Korihor, Elsa, Cain, and Karl

Feb 22, 2015
17 min read

What if we modernized Korihor’s philosophies and compared them to the kinds of things we hear people saying today?

For morning study a couple days ago, I started off reading about the sons of Mosiah but then felt like reading about Korihor. As I read, I had my trusty 1828 Dictionary app out to further analyze the words Joseph Smith used to translate Korihor’s ideas. Then, I looked in a modern dictionary to discern how his theories might be composed by someone presenting the same arguments today.

This exercise revealed a very familiar-sounding rhetoric. I also began to think about song lyrics from the movie Frozen (because I have 3 daughters) that reminded me of some words Cain spoke, and then all of it together reminded me of something Karl Marx wrote; all from pondering Korihor’s doctrines.

As for my modernized version of Korihor’s ideas, I claim ownership of my interpretations and any errors that I might have made. This is merely a personal exercise, so feel free to go back to the original text in Alma 30 and try this out yourself.

Korihor’s philosophies modernized

You guys are restrained under ridiculous and worthless hopes, why do you confine yourselves with such absurd things? Nobody actually knows the future. (vs.13)

Those so-called prophecies you that you claim have been handed down to you by your holy leaders are just absurd traditions. How do you know that they are true? You can’t know about something that you can’t prove, so you can’t know that there is a Messiah. (vs.14-15)

You look into the future and see yourself free from sins, but it’s all just the effect of an overly excited mind that became deranged because of the traditions of your leaders who teach you to believe in things that aren’t real. (vs.16)

There’s no need for an atonement for sins because everyone progresses in life according to their abilities. Everyone prospers according to their intellect, and dominates according to their strength. There is no crime in people’s choices, and when you are dead, that’s the end. (vs.17-18)

I don’t teach people to voluntarily bind themselves down to ridiculous ordinances and duties that were mandated by ancient priests to dominate, control, and keep them in ignorance. You say that these are free people, but I say that they are prisoners. You say that those old prophecies are true, but you don’t know that. (vs.23-24)

You leaders say that your people are guilty and fallen because mistakes their parents made, but I say that a child is not guilty because of its parents. (vs.25)

You leaders say that Jesus will come, but you don’t know that. You say that he was killed for everyone’s sins and lead these people away after ridiculous traditions that have been passed down to keep people under your control, so that you can gorge yourselves on their money, and keep them fearful of enjoying their rights and privileges. (vs.26-27)

The people are afraid to use their own property because it might upset their leaders who have them under their control for their own purposes. Their leaders instill belief by teaching their traditions and by pretending to be inspired while claiming that their disobedience offends some unknown being who has never been seen or known, who never was and never will be. (vs.28)

I don’t deny the existence of God, but I don’t believe that there is a God. You don’t know that there is a God either, and unless you show me some proof, I won’t believe. (vs.48)

Major themes in Korihor’s rhetoric:

  • Religion is just a way to manipulate, control and plunder people while keeping them in ignorance.
  • Nobody knows the future.
  • There is no God to be accountable to, so you might as well enjoy life because this is it.

Korihor speaks as an agnostic (I don’t deny God’s existence), an atheist (I don’t believe there is a God) and a nihilist (whatever anyone does is no crime). Korihor strolls into town and projects onto a particular religious group his own paradigm, where they are simply ignorant sheep being kept in a state of timidity and false hope while an elite group fleeces them of their rights and property.

Pondering the Origins of Korihor’s Worldview

To Korihor’s credit, his observations are not entirely unfounded. There have always been (and are currently) people that have used religion specifically for the reasons that Korihor is vocalizing. We don’t know much about Korihor, but the record states that he “came… into the land of Zarahemla.” (Alma 30:6) The land of Zarahemla was Nephite territory, so as an outsider Korihor might have been a Lamanite, but I think it is more likely that he was from a remnant Jaredite civilization. The name of Korihor, as well as Nehor and Sherem (the other two major anti-Christs mentioned in the Book of Mormon), are possibly of Jaredite origin (source).

