The Mormon baptism thing

So Mormons have this thing where they get baptized on behalf of a dead non-Mormon, and that’s supposed to give that person a chance to enter heaven. A lot of people are saying this is offensive, especially Jews, but I’ve been mostly ignoring the issue because I’m inclined to think it’s just terribly silly, and nothing more (though I think the jokes about baptizing dead Mormons into gayness or whatever are brilliant). However, I have found one interesting argument on this score (HT: Andrew Sullivan):

My problem with posthumous baptism is that it’s disrespectful. Assuming that the dead people don’t know that they’re being disrespected, we can nonetheless assert that it’s disrespectful to the group deemed to be in need of posthumous baptism. Indeed, I’d say it is about as clear a statement as we can get of one group’s belief in the inferiority of the beliefs of another group. It amounts to an invalidation of the choices that people make in their lives and a direct paternalistic challenge to their agency: “We know better than they do and, thankfully, we’ll be able to help them out.”

My reaction to this is to think, “okay, yes and no.” On the one hand, it strikes me as a little bit immoral to think that dead non-Mormons will be denied access to heaven, simply on the basis of not having been Mormons, unless they get the benefit of a certain ceremony performed by the Mormon church. On the other hand this strikes me as much less bad than thinking (as many Christians think, and have thought throughout history) that all non-Christians will burn in Hell forever, no matter what happens after their death. Mormonism at least allows non-Mormons an “out.”

If only Christian beliefs about Hell were publicly denounced as often as the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead. Since a lot of the outcry about the Mormon baptism thing is coming from Jews, it’s worth noting that (from what I gather) plenty of Jews are quite sensitive to the fact that many Christians expect them to burn in Hell. The reason we’re hearing so much about Mormon baptisms right now probably has a lot to do with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

But why don’t people check to see if Christian presidential candidates belong to churches that preach nasty things about non-Christians? I suppose that, even for people who feel the way I do about the issue, there’s a sense of resignation, that that’s not a fight that can be won. And as for the Jews who are speaking out against Mormon baptism, maybe a lot of them really are taken in by the professions of bigoted preachers that they support Jews (not realizing that translates, “we support Israel to help usher in the Second Coming, at which point Jews will have the choice to convert or burn.”)

As Dan likes to say, your thoughts?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611455454 boselecta

    I find that, when I probe Christians on their beliefs, and specifically whether they believe in Hell, the answer is often something like “I hope there isn’t a Hell” … which is obviously less vicious that the gloating, God’s-going-to-roast-you type of Christian, but you kind of wonder why they bother identifying themselves as Christians if they’re so unsure about their own doctrines.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    I think their hearts are in a good place – to let people, even the dead who had no chance, get the opportunity to go to Heaven. It’s just very disrespectful to the person’s actual or lack of belief.

  • iknklast

    While I have little fear that I will someday die and wake up in Mormon heaven, I think it would be a violation of a relationship I have with a Mormon friend if he were to so disrespect me as to baptize me into his faith, knowing that I am an atheist. It suggests that I was incapable of making a reasoned decision on my own, and that I need to be “protected”. It will not hurt me in any real way if he should do so, but anyone who undertakes such an act is truly dishonoring the dead – and, by extension, the living who loved and respected them.

    Even more disgraceful is the practice of “sealing” the souls of women to Mormon men so they can have those women in heaven. This gets much less attention, but is, as far as I’m concerned, even more disrespectful, as it assumes an entire gender is yours to do with what you please, no matter what the choices of that person. If there were, indeed, a heaven, I would much prefer to spend my eternity with my own beloved husband than with some unknown Mormon and his 1000 “sealed” wives.

    What it really does is allow us a small peek into the mindset of the practicing Mormon, the mindset that says they know better than we do, and have a right to impose their “knowledge” on the rest of us “for our own good”. This is a mindset that led to such things as Prop 8 and the killing of ERA, both of which can be laid in large part at the door of the Mormon church.

  • eric

    Made this somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment on Jerry Coyne’s blog too: I’m all for posthumous conversions. If you can convert me after I’m dead, then your whole reason for evangelising me now, while I’m alive, disappears. So don’t bother me any more. Don’t knock on my door and ask me if I’ve found Jesus – you are welcome to help me find him after I die.

    Heck, if your sect is really sincere about this pothumous conversion stuff, don’t try and convert any of us heathens at all – just get us after we die.

    I also think this is one of those practices that is shown to be ridiculous the more its applied. When the Mormon church claims Anne Frank, its upsetting and ghoulish. I get that. But if 100 different sects did the exact same thing tomorrow (the baptists convert Anne! The anabaptists convert Anne! The RCC converts Anne!), it would be a farce.

    Which is exactly what it is, even when only one sect does it.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    It’s not just disrespectful, as Sullivan says; it’s dishonest, since it’s an act of pretending someone is a totally different person from what they actually are/were. It’s like me telling someone I’m henceforth going to imagine she has the face and body of Kim Kardashian, or that she’s really a vampire: I’m disregarding the real person and imagining she’s something totally different from what she really is. It’s a form of lying, not to mention insanity; and the fact that I’m only deceiving myself does not make the act less dishonest or evil.

