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June 1, 2011 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Baptizing Dead Quakers. One woman's perspective on a family struggle over genealogy, proxy baptism, and discerning the best interests of those long gone.
posted by Apropos of Something (316 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
from the first link:

Quakers are not the only group in conflict with Mormons over this -- Jewish groups have had rather terse conversations with the LDS leadership over the vicarious baptism of Holocaust victims, while Catholic and Anglican authorities have denied Mormon researchers access to archives. The Mormon response has been sketchy -- sometimes defensive, sometimes defiant, sometimes conciliatory -- but still the practice goes on.
posted by Trurl at 2:04 PM on June 1, 2011


I will rise from the grave and gruesomely kill anyone who baptizes me posthumously.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:05 PM on June 1, 2011 [33 favorites]


I thought the Mormons agreed to stop this bullshit after Jewish groups raised a deserved stink about it? I mean...WTF?

Maybe some pagan groups should start doing post-mortem black baptisms of LDS members? Goose/gander.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:09 PM on June 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


I was all set to say "who gives a crap, they're just pretending anyway?" It's not as pernicious as withholding assistance to the living until they convert to Christianity, which is what some missionary movements do. However, the notion that someone's personal history is altered is rather repellent, and I would probably pay for some ECT for anyone who subscribes to this particular practice.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:10 PM on June 1, 2011


I understand that these rituals are designed to make the living feel better, and because religions rub up against each other poorly, it will eventually make someone else unhappy.

But speaking strictly for myself, I honestly don't care what religious rites you perform on me after I'm dead. I'll be completely beyond caring. Baptize me, fire me from a cannon, cannibalize me, whatever.

Actually, if you did all three in a row, that'd be pretty cool. I'd be totally good with that.
posted by quin at 2:11 PM on June 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


> But speaking strictly for myself, I honestly don't care what religious rites you perform on me after I'm dead.

Ok, but if the LDS keeps better records than other entities and future historians chalk quin up as a Mormon, what then?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:12 PM on June 1, 2011


Dear Mormons,

A few days ago, while walking through downtown Portland a woman screamed about God and tried to steal my lit cigarette. My deft skills prevented her from absconding with my Parliament. I'm quite convinced that she had some spittle that hit me. Just declare that spittle as being holy and let's just skip on the whole "baptism" thing. I just really don't give a shit.

With sarcasm,

Mister Fabulous
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:15 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


My family lost people to the nazis in the Holocaust.

It is vile and disrespectful to claim them as members of some bullshit cult that they most likely never heard of.

As with the Westboro church, the harm done is not to the dead, but to the living.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:16 PM on June 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


I wish we could focus some of this energy on helping out living people for a change.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:17 PM on June 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sure, you're dead and not around to care. Nonetheless, I find it profoundly disrespectful to invalidate someone else's choices about their faith. As a Quaker, I would prefer to have my choices respected, even after my death.

I am intrigued by the author's point that such proxy baptism alters the family's history. In a sense, it coopts the whole family's agency by changing records about them. Does it hurt anyone? Not really, but it does order a new faith for a whole line of ancestors without their consent. Quakers don't proselytize because we believe faith is a choice, and baptizing them (us) by proxy changes overlays a different history of choice. It just feels wrong to me.
posted by willhopkins at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


I will rise from the grave and gruesomely kill anyone who baptizes me posthumously.

See I have the opposite view on this. Since I'll be worm food anyway, you can go ahead and say whatever hocus-pocus bullshit you want over my corpse or memory or what have you, because I'm not likely to give two shits! If it makes you feel good, you go right on ahead and baptize me.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speak truth to power, 2bucks.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2011


I'm with willhopkins. I get that posthumous baptism is a symbolic thing that in some sense makes no difference, but as a Quaker I'm disturbed by the idea of baptising people against their will, even if they're dead.

I also think that the author of that blog is a little too glib in his assertion of his ancestor's likely belief in racial equality. He should read Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, a detailed and nuanced look at Quakerism's historical relationship to racism, equality, and racial justice.
posted by not that girl at 2:33 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Mormons will rue the day they ever posthumously baptize me as my first act upon entering their heaven will be to cut the dick off of every Elder So-And-So who has ever knocked on my door on a Saturday morning.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:34 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, you're dead and not around to care. Nonetheless, I find it profoundly disrespectful to invalidate someone else's choices about their faith.

Well, that's the problem with faith. If you believe that The Almighty has commanded you to do something, you're going to do it - however annoying a neighbor it makes you.
posted by Trurl at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


By baptizing someone after they're dead, you're making a statement about that person and their beliefs.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


For some reason I find the image of Zenobia in her Quaker heaven (chillin with Socrates, no less!) being handed a nastygram telling her to report to the LDS heaven surprisingly compelling.
posted by epersonae at 2:37 PM on June 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Announcement:

I just finished performing the irreversible ritual to retroactively baptize every Mormon with Satan's milk (in absentia, of course). All deceased Mormons will now immediately begin enjoying an eternity in hell.

You may direct payment via paypal to didntthinkthatthroughdidja@gmail.com

Satan thanks you for your implicit cooperation.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:38 PM on June 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


By baptizing someone after they're dead, you're making a statement about that person and their beliefs.

I'd've thought that my actions could only make a statement about my beliefs.

posted by dunkadunc

I see the eponysterical tree has yielded more fruit this season.
posted by weston at 2:39 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't worry everybody: I just proxy excommunicated the entire LDS, in perpetuity! Shhhh! Don't tell anybody. I want it to be a surprise!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:39 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I really am surprised no one has grabbed a phone book of some major metropolitan city, and tried to baptize it, thus somehow converting all of the people in the phone book to whatever baptism-oriented religion that person wants.

Also, why doesn't some religious official do one big ceremony that would 'reset' all those post-mortem baptisms/conversions/etc to their original states? If that wasn't done, it would kinda give the impression to other religions that 'my god is less powerful than your god', and that usually doesn't go over well with congregations.

Although I could see it degrading into a series of ceremonies and counter-ceremonies, that would look like a couple of kids playing 'Army men':

kid 1: 'I shot you!'
kid 2: 'No, I have shields on, your bullets won't work!'
kid 1: 'Yeah right, I used anti-shield bullets! Besides, you're standing in LAVA!!!'
kid 2: 'Well, ummmm. Mom! He's cheating!'
posted by chambers at 2:39 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


The really tragic part is that I've already baptized all of you, and your extended families, into the Cult of The Kidney God.

So you'd better start harvesting. I've got an MLM religion to keep going, and you're all downstream of me.

Kidneys for the Kidney Throne!!
posted by aramaic at 2:40 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


[I know it's less fun to make your "invisible sky monster" type jokes in MetaTalk, but that is your option. There are many ways to talk about religion without making cheap shot jokes. Try some of them.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


I baptised people for the dead, and much of it is ego. I remember baptizing some minor 16th century hannoverian prince, and thinking at 12 it was so fucking cool. I will apologise to him if and when i ever get to the terristial kingdom. +-
posted by PinkMoose at 2:44 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Quakers are not the only group in conflict with Mormons over this -- Jewish groups have had rather terse conversations with the LDS leadership over the vicarious baptism of Holocaust victims, while Catholic and Anglican authorities have denied Mormon researchers access to archives

It's not necessarily only Mormons who do things like this, it's just certain people who aren't sensitive to others' beliefs. My Catholic stepmother a few years ago came to me after my grandmother died and said "we dedicated a mass to your grandmother, will you come to church with us?" I had never heard of this "dedicated mass" business before, but apparently you give the Catholic church some money, and they give your loved ones a shout out so they get to heaven faster. Only thing was neither myself, my father, nor my grandmother are Catholic. So no, I didn't go to church with her and to me that practice is pretty insulting--setting aside for a minute that I don't believe in God, why would my grandmother need the approval of you and your people to get into the afterlife? Obviously the action my stepmother took changes nothing in reality, but it feels like she's spitting in my face and looking down on how we live and what we believe.
posted by Hoopo at 2:45 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


To Mormons, [I say as an ex-Utahn but never-Mormon,] family is eternal. Not only do you live after death, forever, but the family bonds you make on earth last forever, too. It stands to reason that, if you're going to try to convert massive numbers of people to a faith in which families go on forever, you'd best throw in a clause that lets that happen for the new members, too.

It's all very internally logical and great marketing for new members, but it's probably the thing that freaks non-Mormons out most, even more than the history of polygamy.

Meaning that I expect we'll be more and more Baptism-for-the-dead stories in the run-up to the next Presidential election, as long as Romney's in it.
posted by gurple at 2:45 PM on June 1, 2011


Next step: We're going to create Facebook accounts for everyone who died before the invention of Facebook so that they can all "Like" the Mormon church's Facebook page. You're all doomed! DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!
posted by The World Famous at 2:46 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


... I will apologise to him if and when i ever get to the terristial kingdom. +-

Heh, that reminded me of the three degrees of glory. Check out the first Google result for 'telestial'.
posted by gurple at 2:48 PM on June 1, 2011


Meaning that I expect we'll be more and more Baptism-for-the-dead stories in the run-up to the next Presidential election, as long as Romney's in it.

How long has Romney been dead, anyway?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:48 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I was baptizing some dead Quakers the other day, and Larry says to me, he says...
posted by everichon at 2:49 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Point taken, jessamyn. I do find it strange that when proxy baptisms and the like are accepted as a serious spiritual threat by the members of the other faiths. That some counter-ceremony doesn't happen is odd to me, and the offended side demands the ceremony be reversed by the group that did the conversion/new baptism, rather than doing something like a statement or a ceremony that would show the offending side's effort had no effect. If one takes the proxy baptism seriously, it would follow that a baptism, either by reaffirming the original baptism or a new ceremony by the original party would render any proxy baptism null and void.
posted by chambers at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2011


weston:
dunkadunc: ""By baptizing someone after they're dead, you're making a statement about that person and their beliefs."

I'd've thought that my actions could only make a statement about my beliefs.

"posted by dunkadunc"

I see the eponysterical tree has yielded more fruit this season
"

A. By baptizing someone after they're dead, you're basically saying that the beliefs they held during life were invalid, and retconning them as a Mormon. It's incredibly presumptuous.

B. I don't get what you're getting at with the eponysterical angle, because you're not making any sense.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:53 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Two mormons chained their bikes to trees in my neighborhood, missionizing a few years back. (There are always two; the older one makes sure the younger one doesn't masturbate.) They interupted me from painting my house and went into their conversion routine. I felt required to tell them that if they don't get baptized and confirmed as Catholics then they are in a state of apostasy and seperation from God, and will be condemned to hellfire for all eternity. when they die. They must also confess all sins and recieve last rites and die in a state of grace to save their immortal souls from Hell. They didn't offer me any literature.
posted by longsleeves at 2:53 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


We're going to create Facebook accounts for everyone who died before the invention of Facebook so that they can all "Like" the Mormon church's Facebook page. You're all doomed!

Isn't there supposed to be an "Ignore" button along with the request too, just like with the baptism-for-the-dead thing?

(Pretty sure the Mormon doctrine is that anybody baptized posthumously still gets a personal veto and you're no more automatically folded in than you would be if a co-worker baptized you by proxy over the weekend and told you so on Monday.)

I know it's less fun to make your "invisible sky monster" type jokes in MetaTalk

Oh yeah? That's not what your invisible sky monster said last night!

posted by weston at 2:56 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought it was a play on "dunk", which baptism often entails
posted by Hoopo at 2:59 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing that makes me most angry about Mormon baptisms of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust is that the people they are targeting died while professing allegiance to and belief in their religion. This practice symbolically destroys the last bit of human agency left to many Holocaust victims.

You can sit here and now and laugh at people getting angry at other people on behalf of funny imaginary people in the sky, but you can't escape the fact that these people were once alive and maintained their beliefs in the face of basic evil. The level of chutzpah this takes... is incredible.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:00 PM on June 1, 2011 [20 favorites]


For better or worse - I was raised in a Mormon family. I don't like talking about this online much at all because I strongly think and feel the Mormon church is a true cult, and it's a part of my history I'd rather leave buried and long gone.

I actually once did these "baptisms for the dead" in the Salt Lake City temple. Yeah, it was really kind of creepy and fucked up. I was only there because I was on a youth conference/trip to BYU, and I only went on that because it was an adventure and a way to get away from living at home.

Before the trip to the SLC temple we were interviewed by priests and bishops about our "sins". Like most of the kids there probably did, I lied about stuff like masturbation or other "unclean thoughts/actions" that are honestly all perfectly normal for a teenager. I didn't believe in that church or the rituals at all even that early, and I only went through my own baptism (at eight years old) because I didn't want to hurt my parents and grandparent's feelings. And it's really kind of messed up to put a kid in that position to "choose". The Mormons believe they're better than other Christian religions by baptising later in life instead of at birth or christening because it offers a more conscious choice - but what 8 year old kid really has free agency in that situation? Of course they're going to go through with what their family expects.