Certainly Korihor’s observations about a ‘priest class’ that uses religion as a tool to control the masses are legitimate. History is ripe with these kinds of oppressive systems, but that doesn’t mean this is always the case with every religious group. Korihor’s concerns are not without precedent, this kind of warning is even in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39)

After emigrating to Zarahemla and starting his ‘enlightenment tour,’ Korihor gains some followers and further validation that he’s got the real truth. He speaks boldly, perhaps because he knew that “there was no law against a man’s belief” (Alma 30:7) and he could express himself freely.

Now this is all just speculation, but we do know that he felt that he had some kind of ‘divine’ mandate, for he later confessed:

“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.” (Alma 30:51-53)

Korihor says that an angel appeared to him. When someone says ‘angel’ do you conjure up an image of some sharply featured glowing white man with white flowing hair and robes? Sometimes they are described that way, and often artwork and other media use that kind of imagery, but is that the only way that angels can appear? What form did the devil take to where Korihor interpreted this messenger to be some kind of angel? He had some kind of encounter that was convincing enough for him to abandon whatever it was that he was doing to go and ‘preach’ a message and ‘deliver’ people from bondage.

Because Korihor came from outside the land of Zarahemla and possibly outside of Nephite or Lamanite culture, I wonder if he might have been exposed to a society where corrupt priests dominated the people who, in turn, influenced his worldview and gave legitimacy to the words he was taught by the “angel.” Maybe he felt oppressed and saw the real evils and abuses around him and that is why he was so convinced by what the “angel” taught him; just a theory.

Korihor decided to go and teach what he learned, and lo and behold, he began to have success. Something real was happening here, people were responding and they seemed to be happier so he gets to this point where he became convinced that those teachings were actually true. His teachings pleased the carnal (Pertaining to flesh; fleshly; sensual; opposed to spiritual) mind, they were intellectually satisfying. Truth, as well as lies, can be intellectually satisfying, but they cannot both be spiritually satisfying which is that critical key that I suggest Korihor was missing.

What were the fruits of Korihor’s teachings? At one place, it says that women and men were led away to committing whoredoms, which can mean fornication, unlawful sexual acts, and/or idolatry. What Korihor thought was a path to freedom was actually a carefully crafted road to bondage and destruction.

Elsa, Cain, and Karl

There are many modern equivalents of Korihor’s teachings, but a recent example is found in the movie, Frozen. (Hear me out on this) Let’s look carefully at a few selected lyrics from the song “Let it Go” which you and I have probably heard a billion times by now:

A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the queen.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!

That perfect girl is gone!

The cold never bothered me anyway!

Ok, I’m not saying that the move Frozen is evil, in fact, I think if you consider the whole of it, you find some really good principles that are unfortunately overshadowed by the climactic song that appears empowering, but contains the philosophical flaw embraced by the central character.

Think of the quasi-nihilistic words that Elsa sings loud and proud at one point, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m freeeeeeeee.” The first time I heard these words, I immediately thought of what Cain said after he murdered his brother: “And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free;” (Moses 5:33) Yes, the creation of Elsa’s beautiful ice palace/prison, Cain’s perfect secret combination for getting away with murder, and Korihor’s Godless reality seemed so right, so brilliant in their inception.

But the freedom that Elsa, Cain and Korihor thought they had was only an illusion. In 1844, 14 years after the Book of Mormon was published, Karl Marx wrote:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” (from the introduction to Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

Korihor and Marx might have been great friends. They both saw religion as bondage, humanity as soulless, godless, and nothing more than an illusion, the effect of a frenzied mind.

On a side note, 16 years before Marx wrote about religion being “the opiate of the people,” Noah Webster in 1828 wrote:

“They chose atheism as an opiate” – (Under the definition of “opiate”, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)

One of the ways you can define opiate is a substance that “induces rest or inaction; that which quiets uneasiness.”

