"But Alma said unto him: If this curse should be taken from thee thou wouldst again lead away the hearts of this people; therefore, it shall be unto thee even as the Lord will." (Alma 30: 55)
Last night, my wife and I were talking about various Book of Mormon Anti-Christs, trying to condense their stories down to fact lists you could fit on a baseball card (if no one's tried marketing Anti-Christ trading cards yet, I might lose my faith in the boundless energy of American capitalism...)
Now, while "Level of Success," "Prophetic Nemesis," and "Ignominious End" are far more interesting from a story perspective, "Argument Against Atonement" is really the vital line, because it's preaching against the very idea of atonement that qualifies someone as an Anti-Christ in the first place. And it's that line that gives the most insight, I think, into each Anti-Christ's personality.
Here's my summary of three Anti-Christs' various anti-Atonement positions:
Sherem: Your salvation should not be dependent on someone else's unknowable future. Today's righteousness is a safe bet; the distant future's supposed "atonement" is a blasphemous gamble.
Nehor: If God made us, it's also his responsibility to fix us. Which he'll do a great job of--on his own. Atonement ideas are crazy because they suggest God needs your partnership in his work.
Korihor: Priests say that Atonement is to relieve guilt, but it actually creates guilt by emphasizing sin--when in reality, nothing you could do in life is objectively "wrong."
To be honest, I think Sherem's argument is pretty compelling. Especially since the past turns out to be nearly as hard to really know as the future. I can sympathize with Sherem as a man of great caution. But I don't think he's right. And if I were to meet him, I'd say something like: if you never take a chance, you'll never grow. The whole idea of "faith" is based on the premise that God wants us to gamble on him. Why? Because there must be some spiritual benefit to making yourself vulnerable--by having to walk into the Red Sea before it starts to part.
I think Nehor's argument is interesting. To me, though, it suggests a pretty cynical guy who has a hard time taking the stakes of life seriously: he seems to see life as a joy ride, not a journey. Maybe I'd be more moved by his argument if I believed I were just God's creation, more ready to take the joy ride if I'm basically God's plaything. But I don't believe that. I believe I'm his child in a radical sense. I believe that the divine spark at the core of me is not something God can or would just change: and since my agency is, at the deepest level, cosmically inviolate, I can believe in an Atonement I have to accept and in a spiritual growth process I have to participate in.
I am the least moved by Korihor's argument that "whatsoever a man did was no crime." And I've had a hard time, based on the argument, imaging what he might have been like. As my wife and I talked about it, I asked her how anyone could really believe, on an everyday emotional level, that nothing you could do is wrong. I mean, whether they believe in God or not, almost everyone on earth seems to feel guilt sometimes. It goes against your own emotional experience to believe everything you've ever done has been OK.
As soon as I'd said that, though, things started falling into place. Charismatic guy. Really likes to be liked, really likes to have influence over people. Doesn't seem to feel guilt.
Was Korihor what we now call a sociopath?
If he was, that would explain the end of the story. It always kind of confused me, after all: Korihor admits he's done wrong, begs for forgiveness and one more chance--and Alma says no. Alma says: if I restore your speech, you'll go right back to the same old patterns again.
When I was a kid reading and I got to that part, I always thought: no way! The guy just admitted he'd been deceived, he said he was really sorry--why not let him try to make up for it like Sherem did? Like you, Alma, got to yourself after you'd gone around preaching against the church? I felt really sorry for poor Korihor, who never got a chance to show the world how much he'd changed.
But now that I'm grown up, I'm more willing to believe that Alma was right. That some people, no matter how penitent they sound, genuinely don't deserve others' trust again.
So what does it mean to forgive a sociopath? I mean, let's say you're one of the men or women who Korihor talked into doing terrible things. Let's say those bad things you did screwed up your relationships and happiness in ways you don't quite know how to repair.
I think forgiving Korihor means that you take responsibility for your own trauma and don't fixate on his role in it anymore. I think it means your look for peace in the Atonement and not by exacting vengeance on the man who deceived and devastated you. I think it means giving a little food when he comes begging at your door--but only, I think, a little.
Because I don't think it means ever letting him into your life again. I don't think forgiveness means you have to try to support him in a turnaround he says he's going to make (but probably never will) or that forgiveness means you have to admire him again the way you once did or pretend like nothing happened.
And maybe that's why Korihor wanders off, in the end, to the Zoramites. Because deep down, he wants to be in charge again. Deep down, he'll always be hungry for the rush of money and sex and most of all control, and he's hoping to find some place where someone will give him "just one more chance"--to become again everything he once was.
To start the cycle over.