Anyway, I was just going through the motions. I didn't really appreciate what was happening. (I was about 13-14 or so at the time.) And in retrospect I wouldn't have lied about anything to go through it again. My answers to the interview questions would have been more along the lines of "Yeah, I masturbate like a drunken monkey and I like it. It's none of your fucking business, you meddlesome pervert!" I wonder how valid those baptisms really are even within the Mormon church since it was so apparent that every teenaged kid there probably lied about their "sins".

The actual baptismal font in the SLC temple is a large, white and rather ornate marble tub placed on the back of twelve golden oxen, which is supposed to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Yes, there's a lot of Masonic symbology in the SLC temple. Yeah, the twelve golden oxen are about the closest things I've seen to an actual graven idol in any Christian church. It makes the Roman-Catholics look rather sedate and demure by comparison.

The "baptisms" are performed in rapid succession. First you go into a locker room kind of place and undress from your street clothes. Then you don a white zip up polyester garment not unlike an adult-sized "onesie" pajama, except without the feet. I think mine had short sleeves. You stand in line in with the other people getting baptised. When it's your turn you enter the water and a "member of the priesthood" performs the baptism using the same litany that the Mormons usually use for baptism - except that it's modified slightly for the "baptism by proxy" part, and then they use the name of the person you're baptising instead of your name.

These names were presented on a CRT screen which pulled the names from the Mormon genealogical database. The priesthood administering the baptism would run through the litany, read the next name and then dunk the person being baptised by proxy. (The Mormons do "baptism by immersion" just like the old Revivalist/evangelicals used to do in lakes and rivers, which is where Mormonism gets a lot of its dogma and ritual.)

And then you'd repeat the ritual, on to the next name. I think I probably "baptised" about a dozen or two dozen people. The screen showed about 50 names in a fuzzy white-on-black TV-grade font at a time. After each dunk the priest would hit a button or something and the names would scroll down to the next name.

The whole experience made me feel empty, weird, used and a bit dirty. It wasn't a clean, spiritual or religious experience for me. It was a creepy and abusive experience. I don't recommend it.

And this ritual actually pales compared to the other "anointing and sealing" rituals performed in the temples that tend to involve being mostly naked and being groped by old people as they reach through the symbolic "veil" and anoint your various bits with oil in a pattern that's remarkably Masonic. There's a lot of controversy about these rituals inside and outside of the Mormon church. I've read a lot of stories over the years from ex Mormons who felt violated and/or abused by these rituals, especially from women who weren't prepared for what they were going to go through, because they don't really tell you what's going to happen until you're there getting married or something. They just talk about the glory of doing God's work and brush off any questions about the actual details or acts performed during the ritual, so it's a bit startling when after all these years of being told that casual sexual contact is sinful you find your body being oiled up by the hands of some stranger.

Heh, with any luck the church gestapo will try to find out who I am and finally excommunicate me for revealing too much about their precious temple rituals and being a filthy heathen sinner. Sorry, you don't get to "excommunicate" me. I quit before you even baptised me.
posted by loquacious at 3:03 PM on June 1, 2011 [115 favorites]


A. By baptizing someone after they're dead, you're basically saying that the beliefs they held during life were invalid, and retconning them as a Mormon. It's incredibly presumptuous.

That's not how Mormon proxy baptism works.

Moreover, is it really all that presumptuous to say that someone's beliefs are invalid? If so, should I be more offended here when people say that my beliefs are invalid?

Isn't there supposed to be an "Ignore" button along with the request too, just like with the baptism-for-the-dead thing?

Well sure, but nobody in this thread seems interested in how Mormon proxy baptism actually works, so why bore them with silly equivalent Facebook details?
posted by The World Famous at 3:03 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


For some reason I find the image of Zenobia in her Quaker heaven (chillin with Socrates, no less!) being handed a nastygram telling her to report to the LDS heaven surprisingly compelling.

Straight out of Compton the latest Iain M Banks novel.
posted by orthogonality at 3:07 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is this article indicative of the post-Fred Slactivist.com? (I unsubscribed after the whole Patheos froo-ha-ha) Because it's rather compelling.

If so, should I be more offended here when people say that my beliefs are invalid?

Mormons can say that other beliefs are invalid - all religions do this. But when they symbolically baptize people who believed that baptism is wrong, and whose families believe that baptism is wrong, that is very disrespectful not to the dead but to the living. And I am saying this as an atheist who believes that all religious beliefs are invalid - that doesn't make them less deeply-held.
posted by muddgirl at 3:09 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


but nobody in this thread seems interested in how Mormon proxy baptism actually works

You make this statement in every thread about Mormonism, and then don't even bother to provide an internet link to an authoritative source. What, exactly, is incorrect about the statements made in the original article? They are presented by the sister of a Mormon - is her understanding incorrect? Is she lying?
posted by muddgirl at 3:10 PM on June 1, 2011


(Pretty sure the Mormon doctrine is that anybody baptized posthumously still gets a personal veto and you're no more automatically folded in than you would be if a co-worker baptized you by proxy over the weekend and told you so on Monday.)

This is true. According to Mormon doctrine baptism can only happen in the physical realm, so the baptisms-by-proxy are a "just in case" ritual to allow people who are worthy (which is almost everyone) to choose Mormonism (after death, while still in ecclesiastical limbo) if they so chose. But they can't go back to Earth/reality to be baptised, so they do baptism-by-proxy. Just in case. Heh.

It's still extremely offensive and arrogant to assume that this religion (started by a horny, child-bride polygamist con-artist and fake artifact dealer, no less) is the One True Religion restored to the face of the Earth.

Seriously, the more I learn about the Mormon church as an ex-member and the farther I get away from it, the crazier it seems. I want to go back and slap my ancestors in the face and ask them what the fuck they were thinking, because apparently both sides of my family go back a ways in that church. Apparently as far back as Nauvoo and before they were run out of town for being too creepy/weird and hoarding all the young ladies.
posted by loquacious at 3:10 PM on June 1, 2011


Quaker zombies are nonviolent. They may however corner you and groan incoherently about the inner light.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:11 PM on June 1, 2011 [18 favorites]


The Mormons believe they're better than other Christian religions by baptising later in life instead of at birth or christening because it offers a more conscious choice - but what 8 year old kid really has free agency in that situation?

Actually, it's because we believe that young children are not accountable for sin, not because we think 8-year-olds are at the age of legal consent or anything like that.

Then you don a white zip up polyester garment not unlike an adult-sized "onesie" pajama, except without the feet.

That's called a "jumpsuit." Elvis was fond of them. Prisoners wear them sometimes, too. See, Mormons are like a cross between Elvis and prisoners. But with worse music.

Heh, with any luck the church gestapo will try to find out who I am and finally excommunicate me for revealing too much about their precious temple rituals and being a filthy heathen sinner. Sorry, you don't get to "excommunicate" me. I quit before you even baptised me.

If you don't want to be on the church's rolls as a member, why don't you just ask to be removed from the roll? I mean, if you actually think there's a church gestapo, that is.

Anyway, for whatever it's worth, loquacious, it sounds like adults in the church overstepped their bounds when you were a kid and I would have felt the same way you did. And I don't think you actually revealed anything particularly secret in your comment, so I wouldn't worry about any visits from white helicopters or anything like that.

But when they symbolically baptize people who believed that baptism is wrong, and whose families believe that baptism is wrong, that is very disrespectful not to the dead but to the living.

I understand the sentiment but I respectfully disagree that it is disrespectful. I don't think the church does a very good job of explaining to people what the point of the rite is, though.
posted by The World Famous at 3:11 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


ChuraChura: "The thing that makes me most angry about Mormon baptisms of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust is that the people they are targeting died while professing allegiance to and belief in their religion. This practice symbolically destroys the last bit of human agency left to many Holocaust victims. "

I came in to say something similar.

Going to repeat something (mostly) that I said on MeFi last June:

Jews have spent two millennia fighting to maintain and defend our own, distinct identity from Christians, who have seemed hell-bent on co-opting our faith and religious tradition for their own purposes. It seems as if every generation or so, there has been some sort of Christian Crusade to forcibly convert us. If we didn't renounce our religion and accept the Gospel of Jesus, we were killed. Christians aren't the only group who have committed atrocities against us -- but many of them do continue to preach our conversion.

As a people, we have a long memory. We remember the Inquisition, a couple of hundred Christian pogroms, the Crusades and supercessionism. We remember Blood Libel. We remember that our Jewish ancestors were killed by Christians for the declared crime of deicide. We remember that throughout history Christian missionaries weren't just preachers, but rather judges and executioners. We're aware of how recent Vatican II is, and that there are still Christian groups that reject it. We're aware of the many Christian groups who still to this day aggressively refuse to respect our religious beliefs, like the Mormons, who pray that our dead find Jesus in heaven, or the evangelical movement, who have established a mythos in which Jews must be converted to Christianity for them to be Saved. We are also aware of the Conversos.

Baptizing our dead is just another footnote to a history of profound, offensive disrespect for the beliefs of others which has been perpetuated by people who have self-identified as "Christian" for centuries. And doing so to Holocaust victims, who gave their lives because they were Jewish, and often because they defiantly refused to denounce their birthright, is utterly reprehensible.

On preview:

The World Famous, I don't give two fucks what Mormon reasoning for baptizing Jews is. I don't care what your explanation or justification is. It's a disgusting, indefensible practice. Period.
posted by zarq at 3:12 PM on June 1, 2011 [52 favorites]


That's not how Mormon proxy baptism works.

My own feeling is that these sorts of actions carry an implication that the deceased person somehow didn't live right. It can be offensive, and has been for me.

Moreover, is it really all that presumptuous to say that someone's beliefs are invalid? If so, should I be more offended here when people say that my beliefs are invalid?

Well...probably you should be more offended, but I'm glad you carry yourself so well in a place that can be quite openly hostile to religion and I'm thankful for the reasonable tone you take in these discussions.
posted by Hoopo at 3:12 PM on June 1, 2011


It's still extremely offensive and arrogant to assume that this religion (started by a horny, child-bride polygamist con-artist and fake artifact dealer, no less) is the One True Religion restored to the face of the Earth.

It's extremely offensive and arrogant for you to say that my religion was started by a horny, child-bride polygamist con-artist and fake artifact dealer, but whatever.
posted by The World Famous at 3:13 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


A. By baptizing someone after they're dead, you're basically saying that the beliefs they held during life were invalid

At best, by doing so, I'd be stating that I thought that the beliefs they held during life were invalid.

and retconning them as a Mormon.

AFAIK it's not even necessarily in the narrative, given that there's a sortof "clause" if you will which makes the whole thing dependent on the dead individual's acceptance.

It's incredibly presumptuous.

I don't think it's any more presumptuous than your apparent declaration that the position I'm articulating is incorrect. Or should I be deeply offended that you think I'm wrong?

But moreover, I don't think your characterization is really how most Mormons think of the activity. It's more "Hey, I'm performing this soul-saving ordinance on X's behalf just in case they decide they want it later (or now, if they're already dead and just waiting around for it)."
posted by weston at 3:14 PM on June 1, 2011


I'm thankful for the reasonable tone you take in these discussions.

See, now you're making me feel bad for that last comment. I should relax.
posted by The World Famous at 3:14 PM on June 1, 2011


muddgirl: "Mormons can say that other beliefs are invalid - all religions do this."

No, they don't. This does not apply to most sects of Judaism.
posted by zarq at 3:14 PM on June 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh, and the "baptisms by proxy" thing doesn't even make sense within the Mormon doctrine. Those dead people aren't actually here in the physical realm to be baptised. Doing it by proxy doesn't make them any less dead or not here.

And... WTF? Does that mean according to Mormon doctrine that God can't change his own rules or the universe? Are you sure?

This is like the ritualized manifestation of "If god is truly Omnipotent, can he create a rock so heavy he can't lift it?"
posted by loquacious at 3:14 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like when my very much not-Catholic friend crashed his bike and died, and his parents buried him as a Catholic against his will. You might as well go "Nya nyah, you're not alive to say anything, so we're going to have the last word on whether you were a Catholic or not!".

Incidentally, he was buried directly next door to where I live right now. Fun fact.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:14 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does that mean according to Mormon doctrine that God can't change his own rules or the universe?

According to Mormon doctrine (the doctrine of Mormonism - not the unfortunate book of that title), God didn't make the rules and man is just beginning to have a small hint of what they are. And what does "change the universe" even mean?

Are you sure?

I'm sure of what I believe and I'm sure that I don't care if other people inside or outside the Mormon church agree with me about it.

This is like the ritualized manifestation of "If god is truly Omnipotent, can he create a rock so heavy he can't lift it?"

But Mormonism does not contend that God is omnipotent in that sense.
posted by The World Famous at 3:18 PM on June 1, 2011


I understand the sentiment but I respectfully disagree that it is disrespectful.

Neither you nor the LDS Church gets to make that call.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't think the church does a very good job of explaining to people what the point of the rite is, though.

