Discerning the AntiChrist (Alma 30-31)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:
  • On Religion by John Caputo
  • Violence in the Scriptures: Mormonism and the Cultural Theory of Rene Girard by Mark C. Stirling
  • Masterclass with Maya Angelou by Oprah. Watch it here.

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Alma 30:17
  • Alma 30:25

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I'm Channing.

E: And I'm Elise. 

C: And this is the Faithful Feminist podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Alma chapters 30 and 31 for the dates June 6th through the 12th. We're so glad you're here today.

E: Welcome back. In this week's episode, and for this set of Come Follow Me scriptures, we're only covering two chapters this week, which is different because the last few weeks we've had up to seven chapters to cover. We're back in the Nephite community, and we meet a new character named Korihor. Korhior preaches to the people and he speaks out against the prophets. He tells them that there's no such thing as God, or as Jesus Christ. And he persuades them to commit whoredoms. Then Alma confronts Korihor, saying, “Hey, you need to knock this off. What are you doing? We know you believe in God.” Korihor says, “I'm only going to believe in God if I receive a sign,” and then Korihor is struck dumb by Alma/power of God, and eventually Korihor dies. So we are going to spend most of our time in chapter 30, but chapter 31 is also incredibly compelling. This is where we learn about the Zoramites, the Rameumptom, and prayer. But in today's episode, we're talking all about the anti-Christ. When Korihor enters the story, he gets labeled as anti-Christ and the Bible dictionary definition of anti-Christ is anyone or anything that counterfeits the true gospel or plan of salvation and that openly or secretly is set up in opposition to Christ. The great anti-Christ is Lucifer, but he has many assistants, both as spirit beings and as mortals. So that's the definition we get of anti-Christ. But Channing and I wanted to spend some time discerning what anti-Christ evil and Lucifer is like versus using the light label of anti-Christ as this kind of catch all net or sticker that we slap on things that are different than what we believe or that challenge or oppose things that we believe, because we think those two things are different. Anti-Christ as evil versus mislabeling of anti-Christ as something that is just different than what we believe. 

C: And we really feel like this discussion and this discernment between the two are really necessary, especially in light of what we come across in the Come Follow Me manual this week. The Come Follow Me manual has a couple of different headlines that encourage the reader to focus on when they come to this story. Some of the headlines read “What is an anti-Christ?” And also, “The Book of Mormon can help me resist the influence of those who try to deceive me.” And something that we talked about in the episode that we did with Beyond the Block podcast was we talked about how it was interesting how in this month's Ensign there are quite a few articles that reference people leaving the church, and what to do if a friend or a family member has left the church, and what to do if you personally have questions about church history or church policy or, you know, anything under the sun. And I made a comment in that episode that I think is actually pretty closely related to the story that we come across this week about Korihor, the anti-Christ, and a lot of the messaging and rhetoric or ways that we talk about the anti-Christ. And so we really believe that coming to this story with a sense of discernment and a really careful kind of breaking down between what the story is actually doing within the text and also how the story influences us outside of the text, in our modern-day communities, is a really important way to examine the story because it holds a lot of weight, both in our doctrine and in our cultural community. 

E: So if we start by discerning anti-Christ as evil or harmful, I think some of the things that Korihor teaches us is that an anti-Christ takes away hope and offers nothing in its place. It is just a constant taking and taking. Some of the ways that we see Korihor enacting this is that he says, “There's no Christ. There's no point to this life. There's no right or wrong.” And just kind of strips the people of their understanding of why they're here and where they're going. And Korihor offers nothing to replace that with. He just takes it away and kind of leaves them to come to their own conclusions.

C: Another thing that I find interesting to know about Korihor is the type of language or the tone that he uses when he's preaching. When I was reading this story and reading the words of Korihor when he was teaching the people, the word that came to my mind was caustic. And caustic is a word that's used in relationship to describe a corrosive chemical, and it's defined as capable of burning, corroding, or destroying living tissue. And I think the tone that he's taking is really indicative of what he wants to do. He wants to disintegrate the current belief system of the people that he's preaching to. He wants to just destroy what is there. And just like Elise said, offers really nothing in its place. Even when this faith is thriving, when people are happy with what they had, which seems to be the case in the text before Korihor arrives, Korihor seeks to just kind of erode it away, but bit by bit. And one of the most effective ways that he does this is by using shaming language within his preaching. Some of the words that I think definitely indicate some kind of use of a shame tactic are words like foolish and frenzied mind and derangement. And those words, they're not meant as an attack on the theology. They're not meant to really bring anyone into discussion or into examination of their own faith. It's shaming language and shame attempts to show people that they they're just dumb. They're dumb for believing what they do. And so it's just better if they just ignore it and walk away from it in order to escape the kind of shame that Korihor  is putting on these people. 

