A popular object lesson in Latter-day Saint Sunday school instruction involves a stick that looks like this.
It’s called the consequence stick, we’ve all heard of it. Every time you pick up the stick (make a decision) you get a fixed 2 for 1 deal where the choice comes with a complementary side of consequence. This is immutable, yet we still hear of many “well-wishing” proponents of entrepreneurial deals that involve the stick being snapped in half. In the one hand is the choice, while the other side wondrously transforms from consequence into a wand that allows you to whip up whatever outcome you wish, all depending on which spell you select. Once such campaigner is found in chapter 1 of Alma in the Book of Mormon. He is the infamous Nehor. He is honored and his doctrines are endorsed through the rest of the entire book by those who wish not only to justify any act that would be considered by most to be out of line, but be financially supported in said acts as well.
“After the order of Nehor,” the way Mormon usually words it, becomes a synonym for priestcraft throughout the book. Nephi defined this art in this way, “for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” (2Nephi 26:29) The praise and gain follow the preaching because it feels good to have our ears tickled. “Yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for they neighbor; there is no harm in this. . . if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2Nephi 28:8) Life is more fun with a choice and a wand then an over-sized stick.
Our narrative begins in verse 2
2 And it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of Alma in the judgment-seat, there was a man brought before him to be judged, a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength.
Now that we have a visual, let’s examine what he’s preaching.
3 And he 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.
Here we have the word of God according to Nehor, or to put it more accurately, the word of his god. He essentially advances four principles with the wave of his wand, each more enchanting than the one before it. However, when analyzed carefully through spiritual lenses, they can be seen for what they really are, delusive and untrue. For at the very root of each is an attempt to destroy agency and accountability.
- “Every priest and teacher ought to become popular. . . and they . . . ought to be supported by the people.”
How vain and prideful is this? President Hinckley taught, “Being humble means recognizing that we are not on earth to see how important we can become, but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others.” All Nehor seems to be focused on is how famous he can become, and the amount of difference others can make in his life with their applause and money. In his fairyland, those lucky enough to be designated as priests are not accountable for their own temporal well being, but are supported by the people. This is in direct defiance of the law set forth by King Mosiah, that “every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support. Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support.” (Mosiah 27:4-5) Perhaps Mosiah understood that the crowd-pleasing, attractive doctrines put forward by Nehor often come as a result of a paid ministry. He likely also understood that agency is thwarted when the responsibility over our own temporal well-being is taken away.
2. “All mankind should be saved. . .”
In this context should means the same thing as will, as in all mankind will be saved. In other words, not just those who live certain principles, but everybody. There are no requirements, everybody graduates! As pleasant as that sounds, it lacks purpose. Watch what happens when we change one word and quote an article of faith. . . “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” All mankind will be saved, or all mankind may be saved, how do we know which one is right? We simply check the effect it has on agency. ‘May be saved,’ preserves accountability by virtue of obedience to laws and ordinances that provide progression. Here is a stick with choice and consequence connected. ‘Will be saved,’ relieves accountability by eliminating the idea that the Lord has requirements. Here is a choice in the one hand, and a wand in the other.
3. “the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men.”
Here is a lie covered in truth. Forget about the inherent change in the nature of the individual who embraces the Gospel and applies the Atonement. He’s redeeming all men, just the way they are. This precept lacks the validating addition of repentance, which involves change and improvement, and preserves agency and accountability. “Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to become heavenly.” (Brad Wilcox) If Jesus redeemed everyone on this earth in their sins, without requiring repentance, then the Celestial Kingdom would be no different than the telestial world we are living in right now. It wouldn’t be heaven. Aside from the fact that fallen, unworthy beings could not abide the light of a higher world, they wouldn’t even want to, it would be terribly uncomfortable. We can be redeemed from our sins, but not in them, just as Amulek taught. (Alma 11:37)
4. “all men should have eternal life.”
Here Nehor is promising the same reward for varying degrees of faithfulness and morality. How is that fair? Some work harder than others, and yet all receive the same reward. There would be no motivation whatsoever to change from bad to good or to be a genuine and trustworthy person. This philosophy is always accompanied by apathy which will quell any desire to learn and grow. Without different consequences for different choices, agency would be frustrated. Promising everyone eternal life has the same effect on freedom as promising nobody eternal life. “If our freedom is destroyed by having a situation that brings only penalty and no reward, then the reverse situation must destroy freedom as well. If we eliminate the option of penalty and thus have only rewards as the result of every choice, then different results would not exist and freedom would also be lost. This is the key to Satan’s plan. By this means comes the destruction of freedom, and therefore the destruction of the agency of man. We must be free to lose or we cannot be free to choose.” (Greg Wright)
How did the people respond to these teachings?
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.
They jumped on the bandwagon, as if frequency conferred respectability. “Have your cake and eat it too,” says Nehor, the Dean of Students at Carte Blanche Academy where the banners of immunity, indulgence, and equality are waved shamelessly. Where the school choir, with respect to Bruno Mars, sings: “He will redeem you just the way you are!” As thousands of cheering profligates sing along.
What does Nehor do when the credentials of his “spiritual” university are questioned? Or when someone looks for a bibliography in his textbooks? He takes the life of the naysayer.
9 Now, because Gideon withstood him with the words of God he was wroth with Gideon, and drew his sword and began to smite him. Now Gideon being stricken with many years, therefore he was not able to withstand his blows, therefore he was slain by the sword.
There is an easy three step process to identify whether a principle is true or false. First, ask what would happen if everyone did that? Second, check what the motivation for the teaching of the principle is. And third, observe if it is being practiced voluntarily or by force. So step one – if everyone embraced Nehor’s magically delicious ideas, nobody would provide for themselves because they would be relying on others for support. But then who would be offering the support? Hmm. . . Not to mention if everyone was to be redeemed and have eternal life, that would eventually lead to nobody holding themselves accountable to any law whatsoever. Step two – the inspiration for his tenets came from fame and wealth. And step three, we turn to Alma the chief judge, “behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword.” Three strikes, you’re out.
As a type of what will ultimately happen to all who follow the path he laid out, Nehor eventually had to pay the price. Attached to his choice to “shed the blood of a righteous man,” he received his consequence of capital punishment, and was “condemned to die, according to the law,” which was given by Mosiah.
15 And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death.
Unfortunately for the Nephites, professors had been trained and students acquired, and Carte Blanche academy moved forward.
16 Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
These same doctrines continue in one form or another down to the present day. But what we learn from this story, is that God “will render to every man according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:6) We can “be not deceived. . . for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galations 6:7) Every choice has a consequence attached, we cannot have our cake and eat it too.