I don't think the church does a very good job explaining why they feel they can perform any religious rites related to people who weren't part of that religion.

No, they don't. This does not apply to most sects of Judaism.

Most sects of Judaism believe that all other religious beliefs are valid? I'd be interested in hearing more about this.
posted by muddgirl at 3:19 PM on June 1, 2011


Neither you nor the LDS Church gets to make that call.

I get to make any call I want to about what I believe. If someone doesn't want members of the Mormon church to baptize them or their family or ancestors by proxy after death, I think those wishes should be respected.

I don't think the church does a very good job explaining why they feel they can perform any religious rites related to people who weren't part of that religion.

I agree. I also don't think people bother to find out what the church has actually said on the matter, though.
posted by The World Famous at 3:22 PM on June 1, 2011


So, hey, what do you know, I was raised Mormon and even performed baptism for the dead when I was a young teen and didn't really understand the implications of what I was doing. I left the LDS church practically when I was sixteen and officially much later (story on that in a moment). I think the thing what's missing from this conversation is the spiritual responsibility that faithful Mormons feel to make sure all of their family will be with them in the after-life. The pressure is real; the consistent imagery from LDS leadership is that those unbaptized ancestors are sitting in a lesser degree of glory, waiting for their chance to embrace "the truth" so they can join their families in happy cloud-land. I understand why this seems crazy and offensive to non-Mormons. It seems crazy and offensive to me and I was Mormon for most of my youth. But to suggest that the Mormons could simply "cut it out" because people are offended is missing the central relation this has to their concept of the afterlife and how one is supposed to live in order to get there. The importance of family is tenet of the Mormon faith, its concept of paradise, and in the ordering of their day-to-day lives. It's more than a kooky habit for them. I'm not saying they shouldn't cut it out. They absolutely should. It just has pretty deep reaching implications for them.

Of course, this kind of magical thinking is exactly why I left the LDS church as a teenager, when I was capable of asking questions that adults couldn't answer beyond "that's how God wants it." At this point, I've lived more of my life as a non-Mormon than as one, and it had pretty much receded into my past until 2008, when the LDS church took on an activist role on Proposition 8 in California. I have lots of gay friends, some married, some not, and the crossing of religion and politics rubbed me wrong. I did not want my name associated with the LDS Church in any way. But here's the thing. The Mormons do some things very well, and keeping records is probably number one at the top of that list. Once you're listed as a Mormon, it's hard to really be off their radar. I hadn't attended church in over twenty years, had moved numerous times since then including several times over seas, and still every once in a while, the elders would show up on my doorstep and ask me if I was interested in coming to church. They were always polite, and always respectful when I told them no. But it didn't keep other elders from showing up again whenever I changed addresses (they must have an in with the USPS). So when Prop 8 hit, I knew it was time to sever all contacts, even if if my own mind they have been severed a long time ago.

In order to get fully removed from the LDS records involves writing a letter to your local bishop (a layperson who serves as the leader of a local congregation) and make the official request. This is more than a matter of book-keeping. Being removed from the records is the moment when you are officially invisible to the church, the moment when you officially say you won't be joining your family in the afterlife "for time and all eternity," as they like to say. If you're not one of the faithful, it's no big deal. If you are one of the faithful, it's a very big deal. My choice to have my name removed from the LDS records is a sensitive topic among my family members who still practice, the kind that for sure will ruin Christmas if it's brought up in the wrong company... So I wrote my letter, had a very delicate "exit interview" with the bishop where he clearly expected me to tell him to get the f*ck out of my living room at any moment, and that was that. Except that it wasn't, since they later sent me a mass printed brochure asking me to come back (which reminded me of when I cancel a magazine subscription). It's easy for me to be glib about this now, but there was one moment in the whole process that kind of took me back. One of the things the bishop needed to explain to me during my exit interview was that by having my name removed from the church records it wasn't just that I would be off their records now. It would also undo any sacraments or rituals I had ever undertaken while I was a member. It would be as though I was never a member at all. And he didn't mean it in just the record-keeping sense. He meant it in the sense that history would essentially be revised. Those sacraments, in the spiritual sense, never happened.

This brings up all sorts of questions for me, like whether that also means the poor souls that I was baptized in proxy for are now unbaptized, whether it also means that I could by accident be baptized in proxy after I die (I sure hope not), and whether I can ask for all the tithing I paid them to be refunded since I was never a member. I suppose I'll never know, and I don't think I'll be asking the LDS leadership any time soon.

TL; DR: The LDS Church is very serious about it's record-keeping, baptism, family, and the roles they play in their understanding of heaven, God, and the proper way of living your life. Think twice before you sign up a friend to receive a free copy of the Book of Mormon as a prank.
posted by ga$money at 3:23 PM on June 1, 2011 [26 favorites]


The World Famous, I'm going to second the request for information about proxy baptism. Someone upthread asked you to speak on this and clarify it for the rest of us; I'm actually a little surprised you haven't taken them up on the opportunity.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:24 PM on June 1, 2011


Mormons can say that other beliefs are invalid - all religions do this."

No, they don't. This does not apply to most sects of Judaism.


Or, fittingly for this thread, Quakerism.
posted by not that girl at 3:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


muddgirl: " Most sects of Judaism believe that all other religious beliefs are valid? I'd be interested in hearing more about this."

In general, Jews believe that our religion, our practices, our traditions and our beliefs apply to us and not to non-Jews. We don't encourage converts. We don't force non-Jews to believe what we believe. Proselytism is anathema to us. My limited understanding is that we're really not supposed to judge the practices of non-Jews except to say they don't apply to us. We focus on what matters to us, personally. I'm sort of drastically simplifying it, but that's the essence.

That is not the same as saying, "other religious beliefs are invalid." They simply do not apply to us. I hope you understand that there's a big difference between this attitude and "The heathens need to be brought to Jesus."
posted by zarq at 3:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm excommunicating everyone by proxy as fast as I can. Can I get a little help here?
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


The World Famous: " I wouldn't worry about any visits from white helicopters"

White helicopters? OK, that's fucking funny.
posted by notsnot at 3:33 PM on June 1, 2011


As we speak, I am baptizing Mitt Romney into the Church of Satan.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:34 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's extremely offensive and arrogant for you to say that my religion was started by a horny, child-bride polygamist con-artist and fake artifact dealer, but whatever.

Oh, yes, you're so right. Joseph Smith was never busted for fraud. Yeah, he actually knew "Reformed Egyptian" - a language that doesn't actually exist - so he could translate the Golden Plates into the Book of Mormon. He didn't "marry" teenaged brides after he was already 30 and previously married. He certainly never married his teenaged foster daughters, either, and it was never against their will. He never "spiritually married" and had sex with underaged women against their will or wishes. Yeah, polygamy sure didn't happen before Utah when it was actually needed, no sir!

Nah, that never happened. He was just a poor martyred saint and a genuine prophet pure as the driven snow, not a shyster or scam artist or yet just another horny old man of the Patriarchy. No sir! Not Joseph Smith, Jr! Religions and cults are never founded on this kind of weird, misguided sexuality! Never!

Also, missionaries haven't ever shown up on my doorstep asking for me by name after I've moved somewhere else and I didn't even tell my mom or family where I was living, and I haven't had mail from the church follow me around for years. No, that's never happened.

No, I don't want to contact them to officially remove my name from their database. I've known people that have tried to do that and it usually doesn't go well. They try to make you interview with a local bishop first. I don't want any local contact at all with that seriously creepy and invasive cult.

No, Mormon families would never do something like send their beloved, cherished children off to reprogramming camps because they're gay, where they're beaten and psychologically tortured in an effort to "cure the gay" away! No sir!

The fact that they still probably count me as one of their millions of members along with millions of other apostates isn't creepy or wrong at all, either, even though I haven't willingly been inside a Mormon church ever since I was an adult, except for the one time when I was there for my grandfather's memorial service and I was a pallbearer for his funeral.

Yessir! The Mormon church is just fine and dandy! No skeletons in the closet at all, no creepy "milk before meat" cultish doctrine at all.

You're totally free to believe whatever you want to believe, The World Famous. I'm just as free to criticize what I believe is a dangerous and destructive cult. You're free to take offense if you like, but you're also totally welcome to take that offense and stuff it in a pipe.
posted by loquacious at 3:37 PM on June 1, 2011 [24 favorites]


Thorzdad: "I thought the Mormons agreed to stop this bullshit after Jewish groups raised a deserved stink about it? I mean...WTF?"

Sure, they agreed in 1995. And then they had to agree again ten years later in 2005 when it was revealed that they not only hadn't stopped baptizing dead Jews in secret (after assuring us they'd stopped,) but also hadn't purged their rolls of all Jewish names even after swearing that they had.

When it comes to this issue, they're not trustworthy.
posted by zarq at 3:38 PM on June 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


"Mormons can say that other beliefs are invalid - all religions do this."
No, they don't. This does not apply to most sects of Judaism.


FWIW, Mormonism also has a pretty deep streak of Universalism that shows up in a number of forms, which I'd paraphrase more or less as:

* many religions contain a significant degree of truth
* people are obligated to live to the truths they're illuminated by, not to those they're not
* pretty much everybody who didn't murder innocent lives for the sheer fun of it or doesn't tell God he's not real to his face is going to receive some degree of salvation and experience resurrection
posted by weston at 3:40 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Each and every one of you is the Pope of Discordia, suckers. Hail Eris!
posted by Hoopo at 3:41 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


The thing that makes me most angry about Mormon baptisms of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust is that the people they are targeting died while professing allegiance to and belief in their religion.

Although I assume it's not what you intended, this makes it sound as if the Holocaust was like the Inquisition - where a Jew could save his life by renouncing his religion. This was not the case. The Jews who lost their faith in the death camps - and we can safely assume there were some - went to the gas chambers along with all the rest.
posted by Trurl at 3:41 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think the thing what's missing from this conversation is the spiritual responsibility that faithful Mormons feel to make sure all of their family will be with them in the after-life.

Right, and we're not denying their right to feel that way. But they have no fucking right to tell me or any other Jew that our dead relatives are now automagically Mormons in the afterlife because of some unwanted weird bathtime ritual undertaken on their behalf.
posted by elizardbits at 3:41 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't normally have a whole lot to say about the born-again Protestant churches, but at least they mostly seem require that you actually stand up -- alive, presumably -- and declare your intention before a bunch of other people before they get all baptisey.

Being able to remote-baptise people across time and space just seems to defeat the whole point.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:43 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although I fully admit I would be entertained if some Jewish organization retaliated by posthumously circumcising and bar mitzvahing dead Mormons.
posted by elizardbits at 3:44 PM on June 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


Trurl: " Although I assume it's not what you intended, this makes it sound as if the Holocaust was like the Inquisition - where a Jew could save his life by renouncing his religion. This was not the case. The Jews who lost their faith in the death camps - and we can safely assume there were some - went to the gas chambers along with all the rest."

Some Jews survived the Holocaust by hiding. They were hidden by kind souls in basements and attics and cabins in the woods, who protected them from death. Other Jews survived by hiding who they were. Similar to the Conversos, they escaped death and torture by pretending not to be Jewish and crossing borders.

I think there's more of a parallel than not.
posted by zarq at 3:45 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Someone upthread asked you to speak on this and clarify it for the rest of us; I'm actually a little surprised you haven't taken them up on the opportunity.

Sorry - I must have missed it.

I don't have time at the moment to write a well-thought-out and concise comment about it. The sentiment that ga$money referenced above where people think it really really needs to be done is somewhat prevalent in the church, but it is by no means the universal belief. My own personal belief about it is that if, as Mormon doctrine contends, God is just and everyone who has ever lived will be offered an equal opportunity to accept or reject Christ's sacrifice and any and all necessary rites, I don't see what the big rush is and I think members of the church ought to respect the wishes of people who don't want their family members' names used in proxy baptisms. I think we should be more worried about helping the living (an endeavor for which there are limited time and resources) than performing a rite that, by its own terms, offers the possibility of redemption for dead at their own option. But the idea that there is great breadth and variety of belief and practice within Mormonism is one that people - including people on Metafilter and especially ex-Mormons - simply don't seem to grok.

I get that people don't think it makes much difference that Mormonism does not believe that proxy baptisms have any effect at all unless, in the afterlife, those for whom the rites were performed decide to accept the rite by their own choice. But I also think most people form their opinion about it before they realize that. And I think there is far too much of people spitting on Mormonism and calling it a cult or whatever and not nearly enough of people thinking about the fact that even the most ridiculous and misguided Mormons doing proxy baptisms ultimately mean well and do not intend disrespect. I know people will respond that the fact that Mormons do not mean disrespect just goes to show how completely brainwashed they are or whatever. But I think when you're talking about whether or not something is disrespectful the question of intent comes into play at least a bit.

