Well, here we go again, this is the second post in a row about Book of Mormon stories paralleling modern life. I was just walking around the neighborhood when this one popped into my head so here we go.
This one is a little all over the place, just kind of a brain dump but that’s what a lot of posts here are. Hopefully, there are some insights and parallels worth noting.
I’ve noticed some similarities between Korhior’s story and modern-day influencer culture and I’m going to try and break that down so bear with me. If I had more time to think about it, this post would be much shorter.
The Oxford dictionary definition of a marketing influencer is: “A person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.”
There are thousands of “influencers” on various social media platforms who vie for fame, prestige, or profit.
Many people do very well and earn sponsorships, get free stuff, and have millions following them and consuming the content they produce. On the surface, there is nothing nefarious about this, some people make a great living using their personas as marketing tools.
However, I’ve observed that many of these influencers use their platform to promote or speak out against various social, moral, and political issues. Again, there isn’t really anything inherently wrong about this unless, like Korihor, they find themselves actually fighting against God, knowingly or unknowingly.
We should all respect the right to speak freely about what we believe. Mormon, who is narrating the Korihor account, points out that among the Nephites “there was no law against a man’s belief” which is similar to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which rightfully protects freedom of speech for all people.
Free speech is an inalienable right granted by God, which means it is up to us to be individually discerning about what is true or false.
Fast-forwarding a bit, Korihor clashes with Alma, demands a sign and is struck dumb. He then confesses the following:
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 30:53
Let’s break it down.
Lies in the form of something good
First, he acknowledges that it was the devil that deceived him by appearing in the form of an angel.
What is unknown is the point at which he knew that the angel was actually the devil decieving him. Korihor appeared to be thoroughly fooled throughout so this realization may have come only after he was struck dumb.
The devil succeeded in disguising his true self in order to get a follower of his own that he could influence. He did this by appearing in the form of an angel, an image Korihor would have accepted as good.
Many influencers today appear wrapped in copious amounts of positivity, sprinkles, unicorns, and rainbows. How could you not like that? Other influencers wrap themselves in philosophies, cherry-picked medical studies, and whatever conveys the image of good and appears convincing.
Perhaps Korihor was familiar with the story of Lehi who had a divine encounter and was commanded to prophesy to the people of Jerusalem.
Korihor also had a unique experience that made him feel special and chosen to carry out an important mission to help people.
Very similar stories, but Korihor ignored all the red flags.
Discerning whether spiritual experiences are from good or evil sources
This is a key lesson for if you ever have a unique spiritual experience. Don’t simply believe or follow whatever communication that you think you have received. Don’t simply assume that it is from God.
The revelation should conform to scriptural patterns. Nephi was constantly comparing his choices against the scriptures and that made him less likely to be deceived.
You can always ask the Lord if there is more to know about a particular revelation.
This is especially important to those new to these types of experiences. It’s easy to want to believe that your messenger is good and not evil.
In Lehi’s vision a man in a white robe asks Lehi to follow him. I’ve heard people in church say that this was an angel, but the text never says this. That man in the white robe is still fooling people!
Lehi might have assumed the man was an angel too so he follows the man simply because he is there and offering direction in the seeming absence of any other indication as to what to do – take note.
After following this man into a dark waste, the man disappears leaving Lehi completely alone in the dark. Lehi wanders in the darkness for many hours and has to cry out to God for help. (1 Ne. 8:5-9)
This is how the easily the adversary can deceive people. The distractions of a modern Babylonian culture keep people engrossed in pleasure and comfort to where visions, revelations, and divine visitations are scarce.
Now imagine an actual being appears to you and they look like what you would expect an angel to look like. They tell you that you’ve been chosen to do something important. Would you question the validity of the messenger or would you try to be faithful and simply do what they say?
In my early 20s I had a unique season of multiple spiritual experiences that were each very different in nature. I would move fast when they came striving to be obedient and faithful. Some of that counsel I followed for years only to realize later that it didn’t make much sense.
I then began to ask myself if I knew for sure that the source of that instruction was good or evil. I realized that I had no idea, it just seemed like a divine experience so I accepted it as such.
My prior experiences with good and especially evil had been very black and white; very negative and very positive respectfully. I had never detected an attempt for evil to trick me by appearing as something good.
If you do receive a spirtual message or messenger, you can check their message against the scriptures and personally inquire of God for further knowlege if the information conveyed is true.
Use checks and balances and multiple witnesses to validate.
