Korihor and the Closing of the Nephite Mind

When I think of a teacher, I think of someone who expands people’s knowledge, who helps them open their minds to new possibilities and new paradigms. But Korihor, a popular teacher among the Nephite people about 75 years before the birth of Christ, was entirely focused on debunking myths and questioning beliefs. His view of what could be known was extremely restrictive. As a result, his listeners knew less and were more closed-minded after hearing him than before.

Korihor’s teachings, as recorded in Alma 30, rest on two fundamental premises:

  1. You can’t know what will happen in the future (Alma 30:13-14).
  2. You can’t know anything you don’t see (Alma 30:15).

Both of these concepts have some resonance with our daily experience. We are all frustrated at times when things don’t turn out the way we think they will. And we have all been disappointed at times when observable facts contradicted what other people had told us.

Recognizing these two realities, it might be prudent to say, “We can’t always predict the future,” and, “We can’t always trust other people.” But Korihor goes further: If you can’t always predict the future, then you can never predict the future. If you can’t always trust other people, then you can never trust other people. The effect is to dramatically constrain what he is willing to accept as knowledge.

President Dallin H. Oaks has pointed out that we can restrict our ability to learn by rejecting valid methods of gaining knowledge:

The methods of science lead us to what we call scientific truth. But “scientific truth” is not the whole of life. Those who do not learn “by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118) limit their understanding of truth to what they can verify by scientific means. That puts artificial limits on their pursuit of truth (“Truth and the Plan,” General Conference, October 2018).

The two premises led Korihor to reject the following beliefs, all of which require some knowledge of the future or a belief in something we haven’t personally experienced:

  1. There will be a Christ (Alma 30:13).
  2. The words of the prophets are true (Alma 30:14).
  3. Our sins can be forgiven (Alma 30:16-17).
  4. Some actions are wrong, even if there are no immediate consequences (Alma 30:17).
  5. We will continue to exist after we die (Alma 30:18).
  6. There is a God (Alma 30:28).

Unfortunately, this was more than a philosophical error. The effect of Korihor’s teachings was bad behavior. The people who believed him began to “lift up their heads in wickedness” (Alma 30:18). By rejecting these truths, they abandoned a set of principles which would have helped them make wiser decisions and avoid unnecessary suffering.

Today, I will be open to many methods of gaining knowledge. I will remember that life is richer, my perspective is larger, and my decisions are wiser when I am attuned to the future impact of my actions and when I am aware of truths I cannot see.

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