On an emotional level, I've lived my whole life with people both inside Mormonism and outside Mormonism being assholes about my religion without bothering to apply even a minimal level of critical thought and investigation to find out what I actually believe. So it's hard not to get at least a little annoyed when I encounter a thread like this one where people are simultaneously spitting on what they presume are my beliefs and also saying that members of my church are disrespectful because they, with good intentions, have insulted the beliefs of some other religious group. But I try to set that emotional response aside. And it turns out that's not actually all that difficult on Metafilter, since I have got to know either in person or on the site most of the people who participate in these threads and I know that even the ones I disagree with the most are some of the greatest people I know and that their strong expression of opinion is not intended as a personal attack against me.

But it would be nice, every once in a while, to see a thread where people's opinions about Mormonism are informed by reading what the current LDS Church believes about things, rather than half-baked insults based on poorly-cited websites, an HBO series, or a book by Jon Krakauer. I mean for crying out loud, people, how many times on Metafilter has someone recommended Under The Banner Of Heaven compared with the number of times that someone has recommended an actual scholarly history book like No Man Knows My History or Rough Stone Rolling that actually cites its sources? I have the utmost respect for people's personal decisions and convictions about Mormonism and I respect the opinions of people who were raised in the church but left it as a teenager. But isn't it maybe just a little bit possible that there's more depth and variation to Mormon culture and religious belief than what a 16-year-old is able to glean from personal experience?
posted by The World Famous at 3:50 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Although I assume it's not what you intended, this makes it sound as if the Holocaust was like the Inquisition - where a Jew could save his life by renouncing his religion. This was not the case. The Jews who lost their faith in the death camps - and we can safely assume there were some - went to the gas chambers along with all the rest.

You're right - not what I intended. And the Jews who lost their faith in death camps don't deserve to have that realization invalidated with proxy baptism, either.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:51 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well that is an odd story. A Friend invited me to her Meeting, she knows I'm a buddhist. She said, "we're buddhist friendly!" I have attended the Meeting, more regularly at some times than others. Officially it's a Conservative branch, and according the Discipline, I'm supposed to renounce other religious affiliations if I officially join the Meeting. But I know Friends who have been dedicated for years and haven't officially joined the Meeting. They will join when the spirit moves them. I get the feeling that Friends have too much of a contrarian spirit to bother with rules. They're more into disobeying rules.

This sort of article is what bugs me about the Slacktivist, and why I stopped reading him. He seems to expend far more effort taking offense at other religions than he expends practicing his own.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:51 PM on June 1, 2011


I have to agree with Kadin2048. This is so different from my world view I'm actually having trouble grokking it. If I am understanding correctly (and if I'm not, please let me know) - late lamented Uncle Fortescue could have been a cranky agnostic who never set foot in church but his descendants might benefit spiritually from baptizing him after his death? Or Uncle Fortescue might benefit, or both?
posted by pointystick at 3:51 PM on June 1, 2011


But they have no fucking right to tell me or any other Jew that our dead relatives are now automagically Mormons in the afterlife because of some unwanted weird bathtime ritual undertaken on their behalf.

I agree. That's not what Mormon proxy baptisms do.
posted by The World Famous at 3:51 PM on June 1, 2011


You're totally free to believe whatever you want to believe, The World Famous. I'm just as free to criticize what I believe is a dangerous and destructive cult. You're free to take offense if you like, but you're also totally welcome to take that offense and stuff it in a pipe.

I didn't say you're wrong, loquacious. I said you're offensive and arrogant. I stand by that statement.

The fact that they still probably count me as one of their millions of members along with millions of other apostates isn't creepy or wrong at all, either,

Then why don't you write a two sentence letter and ask to have your name removed from the rolls of the church? How the bloody hell are they supposed to stop counting you as a member of the church if you don't tell them?
posted by The World Famous at 3:55 PM on June 1, 2011


My impressions of baptism of the dead are mostly more positive than most people here. To me, it seems to say that "You once lived. You were once important to someone. For this moment you are now important to me and, in the context of my belief system, I want to do what I can for you and your soul." That's the context in which my Mormon friends approach it.

And in that context, I find it hard to condemn the practice. The practice doesn't automatically invalidate the deceased's status as a Jew, Quaker, Baptist, or atheist. If what the LDS preaches is true, then this is a rather nice thing to do for all these souls. And if the LDS is full of shit, then this is a meaningless ritual with some altruistic motive behind it.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


How the bloody hell are they supposed to stop counting you as a member of the church if you don't tell them?

The same way the Kidney God knows He shouldn't be counting on you to deliver your monthly quota of kidneys. I notice you have yet to submit your letter in the required format, so you'd best step up your collection efforts. I'm your upstream, and I expect performance from all of my downstream associates.
posted by aramaic at 4:02 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's not what Mormon proxy baptisms do.

Then you are using the word 'baptism' is a way that differs from about a billion other Christians. The fault lies with the people who chose this term, and keep on using this term.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:05 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing that pisses me off the most is that in every other context I think loquacious is one of the most awesome people on MeFi and I actually agree on just about everything he writes, including in this thread. But here we are being dicks to each other. My apologies, loquacious.
posted by The World Famous at 4:06 PM on June 1, 2011


pretty much everybody who didn't murder innocent lives for the sheer fun of it or doesn't tell God he's not real to his face is going to receive some degree of salvation and experience resurrection
@weston: Describing atheism as morally on par with recreational murder is not Universalism, not by a long shot.
posted by richyoung at 4:07 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


How the bloody hell are they supposed to stop counting you as a member of the church if you don't tell them?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe not showing up to a single church event or meeting in nearly twenty years ought to give them a small hint. Just a small one.

But, no. They're honestly more concerned with keeping that inflated membership number nice and high so it looks good, along with the "fastest growing church" factoids they (used to) throw around, even if the reality is that if you just count the members and ex-members in the US it's probably the fastest shrinking church in the US.

The "fastest growing" statistics are mainly from missionary work in (often 3rd world) countries where people will nod and agree with anything if there's a hot meal or a nice building to hang out in are involved. (And even of those new members from far flung countries, few actually stay.)
posted by loquacious at 4:08 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there's more of a parallel than not.

To Hitler - as to any other anti-semite - a Jew was defined by his ethnic identity - not his religious identity. (Of course, to survive the Holocaust, a Jew needed to hide both.) So to say that Holocaust victims died "while professing their religion" is to obscure the issue. They died while being ethnic Jews.

The atheists among the 6 million deserve to have the distinction recognized.
posted by Trurl at 4:09 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thank you for your thoughts on proxy baptism; they were very helpful.

But it would be nice, every once in a while, to see a thread where people's opinions about Mormonism are informed by reading what the current LDS Church believes about things, rather than half-baked insults based on poorly-cited websites, an HBO series, or a book by Jon Krakauer. I mean for crying out loud, people, how many times on Metafilter has someone recommended Under The Banner Of Heaven compared with the number of times that someone has recommended an actual scholarly history book like No Man Knows My History or Rough Stone Rolling that actually cites its sources?

the comment I mentioned, where mudgirl points out that you often say no one seems to base their arguments on "what the church really says," also suggests that one thing you could do to help make that happen is offer your own links. Perhaps, if people are basing their opinions on information you feel is incorrect, you could recommend other sources for them. They can't use these more accurate sources if they don't know where to find them.

Mind you, some people aren't going to avail themselves of them anyway (some people just have bugs up their butts the size of an emu about any religion), but perhaps knowing a better source would help some person educate themselves more. I know that the LDS web site is an obvious one, but recommending others may help.

It's kind of like that proverb "better to light one candle than curse the darkness" except in this case, it's "better to tell someone where the candles are than to complain no one's lighting them."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:10 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a bit of a derail, but (as an atheist, baptized Jew) I personally find zarq's attempt to make the Holocaust about religion rather than ethnicity far more offensive than any posthumous Mormon baptism. The German Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust were among the most secular in the world, and the Jewish Communists killed in their thousands by the Nazis were certainly not "hiding what they were." Religious Jews' attempts to define Jewishness as Judaism are, in many cases, exactly the same kind of disrespectful bullshit people are accusing the Mormons of here.
posted by nasreddin at 4:10 PM on June 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


The thing that pisses me off the most is that in every other context I think loquacious is one of the most awesome people on MeFi and I actually agree on just about everything he writes, including in this thread. But here we are being dicks to each other. My apologies, loquacious.

Same, and likewise. I like you too, big guy. I'm totally not attacking you, but what I feel is a harmful cult.

If I had a magic button that removed Mormonism from the face of the earth without a trace you know I'd push it. (But that also holds true with me for most religions, so YMMV and you shouldn't take it personally.)
posted by loquacious at 4:11 PM on June 1, 2011


"You once lived. You were once important to someone. For this moment you are now important to me and, in the context of my belief system, I want to do what I can for you and your soul."

Do you not see how this is offensive? This person is only important to you in the context of your ritual. Are the things that mattered to them while they lived, what they lived for, are these important to you? As far as I can tell, no. You have absolutely no idea who they are. You're not treating them as a person; they have become a mere object for you performance.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:12 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


The World Famous: " I get that people don't think it makes much difference that Mormonism does not believe that proxy baptisms have any effect at all unless, in the afterlife, those for whom the rites were performed decide to accept the rite by their own choice. But I also think most people form their opinion about it before they realize that.

We understand more than you think.

The idea that everyone will leap to become Christians once they realize the error of their ways is widespread and prevalent amongst many Christian sects. The corollary argument is that if people don't leap to accept Jesus, Christians will force them to do it for their own good. You didn't invent any of this. It existed as a fundamental part of much of the Christian religion for hundreds of years before Joseph Smith was even born. All you've done is taken consent out of the equation, as insurance towards the idea that maybe, someday, their souls will see the error of their ways and join you.

It boggles my mind that Mormons do not understand how insulting that is. How condescending. How arrogant.

It's not your place to tell someone who was born a Jew, who identified themselves as a Jew, who faithfully prayed and worshipped and lived their life as a Jew -- which let me tell you something has historically was not usually a picnic, especially in Europe thanks to "well-meaning" Christians who tortured and hunted and attacked and burned and killed us out of concern for the salvation of our souls -- that you know better than they that the choices they made in their lives were wrong and hopefully, someday they will too.

How dare you?

It's obnoxious. Especially to someone who did not impose their beliefs on others. Especially to a people who believe proselytism is wrong. That dictate religion to another is wrong. Especially to anyone who died for their beliefs.

And I think there is far too much of people spitting on Mormonism and calling it a cult or whatever and not nearly enough of people thinking about the fact that even the most ridiculous and misguided Mormons doing proxy baptisms ultimately mean well and do not intend disrespect.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Whether Mormons intend disrespect or not, the practice is deeply disrespectful.

I know people will respond that the fact that Mormons do not mean disrespect just goes to show how completely brainwashed they are or whatever. But I think when you're talking about whether or not something is disrespectful the question of intent comes into play at least a bit. "

Yes, tell us more about good intentions. The LDS Church was told to stop. It took years for Mormons to agree to stop baptizing Jews. And then, it turns out y'all lied to us and continued to do it anyway. Additional years and arbitration by a state senator and former first lady were required to force you to carve out a new agreement.

Sorry. You don't get to occupy the moral high ground here.
posted by zarq at 4:15 PM on June 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


You call this literature?
posted by small_ruminant at 4:16 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, I don't know. Maybe not showing up to a single church event or meeting in nearly twenty years ought to give them a small hint. Just a small one.

I think you're giving the church way more credit than it deserves in terms of recordkeeping and keeping track of people. Seriously, if you want off the rolls, just send the letter. If you want help writing it, I'm happy to help. I've helped lots of people write it. Proxy baptisms are not counted as members of the church, but people who were baptized at 8 years old and left the church years later are, understandably, counted as members unless they ask not to be.

the comment I mentioned, where mudgirl points out that you often say no one seems to base their arguments on "what the church really says," also suggests that one thing you could do to help make that happen is offer your own links

OK. Let me Google it for you. Here's the first Google result: The LDS Church's own website's fairly-detailed explanation with expandable further explanation and cites to canon.

Sorry. I should have provided the link to a Google search for "baptism for the dead lds" earlier.

Do you not see how this is offensive? This person is only important to you in the context of your ritual.

Do you also get bent out of shape when people of other faiths pray for others?
posted by The World Famous at 4:16 PM on June 1, 2011


If what the LDS preaches is true, then this is a rather nice thing to do for all these souls. And if the LDS is full of shit, then this is a meaningless ritual with some altruistic motive behind it

Yeah I know it comes from a good place, but the principle of it is problematic for outsiders.

These religious rituals do carry implications for non-believers that are hard to reconcile with any notion that your own beliefs are being respected. Like when my father had to go to my mother 5 years after their divorce to request an annulment so he could marry a Catholic who had also had a magic retroactive annulment not-divorce. It's declaring the marriage between my parents that produced my sister and myself as never having been valid. Again, this in reality changes nothing for me, but it shows me that you would turn me into a bastard on some technicality so that you can trick your God into sanctioning your do-over. How am I supposed to view this?
posted by Hoopo at 4:18 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry I can't read this whole thread right now. If the question hasn't been answered up-thread, I would ask for input from someone with experience; does the LDS church make money off of these ceremonies baptizing the deceased?