Elsa was made uneasy by her “storm inside,” Cain was “very wroth, and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:5), Korihor was upset because he thought innocent people were being oppressed, much like Marx. Each of these individuals sought to “quiet” that “uneasiness” through perceived solutions that were flawed and ended up making things worse.

Returning to Elsa, I think it is unfortunate that what are actually the most negative principles expressed in the movie are sung enthusiastically by millions of little girls as a kind of anthem of empowerment. (Imagine a primary song based on Cain’s words or the Communist Manifesto – too far?)

Later on when Elsa is confronted by Anna in For The First Time In Forever, Reprise, Elsa sings a different tune after her sister confronts her with the truth. In a gut-wrenching rebuttal to “Let it Go,” and a contrasting contest of optimism and pessimism, Elsa realizes that she isn’t free and retreats deeper into her negative paradigm.

Anna: You don’t have to protect me. I’m not afraid!
Please don’t shut me out again.
Please don’t slam the door. […]

Elsa: Anna,
Please go back home.
Your life awaits.
Go enjoy the sun —
And open up the gates.

Anna: Yeah, but —

Elsa: I know!
You mean well, but leave me be.
Yes, I’m alone but I’m alone and free!
Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me.

Anna: Actually we’re not.
Elsa: What do you mean you’re not?

Anna: I get the feeling you don’t know….
Elsa: What do I not know?

Anna: Arendelle’s in deep, deep, deep, deep…Snow.
Elsa: What?

Anna: You’ve kind of set off an eternal winter… everywhere.
Elsa: Everywhere?

Anna: It’s okay, you can just unfreeze it!
Elsa: No, I can’t. I — I don’t know how!

Anna: Sure you can! I know you can! `Cause for the first time in forever,
Elsa: Oh I’m such a fool! I can’t be free!

Anna: You don’t have to be afraid…
Elsa: No escape from the storm inside of me!

Anna: We can work this out together!
Elsa: I can’t control the curse!

Anna: We’ll reverse the storm you’ve made!
Elsa: Anna, please, you’ll only make it worse!

Anna: Don’t panic!
Elsa: There’s so much fear!

Anna: We’ll make the sun shine bright!
Elsa: You’re not safe here!

Anna: We can face this thing together!
Elsa: No!

Anna: We can change this winter weather!
Elsa: I I I I I…

Anna: And everything will be all right…
Elsa: I CAN’T!

Elsa who once rejoiced by exclaiming “I’m free!” now laments, “I’m such a fool! I can’t be free!”

Same as Korihor, Elsa felt like she was in bondage to the rules and expectations of those around her. She grew weary of suppression and fear and decided that letting loose the “swirling storm inside” and letting it “rage on” would bring freedom. I find it interesting that Elsa repeatedly refers to the influences that cause her so much discomfort as a “storm inside.”

In the Book of Mormon, we see the devil’s influence as being compared to a storm, “when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo” (Helaman 5:12)

Korihor accuses the religious folks of being “foolish” multiple times and Elsa declares, “I’m such a fool!” for giving in to the “storm inside.”

There are many storms that rage in our hearts and minds today. There is legitimate evil and abuse in this world and it can be found everywhere, even among the Latter-day Saints, but there is also good in direct opposition to that evil. Too often we simply sing the anthem that sounds more empowering, that seems to have a more upbeat harmony, and is sung by others around us. It doesn’t seem as popular to listen to the lyrics, look at the big picture, and follow though to see the fruits.

We seek after opiates that “quiet our uneasiness” which Satan, the kingpin of the opiate cartel, is all to eager to sell us. Nephi wrote that:

“others will [the devil] pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, … and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Nephi 28:21-22)

So how do we avoid making the same mistakes?

