Mormons “Baptize” the Dead. Why the outrage?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are known as Mormons, just as people who practice “Plural Marriage” are known as polygamists. Of course, The Mormons claim to have given up that practice years ago. But then, we keep hearing of rogues and outcasts who make the evening news. Who can forget Warren Jeffs, his 14-year-old brides and the babies he fathered.

Alive—makes a more meaningful Baptism

This week, our slightly odd neigh-bors in Utah stirred up another ruckus. Yup! It concerns another practice they promised to stop. But, Whoops! Like a poltergeist, It’s B-a-a-c-k!  It seems that the Church has an official program to convert dead people of other faiths. It works like this: Get the name, birth & death dates, and other facts about anyone that you fancy. Then, assemble the faithful in a Utah mountain, sprinkle water on a voodoo effigy and pronounce the departed soul a faithful congregant.

Actually, I’m using a bit of artistic license with perhaps an unfair dose of sarcasm. Wikipedia offers this condensed explanation: A living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person. After giving a short prayer that includes the name of the deceased individual, the proxy is immersed briefly in the water, then brought up again. Baptism for the dead is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God.

However the ritual plays out, suffice it to say that atheists and followers of other prophets are insulted. Why would anyone claim to baptize someone who can’t even consent? They’re baptizing the dead in the hopes that they will have one last chance to accept Jesus—or perhaps Joseph Smith—as prophet, savior, Mullah, whatever. (I apologize for being flippant. I shouldn’t blaspheme the rituals of others. But c’mon! It’s difficult to suppress a chuckle when someone dunks a stand-in for a departed Muslim or Jew and solemnly expects the unsuspecting corpse will switch horses and meet a new maker in the Afterlife.)

Did Simon Wiesenthal Convert to Mormonism? Well—not, at least, in his lifetime!

This practice has been reported in the past, when a journalist finds a prominent individual of another faith among the beneficiaries of this bizarre practice. The Church typically apologizes and promises to exclude the hapless corpse from a shot at everlasting life. But this time, they really caused a stink. This time, they exercised a ghostly baptism on the souls of Simon Wiesenthal and his parents. Wiesenthal, founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance. He was a prominent concentration camp survivor who died in 1999. His parents were gassed by the Nazis. As you might imagine, his organization soundly protested the posthumous “baptisms” of their founder.

Today, Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel (another prominent camp survivor) publically asked Mitt Romney to instruct the Church to stop this practice. Of course, Romney is a candidate for President, but he is not a spokesman for the Mormon Church.

Wild Ducks have a different take on all of this. I have been reading about the practice of Mormons baptizing the dead by proxy with a chuckle. This one is a red herring, my friends. A fantasy play that is acted out within Mormon temple walls has no bearing on you, me, Elie Wiesel or Simon Wiesenthal. It is futile, harmless, and–if you ask me–outright goofy. But it certainly keeps them out of trouble.

I don’t think it is worth a second thought. Have you ever had a friend or roommate who is an Assembly-of-God Christian? It’s like asking them to stop praying for your soul. To coin a phrase by Sarah Palin, Good luck with that one!

Baptism is a symbol. It’s not real. The whole brouhaha reminds me of George Bush, Sr. and his obsession for criminalizing the burning of an American flag. Sometimes, we get symbols confused with the real thing. I recall one ardent supporter of a Flag Amendment who screamed “My brother died protecting that flag!” With all due respect for the dead brother…No, he did not! The flag is just a symbol, and you cannot force everyone to feel the same way about it. He died in his fight for what the flag represents. If a protester cannot burn a symbol, in what way would you prefer that he show his anger and frustration?

A friend forwarded a petition urging the LDS Church to stop a “heinous desecration”. I gave him the perspective that prompted me to post this article. I half expected him to be angered or insulted by my lack of respect for the dead. Instead, I was validated to read this quick response:

Praise the Lord and pass the Pizza

“The truth is I was a little confused about why we should care. If they give me $10, they can dunk me in a pool and call me a Mormon. I’ll continue with my own practice just like always, but I’ll have $10 to spend on a pizza!”

Exactly! To the non-Mormons who bristle at hearing that Mom, Dad or a favorite rock star was unwittingly converted, I say: They weren’t! They’re dead. It’s not as if a gravestone was vandalized. Leave the Mormons to their practices and get over it! Or better yet, get them converted back (Thanks to a reader comment, below!)

Update: Late today, The LDS Church apologized for including Simon Wiesenthal’s parents in their dead guy conversion rituals. Of course, they have back stepped before on this very same issue. But again, I say “Who Cares?” It keeps them off the streets and reasonably happy. When confronted by delusion – and if that delusion is manifest by harmless, self-contained ritual – I believe that it is best not to interfere.

