Sunday, August 3, 2008

On Alma 30-34

Sometimes when we read the Bible or the Book of Mormon because the books are separated by chapter and verse we have a tendency to read each chapter independent of the other chapters around them. This occurred to me suddenly today while our Sunday School class discussed Alma 32-34. Last week we discussed Korihor and Alma 30.

In the past, whenever I read Alma 30, I couldn’t help but wonder why Alma gave a few passing answers, but didn’t really respond to any of Korihor’s allegations. I think that for many people, the refutations are less than satisfactory. The major points that Korihor raises are the following:

1. Leaders of the church teach Christ and the atonement to get money from their congregations.

2. No one can know of things to come and be sure of them.

3. There is no atonement and each person fares according to his own strength and genius.

Alma basically testifies that these things are not true and gives a few examples, but he doesn’t really examine any of these above points in detail. Further on, Korihor admits that he knew the truth all along, but that he was deceived by the devil.

I don’t think that Mormon (or Joseph Smith, depending on your view of who wrote the Book of Mormon. The level of insight either way indicates a prophetic calling of the writer of the chapters regardless of who the actual author is.) was arguing that all atheists have met angels of light or that despite knowing the truth they cling to atheistic teachings because of their appeal to the ‘carnal’ mind. I think that he was trying to clearly establish that the three ideas above are in opposition to the true plan of God.

In Alma 32-34, however, we see a detailed response to Korihor’s teachings. These chapters act as a rebuttal to the false teachings of Korihor. Alma 32 starts out with a group of indigent individuals who have been prohibited from worshiping in their place of worship even though they built it. Alma teaches them that worship doesn’t occur in a holy sanctuary alone. True worship occurs in a believer’s heart. And it is a response to Korihor’s first point.

One thing that impresses me about the Mormon church is that, temple worship excepted, you can participate to your heart’s content without contributing one red cent. You can go to Sunday worship services, you can send your kids to weekly activities and you can go to church socials all for free. Of course, if no one contributed any money, none of these could occur. But the church doesn’t require you to donate anything to enjoy almost all the benefits that it offers.

Also in Alma 32, we get the much-maligned parable of the seed. Although it is written as an invitation to accept Christ into your life, I see it as a response to Korihor’s second argument that you cannot know of things to come and be sure of them.

Alma goes through the steps that one can do to come to a knowledge of religious truths. It is not a scientific test in that it is capable of repetition regardless of who attempts. It is a discourse on how faith under the right conditions can transform into knowledge. Those who have gone through this transformative religious journey know that Christ lives, not through the scientific method, but through the feelings and spiritual experiences they have encountered. Spiritual experiences aren’t merely good feelings, they are feelings that begin to expand your understanding of the world and fill your soul with happiness. Anyone who has had a spiritual experience could not misidentify it as mere emotion. Spiritual experiences are too transcendental to be limited to mere human emotion. And through these spiritual experiences, our faith is slowly replaced with knowledge. And so Alma is able to answer Korihor’s allegation that you can’t know of things to come and be sure of them. Alma teaches that you can know that Christ will come because seeking Christ causes the spiritual experiences discussed above.

Korihor’s third argument is that the atonement is not necessary and that to teach people that they are fallen causes them to seek religious instruction which allows the leaders of the Church to get money in exchange for those teachings. He thinks that people fare according to their own strength and genius. This argument is the one that tries to cut down the fundamental pillar of Judeo-Christianity.

The key tenant of Christianity is that we are all equal before God. As humans, we all have imperfections and weaknesses. God is not a respecter of persons, not so much in that He ignores our individuality and winks at our sins, but in that He has provided a way for everyone regardless of what their particular weakness or imperfection may be to become like Him. The atonement is just another way of saying that, whoever we may be as an individual, as a human being we are in the same boat as all of our fellow human beings.

The one who teaches that a person fares according to his own strength and genius teaches something that is very harmful. I won’t discuss the obvious form of this idea, but I will discuss a more subtle form of it. Among the laity in the Mormon church, there is an idea that unless you did everything you can do, you won’t achieve the highest level available. I don’t like this idea because it is in clear contradiction to the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets. It also requires a self-knowledge beyond that of a mere mortal. Can any one really envision judgment day where a wise and just God in pronouncing judgment on some poor soul would say, “Sorry Brother Jones. Your entrance into the celestial kingdom is denied. Although your record is exemplary, I find that you could have been a little bit more diligent in being kind to other people. In particular, there was an instance where you donated $20 to a charitable cause when $25 was the best that you could do. You didn’t repent of that adequately. Best of luck to you in the terrestrial kingdom. Next, please.”

Alma 34:15 says that salvation comes to all who believe in Christ. It says nothing about whether your actions will enable you to obtain salvation. And who are those that believe in Christ? People who believe in Christ seek him. Christ invitation to “come and see” in John 1 remains. And those who seek Christ repent of their sins. They do good works to feel his Spirit, not to curry favor in the afterlife. They desire everyone to feel the interconnectedness that blesses those who have the Holy Ghost within them.