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I don’t get the whole fuss with baptisms for the dead

May 5, 2009

So, in my email inbox, I got a google notification for a blog I haven’t read before, Vagabond Saint, for a tirade against baptisms for the dead. To be sure, Mormons have a history — first Jews, then Catholics…it’s actually rather ecumenical if you look at it…So, who’s the latest one under the sun (or…should I say, under the waters of the baptismal font)? Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

I understand that fuss has to be raised over every single thing the Mormon church does, but really…I don’t get the whole fuss. Allow me to explain.

The basic concept of Baptism for the dead is simple…in fact, so simple, that I’ll probably mess it up, so instead, I’ll link you here. Remember, wikipedia is not a good source for good blogs, but I don’t pretend to be one of those! If I may become a conspiracy theorist, I think the overarching purpose is to answer the long-lasting theological question of how graceful can God’s grace be when whole populations have been unexposed to it (for example, no missionary had gone there or the gospel hadn’t even existed by then)…and as a bonus, baptism by proxy also allows a chance for many people who, for whatever reason, simply rejected the gospel in this life (people refusing the gospel? perhaps it’s more likely than you think.) Baptism by proxy is a way by which members can look through their family trees (or through the family trees of celebrities, I guess) and pay their respects in a hopeful way.

A baptism by proxy does not “force” one to become Mormon. The church doesn’t baptize in a kind of vote-stuffing way to inflate its membership numbers with mickey mouses and dead actresses.

So, what, once again, is the fuss?

Vagabond Saint writes (pardon his language):

When people are re-baptised (or baptised for the first time) posthumously into the Mormon faith, without the permission or even knowledge of their families and loved ones, that’s not a choice that they made or that someone that knew them is making for them.  It’s an overruling of the choice they made in life, specifically, the choice not to be a fucking Mormon.  Who is the LDS to decide that your choice was wrong and should be overruled?  If someone wants to become a Mormon, they’ve got their entire lives to do it, and it’s not like the little shits Mormon missionaries are hard to find.  Just stay at home; they’ll come to you!  My point here is that the LDS is overruling your freedom to choose not to be a part of their silly inane blasphemous ridiciulous religion.  You made a choice in life; now that you’re dead and can’t fight back, the Mormons are making a choice for you.  That’s not only blasphemous against the deceased person’s religious beliefs, it’s a denial of their right to choose their own religion, if any at all.  It’s the antithesis of freedom:  denial of choice.

Fucked up, ain’t it?

Now, the Mormon apologist on that blog says that in the afterlife, the deceased can easily refute the “gift” of Mormon baptism, so, no harm, no foul, right?

Well, right. . .if the Mormons are right about the afterlife.  Show me one single goddamn shred of evidence (factual, not faith-based) that says that they are, and I’ll back off of this.  But what if they’re wrong?  What if Mormonism is not the One, True Religion?  What if their “gift” consigned hundreds of thousands of people to an eternity in Hell?  How many people are there, right now, burning and being tortured by demons and all the while yelling “FUCK YOU, JOSEPH SMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITH!”  (Hey, the Mormon Church is saying “fuck you” to your right to choose your path to God; it’s only fair to say “fuck you” back to them.)  Then there’s a pretty goodly amount of harm done, in what’s definitely a foul act.  The other story that the guy posted was that it’s simply a “just in case” measure, as in “just in case we’re right.”  I’ll stick with not being a Mormon, in life or in death, “just in case” you’re fucking wrong.

It seems that VS still believes that baptism ‘overrides’ and ‘overwrites’ any choice made in the current life. I still don’t know how he figures, and so I can’t even begin to address that. (Although, I might wonder what people who practice infant baptism have to say on this? I can see traces of VS’s very argument in the LDS argument for baptism later — wait until people can choose [or at least have semblance of choice, disregarding the immense social pressures involved])

He tries to mount a counterargument, and I lose him. Perhaps it is my atheist sprouting. He says that Mormon baptism overwrites the deceased original religious choice and the only argument Mormons could launch against this is to suggest that in heaven, people can refuse this baptism, but this Mormon argument only works if the Mormons are right — what if they are not? Then, someone could be Mormon baptized and sentenced to hell! Egads!