It seems to me to be kind of exploitive. Like, "we know that your grandmother is going to burn and rot in Hell for eternity, oh but by the way, if you pay for this elaborate Mormon ritual then and only then can she be saved. It will cost you (some large amount of money.) If someone said that to me, I would feel kind of victimized. And, I would tell them to go jump in a lake.
posted by newdaddy at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2011


nasreddin: "This is a bit of a derail, but (as an atheist, baptized Jew) I personally find zarq's attempt to make the Holocaust about religion rather than ethnicity far more offensive than any posthumous Mormon baptism. The German Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust were among the most secular in the world, and the Jewish Communists killed in their thousands by the Nazis were certainly not "hiding what they were." Religious Jews' attempts to define Jewishness as Judaism are, in many cases, exactly the same kind of disrespectful bullshit people are accusing the Mormons of here."

I'm well aware of how secular Germany was. I'm in no way trying to co-opt all secular Jews as religious, nor try to declare that Jews were only killed because of their level of religious observance, which was clearly not the case.

I was addressing a specific comment. That's all.
posted by zarq at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


nasreddin, you know, you can always talk to me and ask me to clarify my meaning or tell me outright that I'm wrong! I'm absolutely not trying to speak for all Jews here. Nor am I trying to re-write history to suit some sort of religious perspective. I'm really not.
posted by zarq at 4:23 PM on June 1, 2011


We understand more than you think.

I have no doubt that some know more than others.

The idea that everyone will leap to become Christians once they realize the error of their ways is widespread and prevalent amongst many Christian sects.

That's not at all what Mormons believe.

You didn't invent any of this.

Not only did we not invent it, we don't even believe it.

All you've done is taken consent out of the equation

No.

It's not your place to tell someone who was born a Jew, who identified themselves as a Jew, who faithfully prayed and worshipped and lived their life as a Jew -- which let me tell you something has historically was not usually a picnic, especially in Europe thanks to "well-meaning" Christians who tortured and hunted and attacked and burned and killed us out of concern for the salvation of our souls -- that you know better than they that the choices they made in their lives were wrong and hopefully, someday they will too.

I agree. And it's not your place to tell me that you know better than me, right?

How dare you?

I don't.

Yes, tell us more about good intentions.

OK. What do you want to know about them?

Sorry. You don't get to occupy the moral high ground here.

I have no intention of occupying the moral high ground here.
posted by The World Famous at 4:23 PM on June 1, 2011


Do you also get bent out of shape when people of other faiths pray for others?

Kind of depends how they go about it. If they say "I know you've been feeling sick lately -- I'll pray for you." I think it's nice. I'd like to stop being sick, they're showing their concern.

If they say "I'm praying that Jesus lets you see the light and brings you to baptism", then I do get bent out of shape.

The difference is that the latter denies the choices I make for myself. It's full of "I know better than you" arrogance.

Not all prayers are the same.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:24 PM on June 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


In short, zarq, I agree with everything you're saying and I don't think you're actually reading my comments in good faith.
posted by The World Famous at 4:25 PM on June 1, 2011


You know, I think part of the problem here is a marketing problem. "Baptism for the Dead" (by far the most common term for this practice) is, frankly, a creepy term. In four words, it combines an intimate spiritual rite with, well, the dead. Regardless of the nuances of the actual practice, its name makes me think of exhuming corpses and dunking them in water, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

At first blush, it seems like an uncharacteristic marketing failure on the part of the early Mormon Church. But I don't think it's aimed at the outside world -- it goes right along with difficult, secret underwear and a prohibition against caffeine, in that embracing these odd, odd things keeps people in the faith closer together while ostracizing them from the rest of society.
posted by gurple at 4:26 PM on June 1, 2011


I'm an athiest. My boyfriend is an athiest. I feel like it's a little ishy to symbolically dig up the graves of people long dead so that they can be part of rituals that they most likely would not dig at all.

... but it sure does give comfort to some people to perform them.

Is it gross? uh. yeah. But... if it's going to make a lot of people who are actually alive and currently feeling terrible- feel better? I personally just don't want to know about it.

If you really feel the need to mess with my dead family members, please just keep it to yourselves. And if I were a Quaker, I sure wouldn't feel bad about not handing over the records. Find them some other way.
posted by Blisterlips at 4:28 PM on June 1, 2011


I can see that no disrespect is *intended* in the proxy baptisms by most LDS members, but that doesn't stop it from being disrespectful to people of other cultures and religions. Even more so when the LDS church was explicitly asked, multiple times, to stop doing this, they agreed, and then the terms of that agreement were in no way met and the practice in question continued. From the sheer quantity of unwanted baptisms of the dead done after 1995 and the names not taken off the lists, that's not just one or two rogues, either. That's institutionalized ignoring of people's wishes, which is definitely disrespectful, regardless of the intent of the baptisms.

It doesn't matter if it's baptizing the dead or belching after a good meal, if someone asks you to stop an act when it relates to them, it's disrespectful to continue, no matter how pure and respectful your original intent was. Once they've have expressed their desire that you no longer do it any more, any further instances of it are, indeed, disrespectful, regardless of the intent of the act itself.

Another common, completely non-spiritual, example is celebrating birthdays. Some people honestly hate their birthdays being celebrated with cake and presents and noise and people. To force these people into a ritual they don't want because *you* feel this is what fun should be isn't a respectful celebration, it's a disrespectful flouting of their express wishes. (I'm thinking Ron Swanson here.) It sincerely doesn't matter that another person would *love* the party, it matters that ole' Ron explicitly said he did not want the party or believe in parties, but you continue to force him into them because that's how you believe birthdays should be. It could be the best birthday party ever thrown in the history of the world and it would STILL be disrespectful because he said he didn't want it. What constitutes disrespect doesn't change just because spirituality or the afterlife is on the line. I can see having religious beliefs that clash with another religion's beliefs and doing things they would find appalling by accident, but continuing to do so when you know they find it abhorrent is, yes, definitely disrespectful.
posted by wending my way at 4:28 PM on June 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


My Grandfather -- a staunch, lifelong Presbyterian -- was posthumously Mormonized. I am an atheist, and don't believe any of this really matters; but I still found it sort of disturbing.
posted by steambadger at 4:29 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you're giving the church way more credit than it deserves in terms of recordkeeping and keeping track of people.

No, I'm not. I've used their genealogy databases to help my grandma help fill out our family trees and branches.

As others have pointed out the Mormon church is fantastic at record-keeping. They were one of the first churches to use computers and networks. They were one of the first churches to have their own satellite broadcasting network and leased access channels. This is a very technologically adept and information-aware organization.

They have the largest genealogical database in the entire world. They have a "Mountain of Names" and they're going to use it.

They know how long it's been since I've been an active member. They know exactly how long it's been since I've tithed and how much I've ever tithed. They know I'm not a member.

Further - I shouldn't even be asked to submit to their process to be removed at all. I never opted in in the first place. I never gave them permission to store my name or add it to their rolls.

They aren't a governmental organization. They don't have the right to do that. They'll do it anyway and defend the practice with an army of volunteer lawyers, too.

It's absolutely ridiculous that people like me are even counted as active members. It's this kind of logical disconnect from fucking reality that makes people so irritated and angry with the Mormon church.

It's arrogant and presumptuous. An entire institution organization that is this arrogant and presumptuous is vastly different animal than just some random jackass (me) mouthing off on the internet.

But members can't see this incredibly offensive arrogance from the inside of the church, because they're erroneously thinking that they're just trying to be nice and do the right thing and follow their own beliefs.

Someone's personal beliefs don't extend that far. It's not ok or acceptable. It's outright predatory.
posted by loquacious at 4:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


He who controls the past, controls the future. Just droppin' that in there all cyber like and whatnot.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


The LDS Church renounced polygamy in order to gain Utah's entrance to the Union. And I assume that polygamy was far more central to the faith than proxy baptism is.

You really want them to stop? Boycott Utah skiing.

DISCLOSURE: ethnic Jewish atheist in Salt Lake City whose livelihood does not depend on tourism
posted by Trurl at 4:36 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you also get bent out of shape when people of other faiths pray for others?

There is a pretty big difference between offering words of prayer and proxy performing a religious ritual that the deceased would likely have been offended by in life.
posted by elizardbits at 4:37 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm actually having trouble grokking it. If I am understanding correctly (and if I'm not, please let me know) - late lamented Uncle Fortescue could have been a cranky agnostic who never set foot in church but his descendants might benefit spiritually from baptizing him after his death? Or Uncle Fortescue might benefit, or both?

Alright, for people interested in the Mormon theology behind this, here's what I understand. There's a couple of different ideas at work here:

*baptism are necessary ordinances for a certain kind of spiritual progression (even Jesus was baptized).

* but, due to a pretty wide variety of circumstances, not everybody has the opportunity to encounter and make a well-considered judgement on whether they accept or reject "the gospel" and receive its ordinances before they die

* so, if God is just, there must be some posthumous allowance for this, and hey, there's this mention of baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29

* there's also some other references I don't have at hand suggesting a post-mortal pre-resurrection "spirit world" ministry Jesus engaged in.

So, yeah. The general idea is that until some final judgment day comes a long ways down the road, people who die are in a limbo-like intermediate state where (a) they can still make spiritual choices and (b) there's an ongoing ministry to persuade people. But, even the persuaded need the ordinances and so those ordinances are performed on the behalf of the dead, who can choose to accept or reject them.

So in this narrative, whether or not that affects Uncle Fortescue depends heavily on whether he's amenable to the teachings of the gospel and accepting the ordinances. If the afterlife affects his perspective and gives him an opportunity to make a different judgment, then it might be beneficial. If it doesn't, then not much changes.

Whether/how it benefits his descendants... honestly, I'm not very clear on this bit of Mormon doctrine. It's clear that church authorities say it's important to you as well as your ancestors, and there's some hints of the idea that getting your family all linked up in this manner can either pull you all across the finish line in some way or provide some kind of drag, but I have trouble squaring that off with an apparently greater emphasis on doctrines involving individual choice.

(I also don't know how to discuss objections about whether proxy baptism "make sense." It seems to me everybody involved in such a discussion would have to agree on some kind of metaphysical principles surrounding baptism in order for that discussion to get anywhere, and not only is that an unlikely prospect for people who don't already agree, IMHO if you're already admitting an afterlife and God to the discussion, then there's enough magic going on that it's acceptable to do a little bit of handwaving here and say "we don't understand all the metaphysics but it works if God and the person receiving it want it to.")
posted by weston at 4:39 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


it goes right along with difficult, secret underwear and a prohibition against caffeine

The underwear's not particularly difficult (it's just boxer briefs and a cotton crew neck t-shirt) or secret (see previous parenthetical) and there's no prohibition against caffeine (I'm on my 3rd Diet Coke today which I realize is not a great idea health-wise but it's not prohibited by my religion).

It doesn't matter if it's baptizing the dead or belching after a good meal, if someone asks you to stop an act when it relates to them, it's disrespectful to continue, no matter how pure and respectful your original intent was.

OK. I hereby formally ask everyone on Metafilter to never call Mormonism a cult, scam, or any other derogatory term ever again.

I think you're giving the church way more credit than it deserves in terms of recordkeeping and keeping track of people.

No, I'm not. I've used their genealogy databases to help my grandma help fill out our family trees and branches.


I was responding to your comment that the church should take you off the rolls because you haven't attended meetings in a really long time. They really don't keep records of that sort of thing. Seriously.

They know how long it's been since I've been an active member. They know exactly how long it's been since I've tithed and how much I've ever tithed. They know I'm not a member.

Based on my own anecdotal experience, I would estimate that a very large percentage of active Mormons who go to church every week never pay tithing. Seriously, the local leadership is all volunteer and turns over every couple of years. It's a mess.

Further - I shouldn't even be asked to submit to their process to be removed at all. I never opted in in the first place. I never gave them permission to store my name or add it to their rolls.

Dude, you're on the rolls of the Mormon church because you were baptized at 8 and your family was Mormon. There's nothing sinister about that. What, are they not supposed to keep track of who is or is not a baptized member of the church? Is the Catholic church orders of magnitude more sinister because of its membership statistics?

They aren't a governmental organization. They don't have the right to do that.

Seriously, you're arguing that a religion does not have the right to keep track of the names of people who are baptized and confirmed as members of the church?

It's absolutely ridiculous that people like me are even counted as active members.

Wait, what? Who told you you were counted as an "active" member? Seriously, cite, please.

But members can't see this incredibly offensive arrogance from the inside of the church, because they're erroneously thinking that they're just trying to be nice and do the right thing and follow their own beliefs.

Some members can. We're not all the same, you know. But I do like to see factual support for assertions.