9 thoughts on “Mormons “Baptize” the Dead. Why the outrage?

  1. Ellery, you are quickly becoming my favorite commentator! You have Bill Maher’s flair for sarcastic and keen observation combined with Dave Barry’s caustic wit and writing style.

    In this case, you are preaching to the choir (pun intended). It’s risky to make light of peoples’ belief, but it is hard to discuss Mormon practice with a straight face. As with Scientology, the LDS is a fringe sect. But, they grew in numbers on the every man fantasy of plural s*x with youngsters. Perhaps within LDS, it is acceptable, but it doesn’t play well on the coasts, in Michigan or in the Bible Belt. In the case of converting dead grandparents, they alienate believers and atheists alike. It’s not a good idea when the leading candidate for leader of the land is tattooed with an “M” on his gold lined, executive briefcase.

    For me, the best part of this WildDuck piece is your friend’s sudden change of heart (The fellow who at first raised an alarm at the conversion of friends and relatives, but instantly mellowed when confronted with your more considered opinion).

    This is your greatest talent, Ellery: You help readers to gain broad perspective and to become more sanguine about the things around us. Brilliant! Keep up the good work.

  2. Mr. Ellery, let me first praise you for not “ducking” controversy.

    I believe your contrarian stance on this topic is appropriate. But we need not make fun of what seem like odd or superstitious practices. Look at it from the sincere Mormon’s point of view: Baptism by proxy seems intended as an act of generosity. I don’t believe in it either, but I am grateful for my Mormon neighbors’ impulse to quietly spread salvation among their fellow humans. I have friends of other faiths who have from time to time informed me that I was in their prayers. I never once felt that their actions threaten my own beliefs.

    Unless the Wiesenthal incident was proved to be an intentional effort to manipulate publicity or pursue some other occult purpose, the rest of us should remain tolerant. The controversy seems like an issue of trademark infringement, which was appropriately settled by a polite few words.

    • Hi James. Welcome to A Wild Duck…

      It’s not uncommon for me to have 2nd thoughts about the level of sarcasm expressed in some of my rants. While my defense of this style may be weak, ultimately, the blunt and sarcastic style suits me and my readers. But I can also be a bit more tolerant…

      While the Mormon ritual of Baptism for the dead represents a delusional mind set, I certainly didn’t intend to lambast their Church or the majority of practitioners. I meant only to calm folks who get into such a lather over a private ritual.

      To be clear: I defend the right of Mormons to any practice that is “self-contained” and harmless. But, I abhor more aggressive religious outreach. I am offended and infringed by Churches and individuals that proselytize. They are driven by blind doctrine and an attitude of “superior enlightenment”. Even this practice is relatively harmless, as long as the reach-out is conducted through private media channels funded by the zealot. The limits of tolerance are breached when confronted by the “faithful” in door-to-door solicitations or when missionaries cloak their salvation campaign in a guise of feeding the hungry or digging wells in Africa. Evangelical zelaots never seem to understand that cultural diversity lends strength to the world and this inherently includes a respect for spiritual beliefs. Any religion or sect that drives it’s adherents to bend the beliefs of others is evil in my book.

    • A snappy & clever comeback to the ritual of post-mortum Baptism! From the moment I clicked your link, I felt envy…witty and biting! (It’s so good, that I have now inorporated it into the original article.)

      The Notm Ormon webmeisters have clearly studied at the School of Wild Ducks!

      Incidentally, Notm Ormon, your handle reads “Not Mormon” (the whole point, of course). But I ceratinly hope you stick around to weigh in on other topics. Do you sometimes go by another name? Do we already know you by your real identity?

  3. Enough already.

    When are we going to let go of the Holocaust? the Famine? The slaughter of Armenians by the Turks? The Inquisition? The gulags?

    Who cares what Mitt Romney tells anyone to do? If someone wants to be “converted to Buddhism, Taoism, Atheism, Mormanism,”…who the hell cares? Maybe it’s their choice already!

    And who gives a damn whom the Mormans baptize? They’re dead!
    Give it up!

  4. While I agree with most of what you’ve said, there are other points of view to consider.

    Let me ask this: “If you were hauled out in public and threatened with death if you didn’t profess a belief in (fill in the blank) would you say anything to save your life?”

    Throughout history, people have chosen death rather than commit heresy.

    I think the practice of after-death baptism falls into this category.

    It’s about what’s made public.

    If a Mormon goes to his/her church and, in private, asks that his/her ancestors be baptized so that he/she can share eternal life with them, then I think that’s fine.

    But, make the whole thing public and it’s a very different story.

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