E: And caught up in all of his shaming language is also the idea that there's no distinction between right and wrong. In chapter 30, verse 17, it says “Whatsoever a man did was no crime,” and therefore if there's no right and wrong, that also means that there's no care for other people and that people can just move about the world selfishly and focused on their own individual needs regardless of how that affects others.

C: Right. And if there's no care for others, then that also means that there's no ethic to relationship, right? That means you can just do whatever you want. It doesn't matter how it affects other people or what the consequences are. It's just, whatever you do is no crime. And so when it comes to this in relationships, really what it says is because everything that you do is right, there's never any need for repentance. There's never any need for forgiveness within a relationship. And there's no need for atonement, which essentially means there's no change. Apparently Korihor thinks you just come to this life to live a life of fleshly pleasures and then die at the end. There's no purpose to it, right? It's essentially a life without purpose. The purpose is pleasure. 

E: What stands in opposition to the anti-Christ is a belief system or worldview, or just understanding of your place in the world that focuses on community. That does say that there are right and wrong things to do because of the ways that people either thrive and experience pleasure, or the ways that people are harmed and experience loss and suffering and trauma. And so the anti-Christ really pushes us away from community, away from other people. It stirs up contention and violence and aggression and makes us focus only on ourselves as we take and take and take, without any regard for others. 

C: Yeah, I agree. And I think we could even make an argument that goes as far as to say, Yes, Korihor is acting as an anti-Christ, but this is also anti community. And I would say, even in other religious faiths that focus on community and morality and value service, that it's even anti-that, right? We say anti-Christ because of the things that He symbolizes and stands for and also Himself. But it stands in opposition to all things that we, as Christians understand to be life-giving. So essentially what the anti-Christ really symbolizes is a type of death because it takes life. It slowly corrodes it away by removing and stripping away things that could actually bring us into elevation or enlightenment, which is community, which is service, which is caring for one another and caring for oneself. So what we're really trying to say is anti-Christ is something that takes life away and gives nothing in its place to replace it. 

E: And I hope that we can now see that anti-Christ as evil and harmful has some really heavy, not only baggage, but also large consequences for communities and individuals, but then we turned to the other type of anti-Christ, not necessarily that it's another type, but I think that people misunderstand anti-Christ and they label things that are different or that challenge our beliefs, or that are simply indifferent to our beliefs, oftentimes we label that as anti-Christ. That's the anti-Christ. And one thing that we're a little bit hesitant about or worried about with this chapter is the ways that Korihor teaches a type of intolerance for people who have different beliefs than ourself, right? Not the people who are anti-Christ as evil and harmful and life-taking, but people who have differing beliefs, and they're either sharing what they think is true with us, or they are trying to move about the world in the way that they feel is best, centered on whatever type of spirituality or worldview that they hold. 

C: Yeah. One of the interesting things that we talked about Elise spoke to you and I, we talked about this, that this story somehow kind of builds a little bit of resistance to any kind of opposition. It basically is an out, it's an easy out, a way to just, like you said, slap a label on and say, “Oh, I don't need to engage with that at all, because it directly opposes what I think my beliefs are and what I've been taught are the safe/righteous things to believe. And so it's really easy to just stuff something away and shove it away if you think that you have an easy label to just slap onto it and say, “Oh, I don't have to deal with that.” 

E:Anything that's different for me is the anti-Christ. So therefore I'm justified in hating them and turning them away and striking them, dumb.

C: Something that kept coming to my mind as I was reading this story was that I have friends who are atheist or who identify as agnostic and that have been labeled the anti-Christ in their faith transition journeys. So I want to be really cautious and respectful of those differing beliefs as we approach this story, because 1) those friends are really tender to me, but 2) we can see a lot of similarities to agnostic beliefs and atheist beliefs that show up in our Korihor story, right? And it's not necessarily bad or evil that Korihor doesn't believe in a God or in Christ. It's what he does with that belief that causes harm to others. But it's not those beliefs themselves. I just want to be really cautious and encourage also our readers and listeners to be cautious as they read the story and not paint, just like we said earlier, anyone who believes differently, even if it's extremely differently from us, to not paint those as anti-Christ. Because that can be a really hurtful and harmful label for someone who happens to just not believe the same that we do. So I just want to put that out there before we make it super far into the episode. 

