christ. Finally, what is with the asininity of pointing out their hair color? There are other characters in this silly children’s book that have opposite hair colors, such as Alma’s dad Alma who has dark hair vs. other wicked priests of King Noah with light hair (just read that story to my boys last night). This isn’t intended to be like the cowboys with black and white hats. To me, that really seems like a cheap punch.

    While I enjoy a good debate, and my wording may seem strong at times despite my intense respect towards you and your views, I feel I must pose a question. You need not respond here to satisfy me, but at least consider your efforts as you evangelize your atheism through this blog. Have you considered whether your actions are at all hypocritical? My reason for asking this comes from statements like “Get ’em while they’re young.” We all imbue our perspectives on the younger generations we touch. It’s unavoidable. If your wife were an atheist as well, would you “get them kiddos while they’re young” and ensure they grow into atheists? You may say no, but be honest, would you spend your time teaching them perspectives that neither you nor your wife held. Moreover, you accuse so many Mormons, Christians, and all religious persons of generalizing, stereotyping, and dividing. Yet as you do this, you generalize, stereotype, and divide, creating that “us vs. them” trait you supposedly abhor, yet is made more apparent simply by the replies you get from other atheists who read your blog and tell you to “keep up the good fight.” You attach any religiously-motivated evil to religion itself, and if religion were not around, neither would those evil actions, but you fail to consider what evil has been perpetrated in the name of godlessness and a lack of eternal accountability. I’ve met a lot of people who claim that they are open-minded, yet remain so very close-minded. They simply have changed which concepts they accept and which they ignore. Those darn heuristic thought-processes forever interfere with pure reason. To truly debate this topic requires more than a blog I know, but if you are ever able to claim that you know what you know, you have to be willing to truly explore the opposing camp. That does not mean, “I was a Mormon once.” That means, “If I were a Mormon now, why would I arrive at certain conclusions?” We do not require that our children accept things without questioning? Our Church actually suggests that each member find out for himself or herself. We encourage that every individual obtain his or her own testimony, independent of all others. We tell everyone to “experiment upond the word.” And the evidence that we receive there, as a very personal evidenence that cannot simply be written in a scientific journal, is valid proof. I cannot prove to anyone that God is real, it’s true. But I can encourage them to prove it to themselves.

    As always, I hope you are not offended by my words. I always consider you a friend.

  3. Carrie permalink

    My older sisters left the church ten years ago. I knew for them it was because of cognitive dissonance – they had read too many books on church history. I vowed I was never going to ‘read myself out of the church’. So I hid my head in the sand like an ostrich. But curiosity got to me and I read ‘Rough Stone Rolling’ and kept up with posts on the Bloggernacle. I inadvertantly read myself out of the church after several years.

    But any religion (which I guess includes all religions) that causes people to leave once they learn about its doctrine and history doesn’t deserve to be past on to future generations. Why should your children and grandchildren experience the same confusion and frustration you did? Korihor, a made up character by Sidney Rigdon, was right. The ‘faith of our fathers’ is foolish. Seeking evidence and testing claims is never a foolish thing to do though. THAT’S a legacy that should be passed on

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