I tried to cover what I thought was wrong in a comment on his site (which is actually still awaiting moderation, oops!)

Basically, this is what it seems like to me. He wants to give Mormonism a magic ju-ju that is utterly unwarranted if Mormons are wrong. If Mormons are right…then he claims to agree that there is “no harm, no foul.” But if Mormons are wrong…game over.

That doesn’t sound right! If Mormons are wrong, then they are WRONG. Their baptism means nothing because they would have no spiritual wherewithal to do anything with it. I wonder if Vagabond Saint fears voodoo. Or horoscopes. Personally, since I don’t believe these are right, I don’t worry about them, because their incorrectness emasculates them of any possible power.

This is why I wonder if I’m being too atheistic here. But VS’s scenario proposes silly ramifications of any other gods presumed. So let’s say Mormons can be wrong, but the legitimate God would still hold a Mormon baptism (incorrect and unchosen as it is) as damning. This is like suggesting that…(graphic argument follows) someone who has died completely faithful to his wife could STILL be found to be an adulterer IF some dastardly woman robbed the grave and took advantage of a certain kind of rigor mortis (if anyone calls me out on factual inaccuracies of this scenario, note, I don’t pretend to be a good blog). Personally, notwithstanding the ridiculousness and graphic nature of the argument, I’ve never found someone who believed this to be the case.

But, now, some people might want to call me out. People do feel offense at this idea, however, and I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t feel offended by someone robbing the grave and having their way with a dead loved one — no matter what your belief. But rather, the offense here can be summed as one of an event that takes place in the physical world. We aren’t offended because now our late friend/relative’s soul is at risk for adultery and infidelity.

And here…we are really making too much of a fuss of the LDS church, I think. Mormons do not rob graves. They do not put stinky, decaying dead bodies under water. Baptism by proxy or baptism for the dead is…just that…by proxy. For the dead. So in actuality — and I’ll probably have to be shot for revealing such candid details — the baptism for the dead translates to the baptism of a member in the temple setting while the names of the deceased are printed on cards.

…so again, if we are really getting offended because of names on a card, I’m going to have to pass on this one.

Heres a concept skept of what such a death memo would look like.

Here's a concept sketch of what such a death memo would look like.

On second hand…perhaps we should start writing up memos of damnation to our worst enemies so that even if they get the last go on us in this life, we’ll have the last laugh in the next.

EDIT: Here’s what people over at Mormon Matters think about the issue (see comments).

EDIT: I kinda like the final sentence…Mormons get proxy baptisms for souls in the future, if only we will legalize gay marriage now.

EDIT: History extraordinaire Ardis Parshall notes that there *are* Mormons in Obama’s mom’s past.

EDIT: Mormon Heretic wrote about this in March!

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18 Comments
  1. I agree, Andrew. I don’t see baptism for the dead as disrespectful at all. If anything, it’s a sort of homage (albeit from within a very peculiar worldview). And for those of us who don’t believe it actually accomplishes anything except to make the Mormons feel good about themselves, well– who the hell cares? I sure don’t.

  2. “On second hand…perhaps we should start writing up memos of damnation to our worst enemies so that even if they get the last go on us in this life, we’ll have the last laugh in the next.”

    Maybe that’s why Obama’s mother’s name got submitted. There are a lot of Mormons who hate Obama. :)

    I’ve never understood all the fuss either. In fact, I wish that all the other religions out there were performing their saving rituals for me, just so that I have all my bases covered. I wouldn’t be offended. In fact, I think I’d feel honoured.

  3. I think one of the things at play here is that people living today find it upsetting that grandma might be continuing to “live her life” without them. People tend to treasure up images of the dead and hold onto them like some sort of mental wax museum.

    They get really, really pissed-off when anyone tries to rearrange the scenery of that little fantasy they’ve concocted about their dead.

    Mormon beliefs hold out the possibility that grandma just might not be what you thought she was. She just might have her own identity and life, and it might have nothing to do with you. For some people seeking connection to the past via their idealized portrayals of their ancestors, this is very threatening.