E: Yeah, thank you for sharing that because I think a poor reading of this story teaches us to be afraid of everything in opposition or everything that's contrary to us. And what happens is that when we become afraid, it becomes easier for us to hold on more tightly to the things we think are true. And this type of holding tightly is called fundamentalism. From a fundamentalist mindset, all of the things that are different from us can make the world seem like a really mad and threatening place to be. There's fear of the breakdown of the traditional family because of divorce and homosexuality or there's fear that things are not normal and natural in regards to biology because of transgender people or there's the wickedness of the world in drugs and sex before marriage, then there's Tarot and witches and people who worship differently than us and to the fundamentalist mind, this seems like a total meltdown and that nothing is sacred and nothing is Holy.

C: Yeah. And so faced with this world, I really think fundamentalists just clench their fists around the word of God, tighter and tighter as kind of an attempt to make them feel safe and certain and correct in their worldview and their understanding of God. In his book called On Religion. John D Caputo writes that “fundamentalism is the passion for God gone mad, a way to turn the name of God into the name of terror. It is an attempt to shrink the love of God down to a determinate set of beliefs and practices. It represents a failure of religious nerve, a failure to see that the love of God is uncontainable and can assume uncountable and unaccountably different forms.”

E: And it's the shrinking down of the love of God and the insistence that what we're holding onto is the only correct way to understand God. And as the tension of this maddening world, the things that are different from us and challenge us, as it builds up, there's really no one in the fundamentalist mind that we can trust aside from our own kind of people who already think and believe and act like we do. And then our rivals, the people who are different or challenging us start to seem increasingly evil and even monstrous. Our relationships with those who are outside of our intimate communities are no longer grounded in respect, in affection, or shared humanity. In a fundamentalist mindset, we are taken over by fear, anger, fault-finding, and hostility to those who are different from us. And this is where our desires to keep our faith, God, and worldview pure and safe become really bloody and violent because as we turn to hostility, hate, and anger, we blame the other in order to eliminate them for… You can fill in the blank here, for threatening our beliefs, for challenging what we know to be true, etc.

C: There's this really great article titled Violence in the Scriptures, Mormonism and the Cultural Theory of Rene Girard, and it's written by Mack C. Sterling, and it sets up really well the trajectory of what a fundamentalist mindset and worldview can bring to an individual and to a community. So Sterling says, “The crowd feels united, powerful, and guiltless. One has died or been killed and facilitated the preservation of all. The peace and harmony are real and experienced as overwhelming. In fact, these psychological effects seem utterly transcendent, completely beyond human control or ability. The crowd, therefore, perceives the catharsis as divine in origin, as sacred and holy. Thus, a human victim has been violently eliminated, but the crowd experiences communion with the divine. The violent sacred has been created by the mental projections of the crowd on the scapegoat victim. The individual members of the crowd are not cognizant of their complicity in the killing. They simply remember the crisis as the wrath of God and the subsequent peace and harmony as the blessing of God. The cause of the victim's death is similarly transfigured in the mind of the crowd. It is seen as the will of God, the work of God, or not even as death at all. This is a lie, but the crowd perceives it as truth. With this self-deception, the crowd hides its own guilt from itself and hides its own complicity in their murder of an innocent victim. Thus, the community maintains the myth of its own innocence. Its violence has become God's violence. The unanimous voice of the community has become unbeknownst to it, the voice of God.” 

E: Oh, I know that's a lot to unpack and the language is a little bit scholarly, but I am hopeful that you can see the parallels that we're about to draw between this example of a fundamentalist group or person who identifies an outsider and eliminates them, kills them from the community and then absolves themselves from any type of guilt. In fact, this quote shows that rather than guilt, it brings the community together and the violence or the killing, or the pushing out of the individual now becomes justified in the name of God. Because this person was different and challenged us, we are justified in eliminating them or excommunicating them from our community because that's what God would want. This is sacred because they are challenging our understanding of God. 