My concern is that there are many today that follow the teachings of influencers who preach, knowingly or unknowningly, falsehoods obtained from evil sources. They may not have the tools necessary to detect deception and instead base the truthfulness of their message on how popular it is.
Teaching what pleased the carnal mind
Korihor reveals that the things he taught were “pleasing unto the carnal mind” which is a phrase worth digging into. Let’s look at two words, “pleasing” and “carnal.”
Pleasing: exciting agreeable sensations or emotions in
Carnal: Pertaining to flesh; fleshly; sensual; opposed to spiritual; as carnal pleasure.
Korihor was teaching things that appealed to whatever excited pleasurable sensual sensations in people; another red flag.
If Korhior would have checked the fake angel’s message against the scriptures he would have read Abinadi’s words which were recorded by Alma (Mosiah 17:4):
For [the wicked] are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil.
Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost were it not that God redeemed his people from their lost and fallen state.
But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God.Mosiah 16:3-5
The devil seems to have been trying to directly contradict the Lord’s word that came through Abinadi. He said there was no God, no redemption and that following your carnal nature was the way to go.
Had Korihor checked the message against these words, he would have easily known that the “angel” was a fraud. Either he never cared to search the scriptures, never had them, or willingly chose to ignore them by taking the word of a lone messenger that he simply obeyed without question.
We see many promoting these kinds of teachings today across a broad spectrum. Influencers today are all about promoting lifestyles governed by carnal and sensual feelings rather than the word of God.
Success interpreted as evidence of truth
As Korihor preached these things he began to have “much success.” His teachings were being validated by his growing group of followers and he saw that as evidence that his teachings were true.
This began to solidify his belief that his teachings were true which, in turn, caused him to withstand what was actually true.
We learned from Lehi’s vision that a great and spacious building full of people can have a powerful influence in shaping people’s opinions.
And [Lehi] also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.1 Nephi 8:32-33
Those in the vision who turned their ear toward the loud and popular voices in the great and spacious building were drowned and lost in strange roads.
Consider that water is a chaos motif, and drowning involves water filling the lungs so that you can’t breathe and eventually perish.
The Hebrew and Greek words for the Spirit mean wind, i.e., breath. The drowning soul could thus be said to have inhaled chaos to the degree that they have no place to receive the breath of the Spirit. As people are cut off from the Spirit, they incur a spiritual death.
Just because certain ideas are popular, doesn’t mean they are true. However, it seems that popularity is interpreted by many as evidence of truth. Beware, this was also Korihor’s error.
Korihor’s other teachings
Korihor was very descriptive and detailed in the teachings he espoused. These teachings were used to justify his carnal teachings and make them more palatable.
His teachings seem to fit into at least three general categories:
I’ve clarified some of the language and used some modern words where the meaning of some less common words might be unclear.
There is no God (therefore no Christ or redemption)
- Looking for a Christ binds you down under a foolish and a vain hope (vs.13)
- You cannot know that there shall be a Christ (vs.15)
- No atonement could be made for the sins of men (vs.17)
There is no crime (your life is all there is, do what you want)
- You prosper according to your destiny (vs.17)
- You move forward in life soley according to how you conduct yourself (vs.17)
- Everyone gets gain by force according to their own strength (vs.17)
- Nothing you do is a crime (vs.17)
- There’s nothing after death (vs.18)
Priests are bad (and they use foolish traditions to control you)
- No one can know of anything which is to come (vs.13)
- The prophecies that are handed down are foolish traditions of your fathers (vs.14)
- You can’t know of things you don’t see (vs.15)
- Thinking you see a remission of your sins is the result of an insane mind, and your minds were deranged by those traditions of your fathers (vs.16)
- It’s foolish to bind yourself down under ordinances and performances laid down by ancient priests to seize power and authority over you. (vs.23)
- Your priests want to keep you in ignorance to bring you down. (vs.23)
- You don’t know that your ancient prophecies are true (vs.24)
- You’re not free, you’re a slave (vs.24)
- You’re being told that you are guilty and fallen because your parent transgressed (vs.25)
- Your priests want to glut themselves with the labor of your hands and don’t want you to enjoy your rights and privileges (vs.27)
- You’re afraid of offending your priests so you limit yourself (vs.28)
- They’ve made you believe that if you don’t follow their traditions, dreams, whims, visions, and pretended mysteries then you will offend some unknown being who doesn’t exist (vs.28)
Korihor’s teachings are strongly nihilistic and perhaps atheistic by extension. You can be an atheist without being a nihilist, but nihilism requires atheism.