    It’s really no different from seeing a Jew and imagining him as part of a demonic conspiracy; or seeing a black man and imagining he’s a savage brutish rapist thug.

    And the fact that it’s done to mitigate another appalling lie (specifically, the idea of Hell) doesn’t make it one bit more excusable; it only shows how dishonest some people are in trying to mitigate their past dishonesty.

    Anne Frank is a case in point: she was a Jew, her parents were Jewish, they were raising her as a Jew, her values and culture were Jewish, and she died so young ONLY because she was a Jew. To pretend she’s now a Mormon after she’s dead is to say, in effect, “I can’t respect her, or think any good of her, or even acknowledge her existence, unless I imagine she’s become totally diferent from the person she observably was in life.” Why not just publicly take a dump on her grave while you’re at it?

    • jamessweet

      it’s dishonest, since it’s an act of pretending someone is a totally different person from what they actually are/were.

      I think this misunderstands Mormon theology somewhat. They do not think that posthumous baptism causes the person to become a Mormon; they think it gives them the opportunity. They must still choose to accept the baptism in the afterlife.

      I don’t think that undermines your overall point. OTOH, I am more of the “meh” mindset when it comes to baptism for the dead. I’ve explained why at too many places on FtB to count, so I’ll refrain from repeating myself here.

      • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

        They do not think that posthumous baptism causes the person to become a Mormon; they think it gives them the opportunity.

        …which they then imagine the deceased always takes, because theirs is the One True Path. Seriously, what other choices do they imagine the deceased has? Can they choose Valhalla instead of the Mormon Heaven? Reincarnation? Wandering around the Earth and haunting their old homes? Because if it’s a choice between embracing their path and going to Hell, then that’s not really a choice, and your clarification, while true, is a distinction without a difference.

        • jamessweet

          …which they then imagine the deceased always takes, because theirs is the One True Path.

          No, they don’t think that. Leastwise, that’s not what I was taught growing up.

          Because if it’s a choice between embracing their path and going to Hell, then that’s not really a choice

          That’s not really what they think either. I’m debating whether to actually follow this up because I agree that:

          your clarification, while true, is a distinction without a difference.

          Mormon theology is bullocks and is also reprehensible on a number of points. And while you’ve got some of the details wrong, it doesn’t speak to the core of why you find this baptism for the dead thing so reprehensible, so I’m not sure it matters.

          But since I figure a lot of us here care about truth for its own sake, even when that truth doesn’t have pragmatic consequences, here are a couple of clarifications (which, admittedly, mostly amount to “distinction[s] without a difference):

          Mormons believe that after people die, but before the second coming of Jeebus, they go to a sort of “holding area” that’s basically like life on Earth, except nobody dies because, well, you’re already dead. So I suppose at that point, the existence of an afterlife would be difficult to doubt — but, crucially, god doesn’t instantly reveal himself and say, “Yo friends, shoulda been a Mormon! Last chance…” I suppose you could say that while it’s clear there is an afterlife, it is still not yet clear at that point who happened to believe in the correct afterlife.

          People can still learn and be taught the gospel. But since they’ve barely been given more evidence for its veracity than they were on Earth, there’s still plenty of room for doubt, and it’s not at all like this “accept the baptism or BURN!” scenario that you paint.

          In fact, I’m not sure if it’s an official part of LDS doctrine, but many Mormons have speculated that there will still be a need for missionaries in the afterlife prior to the second coming. Yes, those fuckers STILL plan on waking you up early on a Saturday morning even after you are dead. If you find the posthumous baptism thing offensive, you ought to find that idea even worse. Not only did Mormons chant a little mumbo jumbo about Anne Frank here on Earth, but they are planning on sending a pair of white-shirted nametag-bedecked kids to knock on her door in the afterlife. GAH!

          Anyway, so at all goes down pretty much like Life Part Two. Except that, for reasons never fully specified, if you do decide to convert in the afterlife, you can’t just get your spirit-self dunked; somebody on Earth has to get dunked for you. (I never said it made any fucking sense…)

          And to be clear, Mormons believe that everybody has to have a proxy baptism performed for them before the Second Coming can happen; but they also believe that admittance to the Celestial Kingdom (the highest level of Mormon heaven; more on this in a second) will be relatively rare, with far more people winding up in the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms. So just logically speaking, of course they don’t think that everyone who gets posthumously baptized will accept it, probably not even a majority of them for that matter. I certainly was never given that impression during my time growing up in the LDS church.

          Still, all of that is basically “distinction without a difference”. Your objections to the practice still apply, and I guess if I tend to be shrug-y about baptism for the dead, it’s because a) the Mormon church does so many things that are far, far, far worse; and b) having participated for baptisms in the dead, they just seem tedious and stupid and mundane and asinine to me. Seriously, if you’d never heard of the Catholic practice of ritualized faux-cannibalism before, you’d probably be like, “Holy shit, telling little children they are DRINKING BLOOD? That’s the most offensive fucked up shit I’ve ever heard!” — but because we’ve been so over-exposed to it, our reaction is more like, “Well that’s stupid.” Having been desensitized to the baptism for the dead thing, I can’t muster much more than a “Well that’s stupid.”