C: One of the ways that we wanted to highlight and to make this connection between fundamentalism and how it shows up in this story about Korihor is actually to do a compare and contrast exercise between two different stories. And that's the story of Korihor and this week's reading and the story of Alma’s own conversion from his younger days as a youth. And so as we go through this practice, we think it's really important to note the differences in the two stories, both in how they occur and how it's perceived by the community and what the consequences are or how they turn out in the end. Right? And so with Alma’s conversion, he was doing basically the same thing as Korihor. He was going out into the community, teaching against the church, encouraging people to leave the church and leave the church community. And he and his bros, basically wreaked havoc on the community. And it wasn't until Alma saw an angel and had this divinely induced coma that resulted in his repentance, that he was changed and realized the horror of his ways and completely turned his life around. In Korihor’s case, Korihor is also going out to the community and preaching against the church and encouraging people to leave “the fullest traditions of their fathers.” Instead, what happens is he's brought to the judge and then the judge sends him to Alma instead of Korihor. Instead of being given the opportunity to repent by having an engagement between himself and the divine, he is basically just kind of sentenced to death for being stubborn. And for being asked for a sign. And when I read this story, it kind of sounds like Alma gets a little frustrated with him and he's like, well, sorry, you don't believe the way that we do so you have to be punished for the benefit of us all. And he's struck dumb and then is pushed out of the community and then eventually dies. So, it’s fascinating to see such similar circumstances in the beginning with such different outcomes at the end. And I think it's really interesting to note that these stories contain the same person, right? I just think it's interesting to note that Alma had almost a similar experience to Korihor, but in the text, it seems that he has great difficulty empathizing with Korihor, or even recognizing his old self in the actions of Korihor and is very quick to just say, Nope, you're a complete threat, remove.  It’s just so interesting to compare these two experiences because they happen to the same person.

E: And the text leads us to believe that Korihor’s removal from the community and elimination from the community and eventual death are all justified by the will of God like that’s what God wanted all along. Whereas I think we're more compassionate towards Alma. And I just wonder why Alma wasn't more empathetic. And when Korihor eventually says, or has to write down on the piece of paper or something, “I actually do believe in God, I was deceived,” I do believe there's not the same extending of forgiveness that there was in Alma’s story. Granted, we don't know all of either of these stories, but from what we can gather from the text, they seem good parallels of one another with two completely different outcomes. 

C: So if we zoom out from this story and step away for just a moment from believing that this story is totally true and actually really happened, right? If we look at this story as an actual piece of literature, it's so interesting to me to kind of see the bias of the author. You can see the bias of the editor because ultimately, the Book of Mormon is a Nephite text and the Book of Mormon does want to persuade people to a testimony and belief in Christ. And so you can see those biases working within this story. A bias is normal, right? You can't escape a bias when you're human and you can't escape bias when you're writing. Unless you're seriously writing, I don't know, a dissertation thesis for your graduate degree. And even then you have to write in there, “This is the bias that I'm working from, just FYI.” It's totally impossible to not have a bias when you're human. And so I'm not saying the Book of Mormon is not true because it's written by biased people. Literally every piece of sacred texts we have is written by biased people. But I think it is also a helpful way to look at the texts and recognize that sometimes the literature can be turned larger than life. Literary techniques are used within scripture to tell a story, make a point, and be persuasive. Sacred text is not immune to the humanity of its own authors. And it's really important to be able to identify those within sacred texts, I think. That's just me, my viewpoint as a writer. 

E: If we go back to the article written by Sterling, they offer some really challenging questions as we think about Alma and Korihor. The author writes, “Does God, in fact, sometimes follow sacred violence? Was it truly God's will that Korihor be cast out? Would God treat Korihor so much differently than God treated Alma?” 

C: Those are tough questions. And I think they're tough because they challenge what the current belief is about this story.

E: Exactly. But it also opens up so much more possibility for nuanced, deeper interpretation than just that Korihor was the evil anti-Christ. Of course he got what was coming to him. 

C: Elise, I love that you brought that up and I think it's important to recognize the value of that expanded viewpoint when we come to this story, because just like I talked about earlier in the episode, this story does influence both our theology and influences us as an LDS people culturally. And so one of the questions that we wanted to ask about this story is, how does it influence the way that we as an LDS community and people treat people of other faiths? And for me personally, in my experience and observations, I really feel like the LDS outlook on other faiths and beliefs is either one of pity or one of suspicion. I think a lot of times it's like, “Well they have almost all the truth, right? They almost match us, but the things that don't match up with us, they're just very obviously deceived. They haven't gotten there yet.” Or if it's suspicion, it's always vehement suspicion, right? Like the Catholic church is the horror of the earth, and also very skeptical of atheism. Skeptical of especially paganism and earth-based worship and spirituality. I feel like it's either one of the two, it's just suspicious and we're afraid as an LDS community, we're afraid because those beliefs are either so different from ours and in their difference, challenge us, that we see them as other totally, completely unlike us. 

