Summary: All truth is logical and reasonable, but not everything that is logical and reasonable is truthful. Then how can we discern truth from error when we’re confronted with such persuasive arguments that, at least on the surface, seem to be true but are in fact, false? This article examines the story of Korihor to learn the answer to this question.
In the 30th chapter of the book of Alma we read of a man named Korihor who went about the land telling the people that there was no such being as God. Today we call this kind of a belief atheism, but the problem for Korihor was that the people to whom he was talking strongly believed in God. Yet, even so, his words were so persuasive that he was able to “lead away the hearts of many.” The question we need to ask is, how was he able to be so effective in converting a large number of god-fearing people to his way of thinking?
To understand the answer to that question, we first need to understand the reasoning he used to persuade them. Therefore, let’s look at a paraphrase of what he said:
You foolish people, your faith in God is in vain. You say that you look for a Christ to come who will save you from your sins, but how do you know such a thing is true? You don’t because no one can know what’s going to happen in the future. You say that you believe such a thing because of what are called prophecies made by men you call holy prophets,
Where are these men? You say they lived a long time ago and we have their written record, but how do you know that what they wrote is true? The answer is that you don’t. Then why do you believe in them? I’ll tell you why. It’s because you’ve been tricked into following the foolish traditions of your fathers.
You look forward to the coming of some man named Christ who is supposed to take away your sins but why do you believe this? Is it not because some priest told you this? But how does he know? I tell you, that there is no way he can know, therefore what he is telling you is coming from a frenzied and deranged mind.
And why are they telling you such nonsense? Because they want to lead you into believing things they know are not true. They tell you that this man, Christ, is going to atone for your sins but what is sin? They say that sin is not doing what they tell you to do and so they instill fear into you so that you are afraid to do anything other than what they say. Is this not bondage? Of course it is! They tell you all of this foolish stuff just so they can make you into their slaves.
A truly free person does what he wants. He prospers according to his own genius and according to his own strength. On the other hand, what they call sin only binds you down and prevents you from doing what you want to do. The truth is, there is no such thing as sin. There is no crime in doing whatever a man wants to do.
The priests you listen to say that when you die you will be judged for all the sins you’ve committed, and so they scare you into only doing what they tell you to do, but the truth is that when you die, you’re dead! You feel nothing, you see nothing, you hear nothing, and you know nothing. When you die you don’t exist anymore, so how can you be judged for what you’ve done if you no longer exist? Do you not see how foolish the traditions are that you are being taught?
They say that you have to keep the law of Moses with all of its ordinances and performances that was created by an ignorant people who lived centuries ago. But how do you know that what they’re telling you is true? You don’t. Instead of giving you proof that what they’re telling you is true, they merely say that you’re just supposed to have faith in their word.
And why do they tell you these things, and make you perform all of these meaningless ordinances? I tell you it’s because they want to usurp power and authority over you. They want to keep you in ignorance. They don’t want you to lift up your head and be proud of who you are. No, they want you bowed down according to their word. They try to convince you that you are a free people, but is this freedom? No! The truth is that you are in bondage.
They say that you are guilty of sin and are a fallen people all because of what happened to your parents eons of time ago, but since when is the child to be punished for what their parents did? Does that make sense to you? Of course it doesn’t! But then they tell you that a Christ will come and be slain for your sins. Even if there is such a thing as sin – which there isn’t – how do you know that this Christ will come and how do you know that your sins will be removed simply because this imaginary Christ was slain? Does that make any sense to you?
Then why do they tell you such foolish things? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they don’t want you to lift up your head with boldness and enjoy your rights and privileges. They don’t want you to follow your dreams and desires. Oh, they dare not let you do that. And so they claim they have had visions, and pretend that they are in possession of some great mysteries, and tell you not to do anything to offend their priests. And so they put a yoke on you and lead you around according to their desires. That’s why they want you to believe in their traditions and to believe in a God who has never been seen and who has never existed, nor will ever exist.
This was the argument Korihor made, but why did so many people accept it? There are several reasons, but the most potent of them is because his arguments sounded logical and reasonable.
He said that no man can know the future. On its surface, this is a true statement. We talk about how prophets have seen the future in visions, but since hardly anyone else has ever had that kind of an experience, Korihor’s arguments might seem perfectly logical and reasonable to them.
