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What we can learn about atheists from the Book of Mormon

April 29, 2009

I was reading an interesting new analysis of Korihor the other day. It’s interesting, because until recently, I had never stopped to consider just how ridiculous some Mormons must think atheists to be based on this sample of 1. Of course, I’m pretty sure many or most members realize that things…aren’t really like this…but, who knows?

…Also, the argument that Book of Mormon religion is actually a thinly veiled guise of Protestant beliefs (which kinda makes sense considering many of the unique Mormon doctrines aren’t even spoken of in Nephite days…and Korihor in particular lambastes the idea of original sin — something the church also disagrees with.)

But anyway…wouldn’t it be useful to see how atheists are viewed according to the Book of Mormon?

Korihor makes several reasonable points, most of which revolve around the idea that nobody “knows” God exists or that Christ will come.  People seem to believe it, mostly because they’ve been born and raised into it.  It’s a tradition passed down from their fathers.  But he doubts anyone could claim to “know” it.

However, Korihor also seems to fit the typical cartoonish characature of atheists that many believers seem to have.  He insists that if there’s no God, then people can just do whatever they want because nothing will matter.  It’s absurd to think that “anything goes” unless there is divine judgement at the end.  Mortal judgement and earthly consequences are more than enough to maintain a peaceful, cooperative society.

At the end of the story, Korihor admits that he knew God was real all along, but that Satan deceived him by appearing as an angel, and told him what to preach.  Again, there is this characature of atheists that we all “really know,” we’ve just been deceived or have been influenced by Satan, or we’re actively denying God simply so that we can feel better about sinning.

This is a great way to get believers to refuse to consider anything a non-believer would have to say.  They can just dismiss anything a non-believer says because it’s all devilish lies.  It’s circular reasoning:  “If someone suggests there is no God, they’re being inspired by Satan.”  It’s right up there with “The Bible is the word of God because it says right in there that God wrote it.”

The second paragraph is frustrating because I have indeed experienced at least two members who have said, “Atheists definitely aren’t moral…and I can prove it, because the Book of Mormon talks about Korihor.”

And I ask, “Have you ever thought that…Korihor is just an incorrect exaggeration?”

Naw…The Book of Mormon is literal history, guys. LITERAL.

But I must say that the third paragraph is craziest. Many people have this idea that everyone knows there is a God, so if you are atheist, then you’re running away from the truth that you know. You are denying your testimony and faith that you assuredly had or plugging your ears to the still small voice. Why would you do this? Because Satan deceived you, or maybe because being Mormon was just too hard (got some secret sins in your closet?)

Alma and God come across as bullies in this story.  Those who question are silenced or threatened.  It is a story of might-makes-right.  Repent and believe, or be struck deaf and dumb. (v. 57)

In the end, Alma says that it’s better for one soul to be lost than to risk him drawing others down to Hell with him.  But by censoring Korihor, everyone elses will and choice is compromised.  If people are led away by Korihor’s teachings, then that is a result of their own will.  How can people fully gain faith and choose God when there is no opposition?  When someone who expresses doubt is illegally bound, hauled away, struck mute, and cast into the street to die as a beggar?  What good is faith if everyone has been strong-armed into it?

It’s also better for one man to die than for a nation to dwindle in unbelief, so I guess Godh4x censor isn’t so extreme in comparison.

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  1. Get A Clue permalink

    I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t get past this statement:

    “…Also, the argument that Book of Mormon religion is actually a thinly veiled guise of Protestant beliefs (which kinda makes sense considering many of the unique Mormon doctrines aren’t even spoken of in Nephite days…and Korihor in particular lambastes the idea of original sin — something the church also disagrees with.)”

    Amazingly, even though the above quote runs on for several lines, it’s not even a complete sentence, let alone a complete thought.

    I am tempted to say something snarky, something really snarky. Something really, really, really snarky. But I’ll hold back … just this once … because of your frequent but improper use of ellipses…

  2. You’re right; that is an interesting analysis. Do you think that Mormons would really consider an atheist to be Satanically inspired? That’s not language I’ve heard a lot of Mormons use, but then most of my experience with Mormons has been on the Internet and I also suspect they censor themselves a bit around outsiders like me.

  3. Re Get a Clue:

    It’s not a complete sentence or a complete thought because it’s not my focus. It is what some would call an ASIDE.

    If you would like to get a clue about that kind of thought process (which, by the way, I personally do not subscribe too — which is why I couldn’t even be bothered to give more than a fragment of attention to), you can go to the link I posted in the first sentence where there is more on that idea (using sentences, oh my!) and where the guy actually links to another person who has written more on the topic.

  4. Re Christopher: I think more common would be to suggest that atheists “really know” that God exists and that especially for ex-Mormons, it is highly suspect that they never experienced the burning in the bosom, etc., Rather, many would insist that they did experience this burning in the bosom and instead are trying to ignore it or rationalize it away.

    I don’t think too many would say it’s because of Satanic influence, but more commonly, it might be because of some kind of hidden sin or whatever.

  5. Atheists don’t take instructions from angels (at least not angels that they’re consciously aware of 😉 ). Korihor isn’t an atheist, he’s a religious liar.

  6. That’s interesting Kuri–if I’m ever teaching this chapter in church I will use this “Korihor-as-religious-liar” idea. I like it.

    I have a few friends and acquaintances who have left the church. In two cases that I am well acquainted with, both of them made rational, deliberate choices and had not committed any huge sin. Also, both of them said to me they never received any kind of a discernible answer to prayer, or had any kind of “subjective positive spiritual experiences.”

    My point being that I have heard ex-mormons complain that members say “you have a testimony and now you’re rationalizing it away” while other ex-mormons complain that members say the opposite, i.e. “well, you never had a testimony anyway.” It didn’t take me long to realize that ex-mormons are not a homogenous group. They are as diverse as anyone else. Thanks for adding your perspective to Mormon Matters.

  7. Not only that, adam, but sometimes it’s not so clearcut. Because the definition of what we are considering a “testimony” could be different by each person. The person who says, “Well, you never had a testimony anyway,” might believe that No True Testimony could be ‘rationalized away’…whereas those who say “You have a testimony and now you’re rationalizing it away,” could have a distinctly different idea (if faith is a little plant that has to be cultivated and grown, then that is delicate and might be ‘rationalized’ away, but if faith and conversion are incredible burning events that hit you like trains, then you might be suspicious of someone who claims he walked away from that.)

    But yes, ex-mormons are *definitely* a diverse group. I’m definitely glad I’m still invited to post at MMatters.

  8. Interesting. Thanks for the insight. All this furthers my belief that faith–and related beliefs–is a subjective matter, and that it pales in importance compared with loving and serving our fellow human beings. That, I think, will be the great “sifting” that will occur in the world and in the church, ultimately. Not squabbles over doctrine, theology, or whether one had a “testimony” or not.
    Just my opinion though.

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