E: I also think that this story, like I said a little bit earlier, encourages us to build up this type of intolerance to people who challenge or question or share their beliefs that are different than ours. And in the text, a poor reading of it, or an easy read of it would say that as people challenge us or try and “lead us astray” or lead us away from God, they are deserving of both divine and communal punishment. And I think this is all the more reason to offer a more nuanced, expanded interpretation of this story, because perhaps it can teach us not just about the anti-Christ as evil, but it can teach us a better way to welcome and live and share a world with people who are unlike us. This is what it means to be in the body of Christ. We're all alike, especially in the LDS faith, we're all children of God. And that means that children of God deserve love, respect, justice, peace, community, welcoming, belonging. They don't deserve exclusion, elimination, and suspicion and shame, and just a willful turning away from our neighbor.

C: And I think it's really important that we point out that this story about Korihor is a story. One of the techniques that the author uses in this story is to make these characters larger than life. On one side is Alma the good guy, and the other side is Korihor, and he is the anti-Christ. He is the bad guy. But what this does is it sets these two against each other and what they are, they're two extremes. And this is a technique that they use in order to demonstrate a point, they're trying to teach a lesson, but in real life, things are a lot more nuanced and subtle. And I think it's especially important to note that Korihor is not actually Satan himself. He is a human person who even later on in the text says I was deceived by an angel who told me exactly what to say. And so I did that. You guys, if an angel came to you and told you to say you would probably do it, right? And so that's why this is also a lesson in discernment. It's discernment both spiritually and being able to know what messages match our values and spirituality. But it's also a lesson in discernment as readers when we come to the text to be able to tell what is actually going on, both within the story and behind the scenes. And so that brings the human element to it. It takes these characters from being these larger than life, mythical hero versus anti-hero and turns them back into humans, and it makes the story workable and relatable. And I think actually allows the reader to bring their own humanity and empathy to the text instead of being afraid. And I think that empathy is actually an important part in reading the scriptures, because it allows us to bring our own humanity to the text. And humanity is so important to remember when we come to a story that makes good and evil larger than life. 

E: There's a nice set of video interviews done by Oprah, it's kind of like her masterclass, and in one of the videos she interviews Maya Angelou and Maya Angelou says “When what I pray for is humility to know that there's something greater than I, then I have to know that the brute, the bigot and the batterer are all children of God, whether they know it or not. And I'm supposed to treat them accordingly. It's hard. I blow it all the time.” She continues, “I'd like everybody to think of a statement by Terrence. The statement is, I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me. If you can internalize the least portion of that, you'll never be able to say of an act, a criminal act, ‘Oh, I couldn't do that.’ No matter how heinous the crime, if a human being did it, you have to say, ‘I have in me all the components that are in her or in him, and I intend to use my energies constructively, as opposed to destructively.’”

C: I love, love, love this quote by Maya Angelou, because what she does is she equalizes everything. She essentially says we have to tap into that human element and remember that we're all created equal, that we are all capable of doing both great and heinous things. And I think she really gets at the heart of what it means to come to another person and come to another person's story with our own humanity intact, which allows us to receive this person in to a type of love and a type of community. Even with all of the harm and hurt that Korihor caused with his actions, part of me, and maybe it's just my really, really, really stubborn belief in atonement and love and forgiveness and community, I really wanted to read this story and have Korihor repent, and have the opportunity to be redeemed and welcomed back into the community. And I guess for me going forward, that's what I would want to take and carry out from this story out into the world, rather than fear I would want to carry out love.

E: I think this is a really nice wrap-up for the episode, because we encourage you all to come to this set of scriptures and instead of trying to turn outwards and find out where all of the people who are different from us, how they show up in this story, we encourage you to turn inward and to see where you show up in the story and how you want to retell this story in a more life-giving way.

C: Friends, thanks so much today for listening to this episode and spending some time as we talk about Korihor, and anti-Christ and forgiveness and community and all of the different ways that we can read and look at the scriptures. We really enjoy spending time with you, spending time together, making these episodes, and it's really meaningful to hear all of the ways that these episodes have influenced you and helped you understand the scriptures better. And it's precisely because of that awesome feeling we would encourage you that if you have an extra few minutes, today or this week sometime to just leave us a review on iTunes, so that more people who are looking for feminist interpretations of the scriptures can find us and start learning and find community here also. All that said, we love you friends. And we can't wait to see you next week.

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