Seriously, loquacious, if you want off the rolls, I'm happy to help you draft the letter.
posted by The World Famous at 4:41 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, going to my grandma's gravestone and replacing her given name with what you think is a prettier one wouldn't technically hurt anyone either. You can say you did it out of love. But it's still erasing who she really was, and that, my friend, is a dick move. It's using the tiny bit of her existence that is still here as fodder for your religious wanking and it crosses a line.
posted by emjaybee at 4:42 PM on June 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm surprised that in this whole fray nobody has noticed there is a simple answer to the OP author's problem with the ADD-addled Mormon relative and the ancestor.

He should falsify the information he gives to her.

The Mormons will then simply baptize a person who does not exist. The correct information will go into the archives that matter at the university, where ADD girl will probably never notice that they do not match the "decrypted" version given to her. The Quaker relatives can rest assured, even if they feel that there is an actual metaphysical significance to the baptism, that it has been scrambled enough to be irrelevant.

Problem solved.
posted by localroger at 4:43 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


So ultimately the "baptism" isn't even "official" until the soul decides to come back and claim it, if it wants to.

I don't really see a problem with that. It's still up to the soul to decide. Just an open door not a push through it.
posted by snsranch at 4:43 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hereby formally ask everyone on Metafilter to never call Mormonism a cult, scam, or any other derogatory term ever again.

That's absolutely reasonable and fair of you.

...in return, of course, I must demand that you either refer to the Kidney God as the One True Faith every time the subject of religion comes up, or you must supply your monthly quota.

One or the other. Perfectly fair.
posted by aramaic at 4:45 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do genealogy. It's great as a family hobby, and allows you a little extra empathy with the past. The existence of the Mormon church doing bucket loads of genealogical research is known and sometimes commented on by the general community. The comments tend to fall into two main categories:

1) Wow, haven't the Mormons done a lot of work in collecting and transcribing records?

2) The Mormon family trees available online are horrifically incorrect, with obvious errors and massive suppositions!

We take 1) gladly, because it makes our hobbies easier. We laugh at 2).

In the light of what they use this genealogical information for, however, the huge mistakes they make become tragi-comic. They've expended so much energy to ensure their ancestors get a shot at being in heaven with them, yet they've got the wrong folks. I've been to the cold wet English graveyards which contains my ancestor's bones, and yet had to argue the fact with somebody who insists they emigrated to Utah and died there. The general advice among genealogical researchers is not to bother even engaging Mormon researchers beyond taking their researchers, because so many are just off-the-wall in their ideas.

So from another perspective, this is all just an absurd joke.
posted by Jehan at 4:45 PM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Kidney God is a dick.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 4:45 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is the Catholic church orders of magnitude more sinister because of its membership statistics?

Actually, if you insist on formally converting away from Catholicism, they don't keep pestering you about it.
posted by localroger at 4:47 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, that should be "beyond taking their resources". Genealogy is serious business, but not enough to kidnap folk over...oh wait.
posted by Jehan at 4:47 PM on June 1, 2011


Actually, if you insist on formally converting away from Catholicism, they don't keep pestering you about it.

Yeah, it's more of an unspoken disapproval

/chip on shoulder
posted by Hoopo at 4:49 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, loquacious, if you want off the rolls, I'm happy to help you draft the letter.

Thanks. But as you know - I know how to draft a letter, and in particular this letter.

The point you're missing is that I don't even want to officially engage the Mormon church on any level. I don't want them to know my current address. I don't want to have to send them a registered mail envelope, and I really don't want to have an "exit interview" with any bishop in any ward or stake.

This is a conversation that shouldn't even be happening.

As for the rest - I've already seen the data about how the church inflates the membership rolls by counting long-inactive people as members. I don't have the time or inclination to dig it up again myself, but I assure you it exists and it can be found. Sorry for the copout, but I've spent way too much time and angst on this thread as it is.

It's not really my job to do your due diligence about your chosen religion or belief system. That's your job, for you. I've done my homework and made my choice.
posted by loquacious at 4:49 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hooray for the Slacktivist. He has incited another bitter, pointless religious argument.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:50 PM on June 1, 2011


The Kidney God is a dick.

You're probably thinking of The Dick God. They make similar demands, but the Kidney God actually is a giant, pulsating kidney.
posted by loquacious at 4:50 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think I'll look up the Hippocampus God. I hear he gets smaller the more you believe in him.
posted by localroger at 4:53 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know, going to my grandma's gravestone and replacing her given name with what you think is a prettier one wouldn't technically hurt anyone either. You can say you did it out of love. But it's still erasing who she really was, and that, my friend, is a dick move. It's using the tiny bit of her existence that is still here as fodder for your religious wanking and it crosses a line.

Yes. All of this.

And the sad part is that, from their perspective, none of that matters. Even if they agreed with you, they would still feel bound by their duty to God to be dicks to you in this way. [Since they're fairly good neighbors in other respects, they might do something else nice in the hope of making it up to you.]
posted by Trurl at 4:53 PM on June 1, 2011


Actually, if you insist on formally converting away from Catholicism, they don't keep pestering you about it.

But they send you bad vibes if you try to take Communion on Easter.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:54 PM on June 1, 2011


The underwear's not particularly difficult (it's just boxer briefs and a cotton crew neck t-shirt)

Here I was referencing TFA, which echoes complaints I've heard before: I understand Garmie Wedgie and Boob Sag[3] and the discomfort of wearing two layers from elbows to knees in the middle of a Midwest summer

and there's no prohibition against caffeine

Well, like so many things, that varies from Mormon to Mormon. A lot of Mormons take the D&Cs somewhat more literally and only eschew tea and coffee. A lot of others don't drink soft drinks, either, or they feel bad about it or joke around about how they're sinning. I've known many of both types.
posted by gurple at 4:55 PM on June 1, 2011


Yeah, it's more of an unspoken disapproval

Well yeah, I got that a bit as a protestant student attending Catholic high school (very common in NOLA due to those being the best schools for a secular education). I remember we were taught the process for withdrawing from the Catholic Church (for those of us lucky enough to be members already, wink wink) and the thing is they do at least respect your decision if you express it with the proper force.
posted by localroger at 4:55 PM on June 1, 2011


@weston: Describing atheism as morally on par with recreational murder is not Universalism, not by a long shot.

@richyoung: I don't think that's what I said. It's certainly not what I meant.

What atheist is going to accept the reality of a scenario in which they will reject God to His Divine and Apparently Extant Face? By extension, what atheist is going to be threatened or offended by the prospect that Hell would follow such a scenario? or distinguish it functionally from a Universalism which teaches that everybody is saved?

And finally, what atheist wouldn't admit that, however impossible it seems to be, were they in fact to find themselves confronted with extraordinary evidence contrary to their beliefs such as a face-to-face encounter with what would on every level appear to be The Bona Fide Supreme Being™ that they would refuse any acknowledgment of this fact?

Well, those are the atheists that Mormons believe might not be covered by any degree of spiritual salvation (but they still get resurrected!). I think it could be said to be pretty universal.
posted by weston at 4:59 PM on June 1, 2011


The point you're missing is that I don't even want to officially engage the Mormon church on any level. I don't want them to know my current address. I don't want to have to send them a registered mail envelope, and I really don't want to have an "exit interview" with any bishop in any ward or stake.

Belief systems vary in how concerned they are with retaining your membership.

There's a spectrum - with, say, Pastafarianism at one extreme and, say, Scientology at the other.

On the basis of the testimony of the (now ex-) Mormon I know best, the LDS Church is closer to the latter than to the former.
posted by Trurl at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2011


If I were to encounter what appears to be The Bona Fide Supreme Being I would probably doubt my own perception before I'd take what I was experiencing at face value.
posted by localroger at 5:05 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, loquacious, I viewed my letter and exit interview as an opportunity to tell the LDS Church the exact reasons why they were wrong and why I was officially leaving. I didn't care that I was on their records per se; I wanted them to understand that at least one person, me, thought they were wrong for doing what they were doing. That I felt strongly enough about it to take the steps which in their minds mean I don't get to go to heaven and all that. Who knows, maybe it doesn't make a lick of difference to them. But it did and does to me. But I totally understand your stance on it, and have several relatives and old friends who feel the same way.

But isn't it maybe just a little bit possible that there's more depth and variation to Mormon culture and religious belief than what a 16-year-old is able to glean from personal experience?

I can only imagine this comment was directed at me. You're right, The World Famous, there's more breadth of thought and belief among members of the LDS Church than I understood at sixteen and probably what I understand now. I'm not completely ignorant of the current teachings of the church; I check in once in a while out of curiosity. But I think you're glossing the difference between what various people choose to believe within a theological framework and what the Church administration embraces as its official stance. I had and have plenty of relatives that chose to obey the aspects of the Word of Wisdom that appealed to them, that differed on stances toward gay and lesbians, and going back some years, differed with church administration on ERA and Africans and African-Americans being given the priesthood. There was and presumably still is a wide range of thought and belief. But it was their personal stance, not the official stance of the LDS Church as an organization.
posted by ga$money at 5:07 PM on June 1, 2011


If I were to encounter what appears to be The Bona Fide Supreme Being I would probably doubt my own perception before I'd take what I was experiencing at face value.

cf. Star Trek V
posted by chambers at 5:09 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


A not-that-bitter-about-Mormonism ex-Mormon and current atheist checking in, here. I think it's funny that despite The World Famous's pretty clear explanation of how the process works, people are still going on about how they're turning peoples' dead relatives into Mormons. Your dead relatives get to choose whether or not they accept the baptism. And by getting so worked up about it, aren't you just legitimizing Mormon baptisms?
posted by jessssse at 5:09 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


...in return, of course, I must demand that you either refer to the Kidney God as the One True Faith every time the subject of religion comes up, or you must supply your monthly quota.

Ah, but you phrased your demand wrong and I am, therefore, not bound by it. According to wending my way, "if someone asks you to stop an act when it relates to them, it's disrespectful to continue, no matter how pure and respectful your original intent was." See, you have to ask. Demanding doesn't count.

localroger: Actually, if you insist on formally converting away from Catholicism, they don't keep pestering you about it.

But our discussion was about records and statistical calculations, not pestering. Moreover, how does the Catholic church find out that you formally converted? Seriously, people, if you don't want to be Mormon anymore, just write a letter telling the church you don't want to be Mormon anymore.

loquacious: The point you're missing is that I don't even want to officially engage the Mormon church on any level.

You're right. I missed that point. I thought you point was that you thought it was unconscionable and immoral for them to keep you on the rolls even though you have not asked to be taken off of them. My mistake.

As for the rest - I've already seen the data about how the church inflates the membership rolls by counting long-inactive people as members.

Inactive members are members. I don't doubt that the church inflates the numbers. But seriously, are inactive Catholics and inactive Jews not actually Catholics or Jews? If you want off the list, tell them you want off the list. If you don't want to tell them you want off the list, it doesn't make sense to complain about being on the list.

It's not really my job to do your due diligence about your chosen religion or belief system. That's your job, for you. I've done my homework and made my choice.

I respect your choice. I don't like the insinuation that I have not done my due diligence about my religion, though.

emjaybee: You know, going to my grandma's gravestone and replacing her given name with what you think is a prettier one wouldn't technically hurt anyone either. You can say you did it out of love. But it's still erasing who she really was, and that, my friend, is a dick move. It's using the tiny bit of her existence that is still here as fodder for your religious wanking and it crosses a line.

I don't see how that is equivalent. Can you explain?

gurple: Well, like so many things, that varies from Mormon to Mormon. A lot of Mormons take the D&Cs somewhat more literally and only eschew tea and coffee.

The D&C says nothing about tea or coffee. Taking it literally would mean something completely different, including brewing your own beer, making your own wine, eschewing oats and corn, only eating meat in the winter and times of famine, and a whole bunch of other things. The General Handbook of Instructions specifically addresses the caffeine issue and states explicitly that caffeine is not prohibited. Any Mormon who believes that caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom is literally refusing to follow the specific policies of the Church.

ga$money: I check in once in a while out of curiosity. But I think you're glossing the difference between what various people choose to believe within a theological framework and what the Church administration embraces as its official stance.

There is no official stance. The Church hasn't added to the canon since the 1970s.
posted by The World Famous at 5:13 PM on June 1, 2011


And finally, what atheist wouldn't admit that, however impossible it seems to be, were they in fact to find themselves confronted with extraordinary evidence contrary to their beliefs such as a face-to-face encounter with what would on every level appear to be The Bona Fide Supreme Being™ that they would refuse any acknowledgment of this fact?

How would I be able to tell the difference between a super being and a Supreme Being? I would submit that there would be one way: Any being capable of posing as the origin of all creation who is such an asshat that their only unbreakable commandment is bow before me is obviously either a false God, or not worthy of worship, as they are less moral than the average 8-year-old. So I figure I'm not really in much danger of regreting my position in the unlikely event of a Hellfire landing.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:15 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The D&C says nothing about tea or coffee.

