Generally speaking, in discussing Alma 32, we forget to focus on the good parts. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but our emphasis on the last half of the chapter does tend to blind us to the first half, where there are profundities galore.
In particular, we tend to forget that Alma is there as a missionary, preaching to people who have deliberately left the church. Why have they left the church? Well, if we take a look at the prayer from the Rameumpton, they say that the church teaches:
the tradition of [the Zoramites’] brethren, which was handed to them by the childishness of their fathers…the foolish traditions of [the Zoramites’] brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ (Alma 31:16-17)
They have left because they belief that the teachings of the church, particularly the teachings about Christ and (presumably) the efficacy of the Atonement, are crazy. You can’t count on some future God to save you now.
Of course, the poor are booted out of the synagogues (because if God is saving you now, you are rich) and they come to Alma, no longer able to worship God as they believe he wants to be worshipped. They have been cut off. This pleases Alma, because they might listen.
They might listen because they have been humbled. Because they have been humbled, they are blessed (because it means they might listen). But, they can also humble themselves.
In Alma 32:16, he explains how they humble themselves:
Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
In what way is the decision to believe and be baptized an act of humility? You have to remember that the Zoramite religion appears to operate from a position of “What have you done for me lately?” in regards to God. If one had a good relationship, one saw immediate material blessing. If one had a bad relationship, one was banned from the Rameumpton. It is dramatically straightforward.
Alma is, essentially, asking the poor Zoramites to undergo a crazy ritual designed by an apostate, oppressive religion because a god who isn’t going to help you (in your lifetime) has asked you to do it.
Humility is in accepting that we don’t have the answers, that the answers may not be forthcoming, that it may not all wind up making sense, but in trusting God anyway.
Ultimately, the Zoramite view of baptism is the correct one. All you are doing is getting wet while someone says words over you. Without Christ, it is a useless endeavor (except for places selling white clothes). But if God is good, and I believe he is, and if this is his chosen church, and I believe it is, this arbitrary bath is necessary. Not for God, but for me and for my ability to trust him in the nonsensical and the sensical.
Baptism is an act of humility, because it doesn’t clean you. It is instead the act whereby we declare to God that we would like him to cleanse us.