Simply put, nihilism states that all political and religious organizations are bad and that no beliefs with meaning can be true. All of Korihor’s teachings mesh pretty well with this worldview but he goes further than simply dismantling power and belief structures, he teaches people to govern themselves by what the flesh desires.
He dismantles one power structure and belief system to replace with his own. If there is no God, meaning, or purpose, then why challenge anything to begin with? If nothing matters, then changing things also doesn’t matter.
If life as we perceive it to be is in reality just some random chemical reaction on some insignificant rock in space, and consciousness is an illusion, then why concern yourself with trying to change anything?
It would be like putting your energy into popping a single bubble in a cluster of sea foam on the sea shore.
In going through Korihor’s teachings and updating some of the language, I was using a Webster’s 1828 Dictionary which defines words as Joseph Smith would have likely understood them in his day.
There is one particular definition that really caught me off guard. Korihor taught that “every man prospered according to his genius” and I swapped genius with “destiny” as that felt like the most accurate modern rendering of what he was trying to say, but I found Webster’s definition really interesting:
GENIUS: Among the ancients, a good or evil spirit or demon supposed to preside over a man’s destiny in life, that is, to direct his birth and actions and be his guard and guide; a tutelary deity; the ruling and protecting power of men, places or things. This seems to be merely a personification or deification of the particular structure or bent of mind which a man receives from nature, which is the primary signification of the word.http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/genius
Korihor’s experience was more than a personification however, he was chosen by an actual spirit who directed his life. Unfortunately, his spiritual tutor turned out to be a demon.
This is the only appearance of this word in all of the standard works. I wonder how common the understanding of this word was in Joseph Smith’s day. Today we just think of “genius” as being smart and not some spirit or demon presiding over our destiny.
“Live your truth” and other lies
Korihor came to actually believe that he was being noble by exposing these lies and ‘freeing’ people so they would not be ashamed of how they chose to live their lives.
He said that people should be free to do whatever they want and not have some religious leader shaming them into a life that they hate. Today you’ll hear the phrase “live your truth!” but what does that really mean?
They don’t say “live God’s truth” but instead use their more atheistic version that suggests there is no truth other than what you say is true. That ideology seems to be spoken of here in the words of Isaiah:
But you are lighters of fires, all of you, who illuminate with mere sparks. Walk then by the light of your fires and by the sparks you have kindled. This shall you have from my hand: you shall lie down in agony.
Who among you fears Jehovah and heeds the voice of his servant, who, though he walk in the dark and have no light, trusts in the name of Jehovah and relies on his God?Isaiah 50:10-11 (reversed)
Instead of following God, Korihor taught the people that they should follow whatever excites pleasurable sexual sensations. Whatever you find pleasurable you should do because there is nothing wrong with it.
The fruits of his teaching led “away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms” (vs.18)
There is no neutrality, detatching yourself from God only makes you a subject of the devil and under his power and control.
There is a story that I crafted years ago that I think goes well here:
Imagine a tall tower with a single staircase that leads to the top. A person ascends the stairs and at the top of the tower, they rest from the effort and time it took to get there. After enjoying the view and some peaceful contemplation, they decide that it is time to return to the ground.
They look toward the stairs and begin to imagine the time and effort it would take to descend. They beging to feel constricted that this difficult option was the only choice. Sure, the stairs would lead them safely back to the ground but it was hard to get the top and it would be hard to get back down.
But there is another way to reach the ground from the top of the tower – jump. Doing so would be faster, require no effort, and would be more thrilling. Desiring this new and enticing alternative, they leap off the tower and in a weightless mid-air moment, an intense rush of freedom fills their soul.
As the freefall commences, they notice that the liberation of the jump has now put them under the total, uncompromising control of gravity. The descent toward the ground was indeed fast, and in that sliver of a moment before their body is irreperably shattered by contact with the ground, they thought back to the stairs and understood everything clearly.
I’ve seen many, after a struggle, discard their faith and talk about how “free” they feel. I call this feeling “freefall” and that moment of weightlessness is a different length of time for everyone.
The sensation of being free at a particular moment, doesn’t mean you’ll be free in the end.
The staircase enabled ascent and descent up the tower to see things that could only be seen there. Ultimately, choosing to use the staircase enabled the freedom to ascend and descend at will.
Korihor sounded like a hero to many, he was affirming their choices and leading them to freedom by telling them to ‘jump.’
Blending truth and lies
Some of what Korhior said was true which is why it was so palatable to swallow the lies.