          On a side note, you talk about “going to Hell”, and that deserves a note of clarification in which you will witness a very rare event: me actually saying something nice about Mormonism.

          Mormons don’t really believe in Hell per se. They believe that the vast majority of people will go to one of three kingdoms: The Celestial Kingdom (totally posh, reserved only for those who were certified grade-A Mormons and performed all the requisite rituals, including the kooky masonic shit, getting straight-married in the temple, etc.), the Terrestial Kingdom (still waaaay better than Earth, and you earn admittance by being a good and pious person. The final destination of Mormons who nevertheless failed to perform all the requisite rituals, as well as — many think — people of other faiths who were unflaggingly honest and decent folk), and the Telestial Kingdom. In the last go all the unrepentant sinners, but crucially, it is believed to be no worse than Earth life.

          There is “Outer Darkness”, but that is reserved for people who have committed the mysterious sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (see Libby Anne’s blog for a discussion of this wacky Christian concept) and it is believed very few people will be unlucky enough to wind up here.

          So to their credit, Mormons don’t really use the threat of Hell the way a lot of other Christian sects do. I’m grateful for that small mercy. Don’t worry about this messing up your worldview too much though; they use plenty of other super-effective brainwashing techniques to fuck up little kids though. Like I say, it’s rare to find me saying anything nice about Mormonism. And there’s a reason for that.

          • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

            Okay, thanks for the “clarification.” Some of that blithering sounds almost new-agey. Just one quibble…

            Seriously, if you’d never heard of the Catholic practice of ritualized faux-cannibalism before…

            Yes, I’m biased here, in precisely the manner you assert, but I still don’t think this doctrine compares to the Mormons’ baptism-after-death woo. First, the “ritualized faux-cannibalism” bit is generally represented (to people I know at least) as mostly symbolic (of course it’s not Jesus’ body and blood, it’s an analogy used to illustrate a different point); and second, that ritual is not as directly or blatantly insulting to anyone’s memory or identity as the Mormon woo. The after-death-baptism crap is more like a minister barging in on an atheist’s funeral uninvited and hijacking the event to inflict his crap on people who showed no signs of wanting it.

          • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

            PS: FWIW, I took a tour of that big ugly Disney-Stalin Mormon temple in Bethesda, MD (just before it was consecrated), and there was a big painting of Jesus standing in a field full of glass coffins, from which well-dressed men and women were rising to praise him. The implication was that the dead stay dead until the Second Coming. (It was a stop on the guided tour, and the guide talked about it like it was more than just decoration.) Not sure if the painting was meant to represent the official doctrine, or was just there because some rich idiot donated it and the bosses liked the kitschy colors.

          • jamessweet

            Some of that blithering sounds almost new-agey

            That’s not entirely a coincidence. Certainly the time frame is not quite right to call it “New Age”, but the LDS movement came out of a religious movement in the US at the time that definitely foreshadowed a lot of the New Age stuff. Look up “Ghost Dance” on Wikipedia sometime. Woah. And very much mixed up in the early LDS church stuff (though most modern Mormons are entirely unaware of this)

            there was a big painting of Jesus standing in a field full of glass coffins, from which well-dressed men and women were rising to praise him. The implication was that the dead stay dead until the Second Coming.

            You don’t get your body back until the Second Coming, until then you exist in a spirit form. I sort of alluded to that when I said that “for some reason, having your spirit-self baptized is not good enough”.

            Mormons believe that at that time, the saved literally get their physical bodies back, except they’ve been “perfected”. The obvious philosophical problems with what this “perfection” means didn’t occur to me as a youngster, heh.

            Anyway, that’s why the apparent contradiction there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Hmmm… would that mean that it’s better to acknowledge Jews are Jews and say they are/will be burning in Hell, because at least then you’re acknowledging who they really are?

      Though then there’s this issue (tldr; Christians under the delusion that the Holy Spirit is really witnessing to all non-Christians everywhere, and they’re just refusing to accept the work of the Holy Spirit because they don’t like God.)

      • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

        Hmmm… would that mean that it’s better to acknowledge Jews are Jews and say they are/will be burning in Hell, because at least then you’re acknowledging who they really are?

        No, it would not. Like I said, the Hell bit was an appalling lie to begin with, and should be scrapped altogether.

        My father (Catholic) half-assedly tried to indoctrinate me about Hell; but I don’t remember him EVER saying someone who had died was in Hell because he didn’t have the right beliefs. AT least he was decent enough to quietly slink away from that nonsense, instead of adding another layer of bullshit to protect his myth from scrutiny.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

          Okay, so you agree with my point about the Mormons not being any worse than many Christians.

          • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

            Depends on which “many” you’re talking about. Some Christians are worse than the Mormons, others are noticeably more decent and respectful of reality and other people’s feelings.

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