Dude. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly. To my understanding, this is typically interpreted to mean tea and coffee, and is often broadly understood to mean caffeinated drinks. I understand that this isn't the letter of the law, in the D&Cs or elsewhere. But are you telling me you don't know Mormons who interpret it that way? I'm telling you that I do.
posted by gurple at 5:20 PM on June 1, 2011


The World Famous, I'd love to make you see why I find these acts offensive (and trust me, even with the new understanding you've given me of how Mormons see it, I really, really do). But you're single-handedly dealing with multiple fronts, so I'll step out. Good luck.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly. To my understanding, this is typically interpreted to mean tea and coffee, and is often broadly understood to mean caffeinated drinks.

Dude, do you not know what the word "literal" means?
posted by The World Famous at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2011


The World Famous, I'd love to make you see why I find these acts offensive (and trust me, even with the new understanding you've given me of how Mormons see it, I really, really do). But you're single-handedly dealing with multiple fronts, so I'll step out. Good luck.

I do see why you find them offensive. I don't disagree.
posted by The World Famous at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


jesssse, you have to understand that there are basically two types of people as far as this is concerned: Those who think rituals are important and have effects, and those who think rituals are something between theatre and stupid. There are both religious and nonreligious people in the second camp, none of whom would be all that bothered by what the Mormons are doing.

In the first camp you have mostly religious people, but also some less religious; I remember one friend from college who was the kind of Wiccan who would tell you it was all about observing the seasons and not a literal belief in the Goddess, but she was quite pissed off that her mother was praying for her to return to their church because she regarded that as a "psychic attack." Throughout history, formally or informally, most people have believed that rituals have power.

If you believe rituals have real power then there can be nothing innocent about posthumous baptisms. They are a direct assault on the actual beliefs and practices of the dead and the legacy of their living relatives. The Mormons would not be going to all this trouble if they did not believe there was some useful effect.
posted by localroger at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, but you phrased your demand wrong and I am, therefore, not bound by it.

Spoken like someone who has a lot of hellfire & general suffering in their future. Once inducted, you cannot recuse yourself from His Service. You have been Marked. You are a downstream provider, like it or not.

His Throne demands, and all must obey.

Your kidney quota: Live it. Love it.

But, most of all, meet it.
posted by aramaic at 5:24 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude, do you not know what the word "literal" means?

I believe I initially said "somewhat more literally". As in, adhering somewhat more closely to the original text, i.e., hot drinks.

It bugs me that we're bogged down in this detail. You ignored my broader point, but that's OK -- I'm done with this pileon. I think you're being mostly earnest on the points that matter, and I respect that.
posted by gurple at 5:25 PM on June 1, 2011


I'm curious to see how the Mormon angle will play out in the media after Romney wins the nomination.

FOX will have to start reassuring us how much LDS doctrine has in common with mainstream Christian religions.

What choice will they have?
posted by Trurl at 5:25 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's religion, people. You can't have it both ways, and say that their rituals are ineffective and meaningless, then get upset about the damage done by their rituals.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:26 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


How would I be able to tell the difference between a super being and a Supreme Being?

Well, a super enough being -- does it matter? I mean as an atheist if some creature capable of doing feats that I would normally ascribe as deity-level appeared before me and demonstrated them, I think I could be easily convinced to worship them if the alternative is smiting to eternal damnation.

I'd probably kneel before Zod too, though, so I guess I'm just more concerned with my happiness than my ideals (a jerk god is still a god).
posted by wildcrdj at 5:28 PM on June 1, 2011


as an atheist if some creature capable of doing feats that I would normally ascribe as deity-level appeared before me and demonstrated them

Faith. The whole point is that there is no demonstration.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:31 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I might kneel before Zod, too, but only so I could size him up for overthrowing later. And if he wasn't smart enough to figure that out, then - not a God.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:32 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Faith. The whole point is that there is no demonstration.

Have I mentioned that I am a God? I'll be setting up a tithing schedule shortly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:33 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I meant Zod. I am Zod. I'll be setting up a tithing schedule shortly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:34 PM on June 1, 2011


Have I mentioned that I am a God? ... Sorry, I meant Zod.

You had me, then you lost me.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:36 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The whole point is that there is no demonstration.

Then why did the police arrest them for dancing? Wait. Wrong thread.
posted by The World Famous at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


General Zod in 2012!
posted by Trurl at 5:39 PM on June 1, 2011


He runs every year. He's like Ron Paul without the gold fetish.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:40 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not your place to tell someone…that you know better than they that the choices they made in their lives were wrong and hopefully, someday they will too.

Zarq, I have a lot of respect for you, but I flatly disagree with your outrage on this point.

It's not such a stretch to believe that there's one truth: One mathematical truth no matter the mathematician, one set of physical laws no matter the scientist, one spiritual truth no matter the human being. And if you believe this, then you can, honestly and fairly, come to conclusions about other people's reality because it is connected with your reality. If I can prove the intermediate value theorem, then it is also true for you; if I can observe Newton's laws of motion, then they're true for you as well; and, if I have made the spiritual experience to discover the value of forgiveness, then it is real for you as well. We do this with medicine when we demand that people be vaccinated, and with politeness when we expect social graces. We do this with our children and with our political opponents.

There is a perpetual balance between the natural humility with which we must approach other people, and the conviction induced by our own experience. Of course it seems arrogant for other people to decide against our conclusions. Of course, it's easy to fall into the trap of taking umbrage. But, tell me, where is the threat from the practice in question to our own personal liberties?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:46 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


He runs every year.

But this election cycle, he's mainstream.
posted by Trurl at 5:46 PM on June 1, 2011


Your dead relatives get to choose whether or not they accept the baptism.

Did you read the linked essay? Because that's addressed very clearly:
If she stays, she is disobedient to the only authority she ever acknowledged as supreme and placing her will above that of God. If she goes, she'll be deprived of her conception of Heaven and deny her own faith. Free will turns pretty Gumby-ish when talking about being in the presence of God. A faithful Quaker could not defy God's will, because that's what they lived by their lights. There's a part of me that wonders if Lou's vicarious baptism doesn't condemn those souls to their version of Hell. I don't know if Lou's Celestial Kingdom is objectively better than Zenobia's Inward Light of the Divine, but they're such entirely different concepts that there's no overlap.
It's not a choice between baptism or not. If John Smith was right, us virtuous atheists, after death, will be faced with the ultimate proof that God exists. So will virtuous Hindus and virtuous Catholics and virtuous Muslims (I wonder whose definition of virtue they have to follow, by the way...) Even as an atheist, I don't think I could deny that. How is that a "choice"?

If John Smith wasn't right, then his followers are being assholes in this life, and causing unnecessary and pointless family strife for people like Constance Edwards and her family. The whole point of Pascal's wager is that religion has no earthly negative - I would call family strife a big earthly negative.
posted by muddgirl at 5:46 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dear Mormons...

My particular branch of FSM-ism requires that I baptize all Mormons posthumously, so they can enjoy serving me eternally as one of His (lesser) Noodly Appendages. Don't worry that this will have the effect of forcing you to leave your Celestial Heaven and instead live eternally in a vat of Alfredo sauce - I know best. Promise.

And best of all, I don't need to mess around with all that pesky genealogy crap. With every single piece of pasta I eat with my dinner - Every individual ziti, every strand of spaghetti, every last piece of farfalle - One of your ancestors gets sucked into my heaven and saved from the eternal garishness of all that divine light and such.


Sigh. Of course, the logic of "if you can do it, so can the Reformed Satanist movement of 3715" would fall of deaf ears, because the stupid of religion just works that way.
posted by pla at 5:47 PM on June 1, 2011


The only part of this story that sticks in my craw is that in a different case the church was asked to stop, agreed to, did not stop and then covered it up. That just isn't good regardless of intent.

Other wise, and whenever the Mormon bashing happens here, I'm compelled to back them up a little bit with a little story. When my Jack Mormon wife died years ago the missionaries and their hosts offered themselves and food and support to me for almost a year. They never asked for anything, never tried to convert me. They were just really awesome, caring people and stuck around until I was well and on my own two feet.
posted by snsranch at 5:47 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Excuse me, Joseph Smith.
posted by muddgirl at 5:48 PM on June 1, 2011


When my Jack Mormon wife died years ago the missionaries and their hosts offered themselves and food and support to me for almost a year. They never asked for anything, never tried to convert me. They were just really awesome, caring people and stuck around until I was well and on my own two feet.

I'm glad the Mormons were nice to you. What does this have to do with asking adherents to proxy baptize dead relatives who did not believe in the necessity of baptism or really any physical religious rites?
posted by muddgirl at 5:51 PM on June 1, 2011


The point you're missing is that I don't even want to officially engage the Mormon church on any level. I don't want them to know my current address. I don't want to have to send them a registered mail envelope, and I really don't want to have an "exit interview" with any bishop in any ward or stake.

loquacious, I think I partly get where you're coming from. There's a lot of times I don't bother with "unsubscribe" links on stuff I consider spam because I don't have a lot of personal confidence that there's an effective process in place that will lead to the desired outcome. A lot of times it's just easier to find a way to filter out and disengage. My own experience suggests that this can even be effective.

But I think TWF's point is that there's a certain amount of "I'd like to have it both ways" about your comments regarding the church and the apparent presence of some degree of information about you in its records. No matter how you got on (and I'm mildly curious -- was this something other than some kind of action on the part of a parent/guardian?) somebody has to take you off. This isn't going to happen without you asking, nor will the adoption of a policy of record destruction following some long period of complete disengagement. If you value absolute and undeviating disengagement over removal, then you are on the correct course. If you value removal highly, everything I'm privy to suggests that while there are cases where some Mormon authorities have made things difficult, you can do it without a high cost to your policy of disengagement, particularly if you're both articulate and insistent in your request, which most of your posts here suggest as a likely state of affairs. AFAIK nobody can send a sheriff to drag you into a Mormon bishop's office or even make you answer the phone.

But if you want to complain about how creepy it is that there's still records of you because you won't tell anybody to remove them... well, I think TWF is pointing out there's some dissonance in this position, and I'd tend to agree. But if it's more or less working out for you, far be it from me to suggest you have to do anything else.

If I were to encounter what appears to be The Bona Fide Supreme Being I would probably doubt my own perception before I'd take what I was experiencing at face value.

Which would of course keep anyone from participating -- not via some rejection based on divine disapproval, but by becoming, at the core, either so convinced of the impossibility of the scenario or the kind of person that finds heaven itself anathematic -- presuming a God with some degree of respect for free will.
posted by weston at 5:55 PM on June 1, 2011


Your dead relatives get to choose whether or not they accept the baptism. And by getting so worked up about it, aren't you just legitimizing Mormon baptisms?

Good point. I would add that Mormons claim to have a restored gospel. Therefore they also have the burden of ritually restoring everyone's salvation else along with it, especially their own dead relatives. One might pause to wonder why heaven requires this for so many already nameless, but these don't really matter, because they are not terribly important to the believer. The element of denial here is that it would naturally disturb a proud true believer to believe in something that condemned their immediate ancestors without some sort of remedy for it. The annoying part to Christians is that Mormons are also denying that the previous baptism of all those Christian dead had any worth, because they are in limbo thanks to what the Mormons believe about their singular authority to baptize.
posted by Brian B. at 5:57 PM on June 1, 2011


My particular branch of FSM-ism requires that I baptize all Mormons posthumously, so they can enjoy serving me eternally as one of His (lesser) Noodly Appendages. Don't worry that this will have the effect of forcing you to leave your Celestial Heaven and instead live eternally in a vat of Alfredo sauce - I know best. Promise.

Fine. That doesn't bother me at all. You can even start with my ancestors and more recent deceased family members. No problem. Seriously.

Of course, the logic of "if you can do it, so can the Reformed Satanist movement of 3715" would fall of deaf ears, because the stupid of religion just works that way.

No, you're right, I really am stupid because I don't think that's logic at all.

The only part of this story that sticks in my craw is that in a different case the church was asked to stop, agreed to, did not stop and then covered it up. That just isn't good regardless of intent.

You're right, snsranch. That is one of many bad things that the church has done.

Brian B.: The annoying part to Christians is that Mormons are also denying that the previous baptism of all those Christian dead had any worth, because they are in limbo thanks to what the Mormons believe about their singular authority to baptize.

Mormons don't believe in limbo. Moreover, it's not like all those other Christians believe that every baptism ever done by any sect or branch of Christianity or other religion is totally valid. Mormonism views it as a question of God being fair as opposed to other Christian churches' belief that God is cruel and denies salvation to people merely based on the circumstances of their birth, geographic location, and other factors.
posted by The World Famous at 6:02 PM on June 1, 2011


My particular branch of FSM-ism requires that I baptize all Mormons posthumously, so they can enjoy serving me eternally as one of His (lesser) Noodly Appendages. Don't worry that this will have the effect of forcing you to leave your Celestial Heaven and instead live eternally in a vat of Alfredo sauce - I know best. Promise...

