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.
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.