Along this same line of thinking, Korihor asked how do we know that the prophecies contained is in the scriptures are true? For that matter, how do we know that the scriptures themselves accurately record what actually happened in the past? The truth is that we really don’t. There are some circumstantial evidences that indicate that what is in the scripture is true but there is no real, concrete, irrefutable proof that they are. Therefore, we must take the prophecies, events, and teachings found in the scriptures on faith.
Everyone wants the freedom to do as they please, and so it is easy to convince people that following rules restricts our freedom. When told that rules actually increase our freedom, most people have a hard time understanding that principle, and so, Korihor use of this line of reasoning would have seemed logical and reasonable to many people. Then when he compared following the teachings of the priests to slavery, this played on people’s emotions because no one wants to be a slave to someone else.
He then appealed to their sense of pride, telling them they should be free to do whatever they wanted, but notice the examples he used. He said they could prosper according to their own wisdom and accomplish anything they wanted according to their own strength, but he failed to mention that if a person was really free to do whatever they wanted (which was his message) that means they were also free to rob, steal, plunder, kill, lie, and do all sorts of wicked things according to their desires. However, he conveniently didn’t speak about doing evil things yet if they followed his line of reasoning, that’s eventually what would have been the result of that kind of thinking.
This then led him to say that there is no such thing as sin. This kind of a message tends to have a liberating feel to it because it frees us from feelings of guilt. Deep inside, most of want to believe that we’re not sinners, even when we do things we know we shouldn’t. Most of us want to think of ourselves as being a “good” person, and Korihor’s message tapped into this universal desire.
The argument over whether we have a soul that lives on after death is still hotly debated today. In fact, the dispute over abortion is precisely based on this idea. If there is no soul then a fetus isn’t a living being. Even among Christians, there are those who believe that when we lay our body in the grave that’s the end of life. And, of course, there is no proof to the contrary, so this argument of Korihor also sounded quite logical and reasonable.
When all of these elements of truth, logic, and reason are combined into one line of attack, it can have a very persuasive effect upon the mind. If nothing else, it can cause someone to pause and seriously wonder if perhaps there is some validity to this kind of thinking. In fact, when Korihor was brought before a high priest named Giddonah and after listening to Korihor’s words, Giddonah was speechless. He wasn’t swayed by Korihor’s defense, but he was at a loss of how to counter it. That’s how good Korihor’s argument was!
The “war in heaven” wasn’t fought with knives, swords, spears, guns, or cannons. The way Satan was able to cause one-third of our Father’s children to rebel against their heavenly Parent was not through the use of force but through the power of persuasion. Today, that same power is being used with great effect for both good and for ill.
All truth is logical and reasonable, but not everything that is logical and reasonable is truthful. Then how can we discern truth from error when we’re confronted with such persuasive arguments that, at least on the surface, seem to be true but are in fact, false?
Jesus gave us the answer when he said “to those which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31,32). It is in knowing truth that sets us free from error, but, in order to discern what is true and what is false, we first have to know what truth is.
Take for example the ancient Egyptians. They had a knowledge of mathematics that was so astounding that it enabled them to build perfect gigantic pyramids. They had the engineering knowledge to move stones weighing up to 15 tons and stack them almost 500 feet high. They had the artistic skill to build great stone statues, and they also were great observers of the sky.
And yet, for all of their acquired knowledge and skill they believed that the earth was flat, that the sun and stars revolved around the earth, and that the sun was a god. From all of their studies, this model of the earth and the heavens made perfect logical and reasonable sense to them. In fact, if they were told that the earth was spinning and that it was the sun and stars that were standing still, their best astronomers would have laughed at and ridiculed such an idea.
The reason why is because they were lacking the kind of information that would lead them to know the truth, and the same principle applies to knowing how to recognize error when it comes wrapped in logic and reason. The more truth we learn the less susceptible we become to being deceived by false but reasonable sounding statements.
This is the case with Korihor’s arguments. There are multiple errors in his logic, but if we don’t know what those errors are then it becomes easy for someone to accept that what he says is true. The gospel of Jesus Christ not only gives us knowledge of truth concerning religious matters but it also provides us with true knowledge about personal relationships, marriage, childrearing, developing and maintain good health, wise money management, how to be prosperous and wealthy, as well as effective rules for governing and living in a free society. The more we study the scriptures the more truth we learn, which then better equips us to recognize error when we see it. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “If ye continue in my word, then… ye [will] know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
But no one knows all truth. In fact, as advanced as we’ve become in the fields of science and medicine, there is still much we don’t know and there are things that still puzzle us. Then how do we recognize error when we are not as sufficiently knowledgeable about truth?
