Thursday, November 13, 2008

How To Raise A Fuss Over Nothing

The Post's David Waters describes an issue that is quite possibly the worst case of belly-aching ever. Worse: it's my co-religionists that are guilty of it.

Here's the issue in a nutshell. The LDS Church believes in posthumous baptism by proxy - that is, a living Mormon can baptize him/herself in your name after you die, thus saving your soul for eternity. (This explains the resources that the LDS put into genealogy.) Mormons have been doing this for those who died in the Holocaust. Some Holocaust survivors and other Jews have their panties in a knot about it.

Now maybe it's just because I know a lot of Mormons, or because I had a long discussion about proselytizing with Ben in college that dealt with the subject of why people try to convert others, but the idea of posthumous baptism by proxy (I'll call it PBBP 'cause I'm lazy) seems kinda sweet to me. Someone cares about you enough to save your soul, and it doesn't really matter to you because, hey, you're dead. And if it's a family member getting posthumously baptized, you don't have to accept it as real (since Jews don't believe in baptism anyway), so who cares besides the people who are doing it because they want to be nice and give your dear departed grandpappy eternal life?

But this doesn't stop some people from getting way too bent out of shape about it. From the article:
"My mother and father were killed in the Holocaust for no other reason than they were Jews," Ernest "Ernie" Michel told the Salt Lake Tribune. "How can the Mormons victimize them a second time and falsely claim their souls for eternity?"
OK, as a Jew I understand the persecution complex, but... dude. Lighten up. Your parents are not being victimized. They are dead. It is tough to offend or otherwise victimize a dead person. Because they are dead.

There are two options here. One is that the Mormons are right. In this case, the baptism is successful, your parents just got sucked out of wherever they were to an eternal life in heaven, which they probably think is kinda cool. Two is that the Mormons are wrong, in which case... nothing happens since your parents never violated the covenant themselves. Heads, you win; tails, meh. Put another way: if you're not Mormon, you probably believe that PBBP is invalid and therefore meaningless, so why get all bent out of shape about it?

Look, logic and religion don't mix, and they're not supposed to, but we could at least try to think calmly and rationally about the actual implications of our beliefs, right?


Matthew B. Novak said...

Except for the "logic and religion don't mix" line, I think you're right on here.

Word verification is "nashers". Sounds like something a skateboarder would do.

Mike said...

I think there should have been an "always" in there, Matt. Plenty of people apply logic to their beliefs and the reasoning behind them sometimes. But plenty of others, the point I believe Jeff is trying to make, throw logic out the window in the face of fervent religious belief. So, logic and religion don't always mix.

But yeah, I agree that PBBP seems oddly nice. But out of curiosity, when a Mormon baptizes herself in your name, does she also herself get baptized or does someone else need to baptize herself in the original baptizee's name, and so on?

Jeff said...

Mike - I think only someone who has already been baptized (i.e. a Mormon) can be baptized for someone else.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Even if the point was they don't always mix, I'd like to take up the cause and argue that there is no reason they can't always be compatible. Sure, there are a lot of people who throw logic out the window, but there are also a lot of people who see faith and reason as two unseperably intertwined strands essential to their understanding of the world. Perhaps a more accurate way of saying it is that "there will always be people who forsake logic for religion". That helps put it on the person, and not the faith. And that's a big difference to some of us.

Pierce said...

The "my dead relatives deserve better than this" argument is pretty flimsy, to be sure... especially since, according to the linked article, the deceased are apparently "free to decline the offer of eternal salvation."

But posthumous baptism is still a very skeevy practice for other reasons. There's no doubt that many people's religious identities are largely derived from (or at least reinforced by) their family traditions. While posthumous baptism has no direct measurable effects, it does barge into other belief systems and stomp all over their heritage.

I'm sure most Mormons have the best of intentions with it, but I can't fault anyone for cynically seeing the practice as an attempt to delegitimize competing religions, and being offended by that.

Ben said...

Jeff and Mike are drawing from different theories about the relationship between reason and religion, both with deep roots in Western culture. Jeff is drawing upon the more recent understanding that draws from the Enlightenment, which sees faith as steps taken without regard to reason. To some, that's a condemnation of faith and to others that's simply a belief that faith and reason occupy two different realms of thought (and that to attempt to make logical arguments about religion is pointless).

Matt is drawing upon an even older tradition that sees faith and reason as intimately intertwined and complementary. You see, in the late Medieval (sp?) era, they had already rediscovered Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and all those Greek philosophers who celebrated reason. But, instead of taking the Enlightenment approach, Medieval Western thinkers sought to weave reason into their faith. They believed that logic, observation, and reason actually backed up their religious beliefs and that - to be truly religious - you need to use your God-given skills of reason to understand Him more (along with revealed truths like the Bible....b/c let's face it, I'm talking about Medieval Christendom here). This tradition is not as prevalent in modern Western thinking, but it's alive and well in - you guessed it! - Catholocism.

This, I think, is why Jeff could say "logic and religion don't mix" as if it's the most obvious truth in the world, and why Matt would object so fervrently to that statement.

Bill said...

I saw this post somwehere else and thought that it will contribute to the discussion, here is a suggestion that someone has came up with that will convince mormons that maybe the main argument that they use in this case "if you dont believe in it why do you care" may backfire, it also made me laugh:

"And on the same site, Enoch Ipsen conjures up an even more deleterious counter-spell called “Buggery for the Dead”:

I have heard many of my Mormon co-workers and acquaintances shrug off the proxy baptisms of Jewish Holocost [sic] victims by the LDS church. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “If you don’t believe it, then it shouldn’t make any difference.”

I agree. This shouldn’t be at all offensive to anyone, even if their family members may have died for their own religious beliefs. I’d like to send out a certificate to families of recently deceased Mormons. The following example would be sent to the family member of a son who dies while serving a mission. Now, remember, if you don’t believe it, it shouldn’t be offensive:

‘Dear Brother and Sister Smith:

‘We send our sincere condolences in this difficult and trying time. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and that there is a special ray of light and hope for you and your family.

‘We are pleased to announce that your son, Nephi, is now a homosexual. He was posthumously inducted into our organization along with Spencer W. Kimball, in a sacred initiatory ritual known as “Buggery for the Dead.”

‘You will be excited to know that Nephi won the coin toss and was allowed to be the top in the posthumous pairing and Spencer was the bottom. In case you are not aware, top and bottom mean, respectively, buggerer and buggeree. They are sacred terms in Librachese, the ancient homosexual code revealed to us by a Friend of Dorothy….’ "

Matthew B. Novak said...

I think that's a pretty solid summary Ben.

Now, if we want to talk about the merits of the philosophical underpinnings... ;-)