Baptizing the Dead Is Not a Big Deal

Americablog’s John Aravosis is up in arms over the news that the Mormon church reportedly staged a “posthumous baptism” ceremony last year for President Barack Obama’s deceased mother:

What else to call the Mormon’s laughable statement today that their posthumous baptism last year of President Obama’s mother was a “rare” mistake that might have been done by “pranksters.”

…Yes, all one big unfortunate “rare” mistake. Kind of like a clerical error. Except instead of giving you the wrong change, they just stole your mother’s soul.

Look – as ridiculous and cultish as I find the Mormon notion of “baptism for the dead”, this response is kind of over the top. “Stole your mother’s soul”? Aren’t we being just a little bit shrill here?

Yes, this belief is patronizing and offensive. It’s especially insulting and clumsy when the Mormons claim to be baptizing Holocaust victims. But it’s not as if they’re kidnapping living people and forcibly converting them; all they’re actually doing is staging a superstitious little ceremony and then claiming that the deceased now has the opportunity to enter Heaven. If the Mormons are guilty of arrogance for saying that they have the sole power to determine who is saved, almost every other world religion is equally guilty of arrogance for the same reason!

Absurd as this practice is, it doesn’t do any real harm to anyone. The only thing the Mormon church is actually accomplishing is making itself a target for ridicule. “Baptism for the dead”? This reminds me more than a little of the cult leader Sun Myung Moon’s claim that Jesus, Buddha, Confucius and Mohammed have all posthumously converted and are issuing statements from the afterlife instructing their followers to become Moonies. It just makes them look silly and ridiculous. Who do they imagine they’re fooling?

If we want to criticize Mormonism (or any other church), we should focus our fire on actions they take that cause real harm to real human beings. The Mormons’ dumping $20 million into fighting marriage equality in California, for instance, is a much more serious misdeed that shows a disdain for the liberty of their fellow people and a regressive, theocratic belief that their religion gives them the right to dictate the course of other people’s lives. As far as I’m concerned, whatever the Mormons do in the privacy of their temple is their own business – but they should learn to respect other people’s choices to determine the course of their lives.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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