How often we misjudge things; I know that I’m guilty of that myself, it’s all too easy to do. How can we avoid being deceived when there is so much confusion around us? So many unanswered questions, and competing voices, many of which sound so reasonable and appear so intellectually sound? Here is what Moroni wrote to us:

“Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night… Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” (Moroni 7:14,15,19)

I encourage a full reading and pondering of Moroni chapter 7. Yes, the way to judge is plain, but that doesn’t mean it requires no effort, we are required to search diligently. Searching takes time, it does not imply immediacy. Truth is plain, but it is our preconceived notions and paradigms that blind us. The way to lose weight and get in shape is plain: eat healthy and exercise, but making the results transpire takes a lot of sweat and desire!

We tend to begin with a certain framework that we demand for God to validate. We want answers that satisfy our carnal desires and that can pacify the discomfort we feel at the mocking of the critics or the teachings we can’t reconcile. Nephi’s brother Jacob gave this bit of instruction:

“O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.” (2 Nephi 9:41,42)

I’m not going to comment on those verses here, I’ll leave you to ponder them.

I know that this has been a long post including a colorful cast of seemingly random characters, but I hope that you can see the principles of truth contrasted against the alternatives.

While there is much to learn and consider in life, ultimately, we feel the longing sense for closure, to ‘hang our hat’ on something real, something verifiable. Joseph Smith taught that, “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” (History of the Church, 4:425)

God is the ultimate source for truth and assisted by the Spirit, we can look around us and discern the good from the evil. The principles that guide this process can all be found in the scriptures, you won’t find any shortcuts here or anywhere else; there is only one strait and narrow way. If you are looking for a place to begin, or begin again, I’ll refer you to the Lectures on Faith, and then to the standard works, beginning with the Book of Mormon.

I leave you with my simple witness that there is indeed a God; a God whose love I have experienced and whose miracles I have witnessed. There is always descent before ascent. Do not be discouraged if mists of darkness cross the path, continue to hold to the rod and push through – at the end there is a tree of life.

What do you think?

  • What else can be an “opiate” to us?
  • What other individuals from scripture, history, fiction, pop culture or personal experiences preach the philosophies of Korihor?
  • If you’re offended by what I said about Frozen or Karl Marx then let me have it.


  1. By identifying the modern counterparts of Korihor’s pernicious philosophies, you’re in good company. While it seems that you’ve found about 6 pesky -isms, 15 are identified in the book “Charting the Book of Mormon” (http://byustudies.byu.edu/januarybomcharts/charts/78.pdf).

    • Thanks for the info, it looks like your link was cut short or something was done to it by Disqus. I’m not able to find that book you are looking for, do you have another direct link or source?

      • Copy the link and delete the right parenthesis; this will compensate for the link corruption caused by Disqus (which, in some, may incite further Disqust).

        • Very punny ;)

        • Got the link to work, what a great and applicable resource, thanks for making the connection and providing that document. I can almost see Mormon looking through Nephite history and finding Korihor as this treasure trove of false ideologies to share with future readers. I feel a bit of sympathy for Korihor, his story illustrates how easy it can be to give in to certain philosophies until we believe so strongly in them that we accept no other alternative. Korihor thought he was being sensible, but he was extremely closed-minded and wanted truth only on his terms. I think there is a bit of Korihor in each of us.

          • True philosophies correspond with eternal truths. But materialism is apparently the sandy foundation of secular philosophies. False ideas such as these extinguish faith and inflate pride, truncating human potential.

            In light of this, it’s not difficult to see why efforts like the tower of Babel and secret combinations, from rationalizingly small to despotically great, arise and engender a religious-like zeal and often fallacy-drenched opposition to those who espouse contrary views.

            Because of the natural man’s tendency to want truth on his own terms, it is vital to be open to, search for, and embrace all truth, expanding what we see as our “box”; but this requires effort and discernment, which Korihor apparently lacked.

          • Couldn’t have said it better myself! Do you have a blog or any place online where you publish your thoughts

          • I thought that I might be asked that, but no.

  2. In addition to the previously referenced philosophies of Korihor, an Ensign article adds these:

    Epistemology: “How do you know what is true?” (Alma 30:12-15)
    Metaphysics: “What is real?” (Alma 30:17-18)
    Axiology: “What is good? What is right?” (Alma 30:17)


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