    It’s like the kids of a divorce getting all bitter that dad is dating again and that he might marry “THAT woman!”

    Well, I understand… But honestly, tough beans.

    No one made you, me, or anyone else “queen of the dead.”

    If grandma wants to sign up with the Mormons in the hereafter, that’s really no one’s business but her own.

  4. I’ve been trying to understand his position more from conversation back and forth, but I don’t think I’m really…getting to grasp it…I think I have heard his core argument…but I can’t do anything with it.

    who speaks for their right not to have this done for them? who speaks for their desire not to participate in these things, not to have their name invoked by a religion they don’t believe in?

    it’s a ritual, like any other in every other religion everywhere on the planet. . .and here in america, you’re supposed to have the right to decide for yourself whether or not you want to be a part of a ritual. if you can’t make that decision for yourself, then that’s what the next of kin are for. but to make someone part of a ritual without their permission or knowledge, or that of their next-of-kin, flies in the face of that right.

    that’s what bothers me, that they are disrespectful to the wishes of the dead, not to mention being disrespectful to other religions, and then attempt to hide the disrespect by not asking or notifying the next of kin. this would be an insult to a devout catholic, and obviously it pissed off jewish people pretty well too.

    In a previous comment, he said that this ‘choice’ was unwanted, much like spam. You can choose to ignore or read spam, but the choice either way is unwanted…you wouldn’t have your name invoked (or, in the case of spam, you shouldn’t have your email invoked).

    So, he’s fighting…for a NAME. He is bothered by the fact that the families aren’t contacted, but he is *also* bothered by the fact that missionaries do contact him.

  5. Andrew, I’m with you. I posted a similar argument in March. Baptism For the Dead-So What.

  6. Great! I will start baptizing my LDS ancestors into the church of the flying spaghetti monster! I feel strongly that the FSM church is true, and that people have to be physically bapitzed here on earth by proxy in order to get to heaven.

    /end tongue in cheek.

    If you make the argument that it doesn’t matter, then it also shouldn’t matter if others start baptizing LDS ancestors.

    I think it’s disrespectful. I think it’s the same as desecrating someone’s grave. Can I do it? Yes. Does it really matter to the dead person if I put graffiti on their grave? Probably not (I’ll land on the no side here).

    But many still see it as disrespectful and offensive.

    It’s not about whether or not the person whose grave it is may be a different person than we thought. It’s about cultural norms and traditions in almost every culture (if not every culture??).

    So yeah, if LDS want to get rid of those norms and respect for the dead traditions, that’s fine.

    But don’t be surprised when it hits a raw nerve (like with the holocaust victims, etc.). The same as spray painting someone’s graves probably would.

  7. Actually, aerin, I would have utterly no problem if you did such a thing. If I don’t personally believe in the FSM, then AT BEST I might think your gesture is silly and a poor use of your time and I might pity you for using your time that way, but I’m not going to be OFFENDED.

    Now, here’s the difference between something like desecrating a grave. When you desecrate a grave, no one gets mad at the offense committed to the person’s “soul” or whatever. People get mad because you PHYSICALLY DESECRATED THE GRAVE.

    Now, if Mormons literally pulled the dead from their graves and then dunked them under water, then YES, I could see how that would be disrespecful and offensive. But it wouldn’t be disrespectful and offensive because of an intangible idea about where the soul goes after death. It would be disrespectful because of the offense committed against the physical body.

    But in actuality, we are getting hung up on NAMES BEING SPOKEN. I don’t understand that.

  8. “Great! I will start baptizing my LDS ancestors into the church of the flying spaghetti monster!”

    You do that aerin.

    In fact you can start with one of my ancestors if you want.

    Would you like the usual information?

  9. Not a big deal? I disagree, as does a good friend of mine, and he says:

    “Mormons will try to play this down by saying she can simply reject the baptism in the after-life. What they don’t get is that it’s all about arrogance and dis-respect. Dead-baptizing Obama’s mother into a religion whose prophets taught that she should be killed on the spot for producing a mixed-race child is like making Martin Luther King Jr. a posthumous member of the KKK.”

