Alma 1:3-5 — LeGrand Baker — fallacies of human reasoning
3 And he [Nehor] had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.
4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.
5 And it came to pass that he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.
With this short narrative, Mormon has exposed one of the greatest fallacies of human reasoning. And, as is typical of Mormon’s writing, when he makes a profound observation that does not relate directly to his immediate message, he passes over it without a great deal of elaboration.
People are so eager to be saved without repentance that they are willing to give anyone money who can convince them that repentance is not necessary.
That attitude is so widespread that it appears in a great variety of forms, Their core is all the same, even though the particulars look very different on the surface.
Let me give you a few quick examples
It is apparent from the Book of Mormon that the purposes for sacrifices in the law of Moses was to teach the people about the atonement–which would imply an understanding of the need of repentance. Yet much of the evidence of that is lost in our present version of the law of Moses. In our version (edited during the apostasy after the Babylonian captivity), one is required to make peace offerings, but they seem to be in lieu of repentance, rather than a part of it. That was certainly true of the religions elsewhere in the ancient Near East. Nephi’ emphasis on faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost is sufficient evidence that those principles were understood by the ancient Jews, so the exclusion of those principles in the edited version of the Books of Moses are also sufficient evidence that those principles were replaced by a theology that permitted sacrifice in lieu of repentance.
The idea certainly caught in later Christianity. During the crusades the popes promised the soldiers that went to reclaim the Holy Land, that whatever sin they did while on the crusade would be automatically forgiven. Thus giving the soldiers carte blanche to rape and pillage as they chose without any eternal consequence, and without any need to repent. That’s a strong incentive to volunteer to go to war in behalf of the church.
Much of today’s terrorism is based on that same principle.
It works with non-religion as well as with religions. If one denies that there is a God, one is also denying any need for any kind of morality except those which society imposes on one, and in any case there is no such thing as repentance, because there is no such thing as sin.
Throughout history–and certainly in our own time–any preacher–whether his doctrines are religious, political, or sociological–who can convincingly teach that repentance is not necessary to earthly or happiness, has always been able to gather an enthusiastic following, and turn his message into a source of money, or power, or both.
The story told in 4th Nephi is symptomatic of the problem.
27 And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness. (4 Nephi 27)
It was a lot easier to get a temple recommend in this new church than it was in the original one!
28 And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts.
29 And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ, because of their humility and their belief in Christ; and they did despise them because of the many miracles which were wrought among them….
34 Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite upon the people of Jesus; but the people of Jesus did not smite again. And thus they did dwindle in unbelief and wickedness, from year to year, even until two hundred and thirty years had passed away. (4 Nephi 28-34)