Throughout history, there have been false priests that used traditions to control and manipulate people. Horrific abuses have happened and people were indeed brought down and oppressed by this “priest class.”
In fact, the Nephites were ruled at times by wicked priests and kings who did oppress the people just as Korihor is claiming. He was wrong about there being no God and that you should follow your carnal desires, but he’s right that people should not be oppressed and manipulated by fake holy men.
He fired up the people by telling them they were victims when they weren’t. In a very Marxist-like manner, he popularized an image of the people as a victim class and an oppressive ruling class. Through this division, he amassed for himself a horde of followers to attack the priests which were, in fact, his personal competition.
Korhior came so much to see the world through a distorted lens that he accepted the distortion as reality.
He was brought before Alma who, before his conversion to God, was actually once very much like Korhior:
[Alma] became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.Mosiah 27:8
Alma must have felt like he was looking in the mirror to a degree. I imagine he must have felt great sorrow seeing another person in the same dark situation and oblivious to the destination of path they chose.
Korihor demanded that the only way he would be convinced was if Alma gave him a sign. After repeated warnings by Alma not to go there, Korihor went there and the last words he would ever speak are these:
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.Alma 30:48
In a rare move, Alma grants his request for a sign and Korihor is struck dumb so that he can no longer deceive the people. Astounded at being silenced by God, Korihor writes:
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…vs.52
He then confesses:
…I always knew that there was a God.vs.52
All the while, secretly knowing there was a God, Korihor clung to his deranged teachings and demanded a sign anyway.
If he didn’t make that last denial, could he have repented and become like Alma the Younger or Zeezrom?
Why was he so stubborn and cavalier about not admitting he was wrong?
All his talk of frenzied and deranged minds came from projection and not from observing true parallels.
In psychology, projection is “a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others.” (via Wikipedia)
An inglorious end
After demanding a sign and being struck dumb, Korihor’s “genius” led him into poverty where he was trampled to death. Here is Mormon’s sobering commentary on Korihor’s end:
…thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.vs.60
The adversary seems to have a lot of success approaching people by what they find sexually pleasing. He convinces people that one’s urges are a truth in and of themselves. People today say trite phrases like “live your truth” and “love is love” which appeal to the sensual nature of man.
These ideas point in a direction with no destination in mind, just like the idea of leaping off a tower willfully ignorant of the consequences.
If one speaks truth that contradicts Korihor-like philosophies of today, then Korihor-like people rise up with Korihor-like arguments like ‘your priests are oppressing you,’ or slightly tweaked arguments like, ‘there is no God but if there is, he would approve of what I’m saying.’
Consider that a stone can be used to construct a temple filled with light or a great and spacious building filled with abominations.
The tools aren’t the problem, they just magnify what is already there, whether good or bad.
The technology that gave us the Internet and mass media accelerated temple work and fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and at the same time created a virtual great and spacious building where modern Korihors can spout their ideas, gain followers, and influence the minds of many.
Yes, it is essential to build a foundation on true doctrine and principles, that will point you in the right direction, but even that is not enough.
Sacrifice is the key
One must come to personally know God through the sacrifice of all earthly things.
…it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain.Lecture 6:7
Sacrifice doesn’t leave us empty, it makes room for something greater. Sacrifice is the rawest expression of love and when directed toward heaven, we are never left empty-handed or empty-hearted.
Yet, the world tells us that we should not sacrifice, that we as people are being taught to “not make use of that which is their own.” (vs.28) But it is the removal of that which stands between us and God that opens the way to us knowing God.
Without this, the opposite path is clear:
But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in [God’s] sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be.
For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.Lecture 6:12
This is the path Korihor took and used his influence to cause many others to do the same.
I realize that as a person that runs a public blog, I run the risk of also getting sucked into influencer culture. This requires constant introspection. I have stated since the beginning on the About page of this site something along the lines of “I’m mortal, thus prone to error, and continually evolving in my thoughts, opinions, etc. as I learn new things.”
Even the name of my blog reveals my intent, it is called “one climbs” and not “one has arrived and now knows all.”
I’ve probably stepped outside of this goal many times, but I’ll emphasize again that you should always seek God. Whatever I share on this blog may help you on your journey, but I am not the destination for anything, God is the destination.
While many today are carrying on Korihor’s legacy, others seek to carry on Alma’s. Hopefully understanding these principles can help many discern truth from error and discover a personal knowledge of God who becomes the prime influencer in their lives.
We must carefully search to understand what is true and proclaim it boldly and always with humility with love and respect for all people and returning all glory to the God.