  10. No more disrespectful than making her a citizen of a country that allowed slavery sideon.

    Old news friend. Old news.

    And actually, it’s not about disrespecting the living descendants. It’s about refusing to defer to them.

    Frankly, it’s none of their business what grandma decides to do with her afterlife.

  11. Seth – you and I have disagreed about this before, but if it’s old news, I say that the LDS church should officially denounce that doctrine, specifically say that it’s false doctrine and BY speaking as a man. Other than that, plenty of active LDS can easily get confused – and easily may be prompted otherwise and there is nothing official to stop that. If you denounce it like Adam-God, there’s no wiggle room.

    Andrew – so speaking someone’s name – that person identified by their exact birth, marriage or death date isn’t physical or personal? If someone steals that information about me, while I’m still living, and applies for various credit cards and commits other fraud, I would think it would be very personal.

    To that effect – I think that’s something else that’s happened with identity fraud – people’s grandparents who are long deceased have had their vital information abducted. Is it offensive? Is it as personal for me if someone wants to go around saying they are my great grandmother (for example) while defrauding people?

    I don’t know. I think my great grandmother would be offended, but she’s not here to ask. So whether or not a name and date are personal, the same as physically digging up a body – I think some may take it that way.

  12. aerin, once again, improper comparison. If someone stole your name and information and applied for credit cards and committed frauds in your name, then the crime isn’t that they used your name. It’s that they committed frauds and applied for credit cards (physical, tangible crimes.)

    The Mormon church does not do this. In fact, you have to give them altogether TOO MUCH POWER that is unwarranted to say they have similar power.

    I mean, I could maybe see a connection between this and votefraud where they take dead people names, sign them up, and vote with them. But even here, it’s not like that. The church does not inflate its membership with the numbers of the dead who have had baptisms done in their names. In fact, a baptism by proxy does *not* make the dead a member of the church — all it does it offers the soul (assuming mormon ideas of the spirit world have any merit) the opportunity to accept or reject such an ordinance. Furthermore, the problem with votefraud isn’t disrespect to the names of the dead used. It’s that they physically frauded the voting system.

    In libel and slander, the crime isn’t that your name is used. It’s that there is intention or evidence of injury as a result.

    I mean, when it gets down to the end, this is how I see it. There are one of a few possibilities that could happen. In my worldview, I would not be offended (and I don’t think your great grandmother or anyone would be offended either). Why…because when we die, we’re dead. Our consciousnesses are a little too nonexistent to be bothered with such an ordinance that has no relevance.

    Or, let’s say some other theistic view that isn’t Mormon is right. In this case, I still would not be offended, because the Mormons doing some wrong ceremony would also have no power.

    And the final scenario: if the Mormons are right, this is the ONLY case that the baptism by proxy could have any meaning or substance. The only case that there could conceivably be wherewithal for a crime (if we could somehow sue from the dead.) But EVEN in this case, your great grandmother or I or anyone else could simply say, “heck no; I don’t accept this ordinance!”

  13. Erin permalink

    If someone lived their life according to a religion that wasn’t LDS, why would Mormons *want* to baptize that person after death? Clearly, that person did not choose Mormonism, and since that person is dead, they can’t really go around spreading the word. Pretty ignorant about Mormonism, so I’m just wondering: what’s the point? Why try to override the decisions that person made in life?

  14. under mormon theology, between death and resurrection, people’s souls reside in a spirit world. In this spirit world, they are still given the opportunity to be told of the gospel. Judgment can’t come, at least theoretically, until everyone has heard the gospel.

    However, the twist is, even as the souls are hearing the gospel in the spirit world, they still need ordinances (such as baptism) that can only be performed on this earth. Hence, we have baptism by proxy. This is why, if you read Seth R’s first comment here, he stresses so much about the identity and agency of the hypothetical grandma…because if Mormons are correct, then her soul still has to ability to make the choice to join…

    Obviously, of course, if Mormons are not correct, then none of this actually matters. As you say, that person clearly did not choose Mormonism and he/she is dead.

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