When Giddonah was unable to refute Korihor’s argument, he sent him to Alma, who was the chief high priest over the entire church and it is by studying how he handled this false teacher that we can gain an answer to the question just asked.
Alma first refuted Korihor’s argument by asking, “Why do you say we preach to this people to get gain? You know that isn’t true. Even I myself, as well as all the other priests, labor for our own support, so what profit is there for us to teach this people anything but the truth? Therefore, why do you tell the people that we’re deceiving them, especially when the things we teach them brings joy into their hearts?”
Apparently Korihor had no real response to Alma’s questions.
Alma knew that God existed because he had been taught by angels, had heard the voice of the Lord giving him instruction, and had received revelations. More than this, he had experienced what hell was like and also had tasted the exquisite joy of redemption. Yet, instead of continuing to debate Korihor on his terms, Alma went back to the basics.
He asked Korihor, “Do you believe there is a God?” When Korihor said he didn’t, Alma said, “Will you deny there is a God and also Christ? I say unto you, I know there is a God and also that Christ will come.” Korihor could have arrogantly answered, “That’s what you say,” but Alma shot back with, “We only have your word that what you are saying is true. What evidence do you have that God doesn’t exist? I say unto you, you have none. But look around because all things both on earth and in the heavens testify that there is a God. But you have put off the Spirit of God so that it has no place in you. Therefore, the devil has power over you, therefore you cannot see the truth.”
Instead of defending his own beliefs, Korihor answered, saying, “You say there is a God, then show me a sign and then I’ll believe.” Alma answered by saying, “If you continue to deny God then he will give you a sign. He will strike you dumb that you cannot speak and you shall never be able to open your mouth again to deceive this people.” When Korihor went to reply he found he couldn’t speak.
There are several things we can learn from this exchange.; The first is that Alma didn’t get into a deep theological debate with Korihor. He didn’t give him all the reasons why he knew God existed. Instead, he simply bore his testimony of what he knew to be true. Most of us are not spiritual giants like Alma, nor have we had some of the marvelous and miraculous experiences he had, but if we cling to what we know to be true and not waver from it, we are less likely to be deceived when we hear things that sound reasonable but don’t quite fit what we know the gospel teaches.
Another thing we can learn from the way Alma handled Korihor is that when we hear people telling us things, it’s good to keep in mind that what we’re hearing is their opinion. Rather than just instinctively taking their word because it sounds logical and reasonable, we should take the time to study and ponder what we’re hearing and comparing it to what we already know to be true. And the more truth we learn the less likely we are to be fooled by error disguised as truth.
But in studying and pondering, we should not allow ourselves to fall into the same attitude that Korihor had. He couldn’t see the truth because he had lost the Spirit of God. One of the important roles that the Holy Ghost plays in our life is to guide us to the truth, therefore, the surest way to discern truth from error is to live in such a way that we have his Spirit to always be with us.
And a third thing we learn is that for every action, there is a reaction. Stated differently, every decision we make has a consequence to it. Alma said that the people had joy in their hearts because they were following what the priests were teaching them. Korihor told the people that if they would stop listening to their priests that they would be free and thereby prosper, but the people were already prospering. On the other hand, if they followed the teachings of Korihor, they would have lost their freedom and their prosperity. These are the kinds of consequences that follow when we make poor decisions.
Korihor learned this lesson the hard way. He asked for a sign and no doubt, in his mind, was thinking that Alma couldn’t give him one, but instead, what happened next was not something he was expecting. This is known as the law of unexpected consequences. What this teaches us is that before we accept what someone is telling us, we need to think about what kind of consequences will come about if we follow what we’re being told.
The scriptures tell us that the fruits, or consequences of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: ” while the consequences of following the ways of the world are “Adultery, fornication, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, [and] drunkenness” (Galatians 5:19-22).
Understanding the consequences of our decisions will often lead us to discovering the truth about what we’re hearing. Those things that leads to love, peaceful relations with others, and promotes patience and tolerance are generally good things to pursue, while those things that promote dissention, hatred, and wickedness in all of it various forms, such as drunkenness, adultery, lying, stealing, and a lack of respect for those we disagree with, are almost always to be avoided.
If we were to follow these simple steps that Alma used, we will be more likely than not to choose truth over error.
Related articles can be found at the Nature of Man