Mormons and Posthumous Baptism

I haven’t wanted to talk about Mormons much; I have a Mormon family member.  I respect his right to believe what he wants.  He’s found something in the LDS church, the same as I have in Reform Judaism.  I think that’s fantastic.

Unlike some people, I don’t think Mormonism is a cult, and I don’t think they’re weird.  All religions, if you look at them from the outside, are a bit weird.  I think freedom of religion is a very good thing.  Mormons have that right, as do Catholics, Jews, evangelical Christians, or the Moonies.

I certainly did not like the way the Mormon church jumped into the Proposition 8 battle here in California.  I also didn’t like the way the Catholics got into that debate.  I think some of what the Mormons did was beyond shady, and I really don’t like the way they tried to cover their tracks.  If you have a position on some issue, and you’re working toward that end, just come out and say it.  But they have the right to do it, under our current laws.

But I have a real issue with the practice of posthumous baptism.  Maureen Dowd’s column (quoted below; emphasis mine) is on this today.  That is an absolute violation of those people’s freedom of religion.  It’s tantamount to identity theft.

Another famous nonbeliever, Christopher Hitchens, wrote in Slate on Monday about “the weird and sinister belief system of the LDS,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Aside from Joseph Smith, whom Hitchens calls “a fraud and conjurer well known to the authorities in upstate New York,” the writer also wonders about the Mormon practice of amassing archives of the dead and “praying them in” as a way to “retrospectively ‘baptize’ everybody as a convert.”

Hitchens noted that they “got hold of a list of those put to death by the Nazis’ Final Solution” and “began making these massacred Jews into honorary LDS members as well.” He called it “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”

The Mormons even baptized Anne Frank.

It took Ernest Michel, then chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, three years to get Mormons to agree to stop proxy-baptizing Holocaust victims.

Mormons desisted in 1995 after Michel, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “discovered that his own mother, father, grandmother and best childhood friend, all from Mannheim, Germany, had been posthumously baptized.”

Michel told the news agency that “I was hurt that my parents, who were killed as Jews in Auschwitz, were being listed as members of the Mormon faith.”

Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after “the Jewish dust-up,” Mormons “backed away” from “going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.” Now they will do it for Mormons who bring a relative or ancestor’s name into the temple, he said.

Americablog has been talking about this since (and some other practices) at least 2009.

As I’ve said, I believe in freedom of religion.  But that doesn’t extend to posthumously stealing someone’s identity.  Richard Bushman, quoted in Dowd’s op-ed, says that this practice has stopped.  But it’s happened pretty recently.  And with the “lying for the lord” practice, I’m not so sure it’s believable.

Anne Frank is a Jew.  President Obama’s mother is whatever religion she was before she died.  I think — and this starts with the evangelicals but certainly doesn’t end there — that people ought to stay out of other people’s business all together, whether that business is religion or being gay, or whatever.  American society seems to have forgotten that, which is a real shame.

  1. Alan said:

    My entire knowledge of Mormonism comes from South Park. I am not proud of that, but I have been told it is pretty much a correct explanation of the religion. I myself have never run across a mean Mormon. They have all been pretty nice people from what I can see. What I don’t understand is why you can’t be a nice person without all the religion bull crap.

  2. Deanna said:

    Matt Stone and Trey Parker wrote “The Book of Mormon” too, which is a huge hit on Broadway. So they probably understand the religion. I really don’t. I haven’t had in-depth discussions with my family member to see what it’s really about. Yes, individual Mormons are very nice. As a conglomerate of all of those people, though, they’re sometimes not so very nice.

    I agree with you about being a nice person without religion. I don’t have a problem with religion. I do have a problem with how un-Christlike some Christians are. And I have a major problem with stealing someone’s identity posthumously.

  3. Alma said:

    Stealing identities? Seriously? Let’s assume that I set up an organization called “The American Libertarian Society” and encouraged other people to join my organization. Assume further that our organization begins inducting new members of our Libertarian society from among deceased people. We induct Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Nietzsche, Genghis Khan and Augustus Caesar. Have we then stolen the identities of these people? Why on earth would you or anyone else even care? Is that any different from what Mormons are doing?

    • Deanna said:

      Seems to me like you’re setting up a straw man, Alma. That is nowhere near the same thing. I’m talking about a person’s religious identity, and you’re talking about a club.

      • AlmaAlma said:

        How are they different? Whether it’s a club or a religion, how can either steal the “religious identity” of dead people?

        Honestly, this seems to me to be bordering on hysterical–both laughably and neurotically. Unless you really believe that Mormons have power over the actual identities of dead people, this is merely hypersensitivity to something that makes no difference to reality. It reminds me Thomas Jefferson’s observation: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

        Whether I induct deceased people into my club or my religion (there’s really little difference) the worst that can be said is that it hurts your feelings. Well by all means, let’s make sure other people’s religious convictions don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

        Essentially, you only believe in freedom of religion as far as that religion’s beliefs and practices don’t make you feel bad; for ceremonially inducting deceased people neither costs you anything nor injures you physically. Your class of freedom of religion is merely a chimera.

  4. Deanna said:

    You know, I had a wise old teacher in high school. He said something like, “Your right to move your elbow ends at my rib cage.” This is exactly that kind of situation.

    I converted to Judaism a year ago. I do not want someone supposedly acting to change that in any way. It is not the Mormons’ place to be making decisions about my religion and posthumously baptizing me or anyone in my family.

    I don’t care a whit about your Libertarian straw man. Religion and politics are not remotely the same thing. I think it’s disingenuous to argue otherwise.

    • Bitter Clinger said:

      Converted to Judaism, yet believe none of its teachings from the Torah? Please….

      After reading through this blog, it’s an anathema to anything truly Jewish.


      • Deanna said:

        Well, that’s one of the lovely things about Judaism. Myriad opinions. You’re certainly entitled to yours, You’re wrong, but you’re entitled to your opinion.

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