I'm slightly curious to see if I state for probably the third or fourth time in this thread (and that's just me) that not even the Mormons believe their proxy baptisms force any kind of status on anyone if this stripe of statement will go away, and we can get back to arguing about the real issue, which is whether/why people are generally justified in granting others the power to offend them with religious beliefs they don't buy in the least.
posted by weston at 6:06 PM on June 1, 2011


Quakers rule, Mormons drool. I say this as someone raised Quaker.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:11 PM on June 1, 2011


I find it presumptuous, but not offensive. Not that it's up to me to decide for anyone else (that would also be presumptuous). What I find ironic, though, is that the closest this comes to offensive in my eyes is if the Mormons are actually right (because otherwise it's a meaningless gesture). But if they're right, then, I guess... thanks? Irony.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:13 PM on June 1, 2011


Quakers rule, Mormons drool. I say this as someone raised Quaker.

Quakers beat Mormons to the White House, so that's I guess one up on Mormonism, or something.
posted by The World Famous at 6:15 PM on June 1, 2011


Mormons don't believe in limbo.

They believe in their own state of limbo, but avoid most Catholic terminology. Mormons also like to say they don't believe in hell, but it's right there under a different name.
posted by Brian B. at 6:21 PM on June 1, 2011


They believe in their own state of limbo, but avoid most Catholic terminology.

Maybe my understanding of the Catholic conception of limbo is incomplete. Can you tell me what Mormon concept you think is the equivalent of limbo and why?

Mormons also like to say they don't believe in hell, but it's right there under a different name.

Again, can you tell me what Mormon concept you think is the equivalent of the typical Christian concept of hell? Because outer darkness isn't really it, since it requires that the person have a perfect, beyond-faith knowledge of the divine and then turn away from it (so really only a couple of people qualify) and everything else has infinite gradations according to the individual and none of it is what anyone would think of as anything even remotely similar to what is generally called "hell."
posted by The World Famous at 6:29 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obama's dead mother was proxy baptized also. Probably had nothing to do with him being president at all.
posted by newdaddy at 6:30 PM on June 1, 2011


They believe in their own state of limbo, but avoid most Catholic terminology. Mormons also like to say they don't believe in hell, but it's right there under a different name.

Right. Unless the doctrine has changed since the 80s and 90s, Mormons do very much believe in the concept of limbo. If I'm recalling my seminary and sunday school lessons correctly everyone is held (after death) in limbo until the Millennium and when the whole show is over.

Then you either go on to one of the three grades of Heaven - Celestial, Telestial and Terrestial.

Or if you've been naughty you're cast into Purgatory, which according to the Mormons is still pretty nice compared to Earth, but is a terrible thing to endure forever because you get to see what you missed out on by failing to be good enough for one of the three levels of Heaven, so you get to sit and watch the party while you stew in your regrets and sorrows.

If you're especially naughty you're cast out into the Outer Darkness which is where they'll put the Hitlers and Jeffery Dahmers of history.
posted by loquacious at 6:34 PM on June 1, 2011


Right. Unless the doctrine has changed since the 80s and 90s, Mormons do very much believe in the concept of limbo. If I'm recalling my seminary and sunday school lessons correctly everyone is held (after death) in limbo until the Millennium and when the whole show is over.

It's not quite that simple, and the details set it apart from the Catholic views of limbo.

Then you either go on to one of the three grades of Heaven - Celestial, Telestial and Terrestial.

Right, within which are infinite gradations. And those grades of Heaven are where nearly everyone "goes," including baddies.

Or if you've been naughty you're cast into Purgatory

Wait. What? I think you're confusing Sunday School with Dante.

If you're especially naughty you're cast out into the Outer Darkness which is where they'll put the Hitlers and Jeffery Dahmers of history.

What? No. The Hitlers and Jeffrey Dahmers of history do not qualify.

At the very least can people please just read the incomplete, not-entirely-accurate Wikipedia explanation?
posted by The World Famous at 6:44 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you tell me what Mormon concept you think is the equivalent of limbo and why?

Not really, I don't debate plain English by way of dogmatic terminology because it is catering to the self-imposed.
posted by Brian B. at 6:50 PM on June 1, 2011


Not really, I don't debate plain English by way of dogmatic terminology because it is catering to the self-imposed.

Then why did you make the assertion?
posted by The World Famous at 6:54 PM on June 1, 2011


I don't debate plain English by way of dogmatic terminology because it is catering to the self-imposed.

I read this 5 times, still confused.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:57 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting thread. I'm fascinated with Mormonism as I am with many religions, and have done quite a bit of reading of both modern Mormonism and various branches of FLDS. Personally, as a deep agnostic, I don't really understand people who act all up in arms about the weirdness of their rituals more than any other religious rituals (people who make cracks about magic underwear, etc). Religion is full of silly shit if you divorce the ritual acts from their symbolic meanings.

But this baptizing thing feels different for me. It might be because, as someone who was raised Jewish, I've already faced a lot of proselytizing in my life. I knew from a pretty young age--when a girl I knew told me I was going to hell in my elementary school lunch room--that my beliefs would be under active assault. At thirteen, a Jehovah's Witness friend had me sleep over for the express purpose of trying to save me the next morning when her bible teacher visited. I was an "evolutionist" and a fan of fantasy novels--so they told me that if I accepted Jesus, and gave up in my belief in evolution, then I'd be able to fly dragons in the afterlife. They also made me cry, hardcore, to the point where I just started weeping and shaking my head and saying that I was a Jew over and over again.

I do feel offended when people say they're going to pray for me--specifically when they say they're going to pray for my salvation. Because I try my best to respect other people's beliefs (and, sure, yeah, that's in line with Jewish beliefs on the matter, too), and something like this--even if it's just opening the door for the "salvation" of dead people feels really disrespectful. Not to the dead. I don't think they care. But to their families, certainly. I go through a lot of my daily life just hoping not to get into these conversations--groaning internally when I see missionaries of various sorts come to my door. I really, really don't want to be saved. I want to be left alone, and want the idea of my dead relatives left alone, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


Then why did you make the assertion?

Because it's true. You only believe it's not because it's not in the Catholic dictionary sense of the word. Now you're wondering why you aren't being served a chance to discuss Mormonism.
posted by Brian B. at 7:02 PM on June 1, 2011


It's religion, people. You can't have it both ways, and say that their rituals are ineffective and meaningless, then get upset about the damage done by their rituals.

The original post, though, was about a clash between religious beliefs, between the rituals of one religion and the rejection of rituals by another. So part of the issue was about whether the Mormon sister should respect the religious beliefs of Quaker relations by not baptizing them. As a Quaker, it feels less to me like a question of how effectiving or meaningful the ritual is than a question about respect.
posted by not that girl at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2011


Because it's true.

What's true? You won't even tell me what you meant by it.

You only believe it's not because it's not in the Catholic dictionary sense of the word.

I didn't say it's not true. I asked you to tell me what you're talking about because I didn't understand your assertion.

Now you're wondering why you aren't being served a chance to discuss Mormonism.

What does that even mean? You get to make vague, unsupported statements about something and when I ask you what you mean I'm the one wanting to be served a chance to discuss the thing that you said?
posted by The World Famous at 7:06 PM on June 1, 2011


Here's my big question, and my level of outrage really depends on the answer.

When the LDS does their Dead Baptism thing...are they then adding the "baptized" to the lists of the members of the LDS? I mean, in archival records, is that person then changed from, say Jewish to Mormon in some genealogical database that then populates out to the world at large?
posted by dejah420 at 7:07 PM on June 1, 2011


When the LDS does their Dead Baptism thing...are they then adding the "baptized" to the lists of the members of the LDS?

No.
posted by The World Famous at 7:11 PM on June 1, 2011


Wait, the more I think about this, the more I want to be there when they baptize my relatives.

The Mormon church baptizes by proxy, and often uses groups of teenagers to do this. I assume they also read the names of the dead folk out loud while they pronounce the rites. If so I hope my great great great great great grandmother Isabel Cock made for an awkward moment in the temple. I also hope the kids giggled over Pickles Riddihough, thinking "is that even a real name? You're kidding me, right?"

(PS I find this shit ridiculous, honestly. It's like the religious equivalent of Pokémon.)
posted by Jehan at 7:13 PM on June 1, 2011


weston : I'm slightly curious to see if I state for probably the third or fourth time in this thread (and that's just me) that not even the Mormons believe their proxy baptisms force any kind of status on anyone if this stripe of statement will go away

Does that somehow make it better???

If they actually believed it mattered, they could almost claim the moral high-ground, in a pathological sort of way. But not really even to believe it, that just makes them deliberately obnoxious, going around pissing off other religions by (non-physically) desecrating those religions' own dead.


which is whether/why people are generally justified in granting others the power to offend them with religious beliefs they don't buy in the least.

The inhabitants of the Western hemisphere, pre-1400, didn't believe that anyone could "own" land. Does that make it just peachy that Europeans came and took all the land away from its former occupants?

Modern Jews tend to acknowledge that the prohibition against pork originated as nothing more than a sort of circa-2000BCE anti-trichinosis PSA. Would you thus call it acceptable to sneak bacon into the Passover latkes?


and we can get back to arguing about the real issue

You'll have to point out the "real issue" to me, then, if not that of Mormons deliberately contravening the death/afterlife rights and beliefs of other religions.



The World Famous : No, you're right, I really am stupid because I don't think that's logic at all.

If X can steal Y's soul post-mortem, does it not follow that W can in turn steal X's soul post-mortem?



Jehan : PS I find this shit ridiculous, honestly. It's like the religious equivalent of Pokémon.

Heh, "Gotta catch 'em all!"

Wow, that kinda blew my mind for just a sec. You win the thread! :)
posted by
posted by pla at 7:27 PM on June 1, 2011


AHURA MAZDA I CHOOSE YOU!
posted by elizardbits at 7:28 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's religion, people. You can't have it both ways, and say that their rituals are ineffective and meaningless, then get upset about the damage done by their rituals.

It's not having it both ways to be concerned with how your friends, family, or people around you view you and your decisions, or of those you care about.
posted by Hoopo at 7:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does that somehow make it better???

There can certainly be reasonable disagreement about that question. However, the fact is that, regardless of whether or not it makes it better, it makes it factually different from what is being represented in this thread time and time again.

If X can steal Y's soul post-mortem, does it not follow that W can in turn steal X's soul post-mortem?

No, it does not follow. Moreover, what are you even talking about? Stealing souls? What religion are you referring to?
posted by The World Famous at 7:33 PM on June 1, 2011


TWF if you don't understand "stop using my grandma's name for your religious spooging because it's disrespectful to her memory," then no further explanation is possible. I am not a believer, but I resent this intrusion and appropriation of my loved ones' name and memory.
posted by emjaybee at 7:36 PM on June 1, 2011


If they actually believed it mattered, they could almost claim the moral high-ground, in a pathological sort of way. But not really even to believe it, that just makes them deliberately obnoxious

My understanding (from reading this thread, where it's been said over and over) is that Mormons believe the baptisms matter (because they give people options in the afterlife) but that the baptisms don't force people to accept Mormon beliefs even in the afterlife.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:38 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do understand that, emjaybee. And I agree with you.
posted by The World Famous at 7:39 PM on June 1, 2011


Me: When the LDS does their Dead Baptism thing...are they then adding the "baptized" to the lists of the members of the LDS?

The World Famous: No.


Well then, from a purely historical standpoint, if they're not mucking up the records, the objections that are made are primarily theosophical. I find the practice odd...but I find a lot of religious practices odd. What I find problematic is that the LDS has been asked to stop, has claimed they've stopped, and yet are still secretly pushing teenagers into tubs in the name of baptizing dead folks.
posted by dejah420 at 7:41 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would you thus call it acceptable to sneak bacon into the Passover latkes?

OMFG bacon latkes sound AWESOME
posted by Hoopo at 7:44 PM on June 1, 2011


That said; I'd put my dead Irish Catholics, dead Persian Zoroastrians, dead Israelites and dead Phoenician Maronites up in damn near any afterlife cage fight vs Mr. Smith. Y'all are invited. I'll make popcorn.
posted by dejah420 at 7:44 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


OMFG bacon latkes sound AWESOME

NO NO NO NO NO>>>> BACON CHEDDAR LATKES!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:46 PM on June 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry muddgirl, you must have missed a previous comment that cleared that right up.

The "baptism" is only "official" if the "soul" decides to come back and claim it. There's really no harm or foul here. The Mormons aren't forcing the souls to do anything, they are just making it possible in case the souls would like to. Pretty simple and kinda romantic actually.
posted by snsranch at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2011


I remember the first time I had someone tell me they would pray for me in response to finding out that I was an atheist. I laughed. "You must think your God is pretty stupid then, that He needs you to tell him what to do." "I'm not telling Him - I'm asking him. For you!" "You don't think He knows how I feel about it? You don't think He already knows how this is going to turn out? I thought you said He was perfect?" "Of course He's perfect! But we still have free will." "Well is He all powerful, or not?" "He is!" "Does He know everything, or not?" "He does!" "Does He have a plan, or not?" "Of course He has a plan!" "Is He perfect, or not?" "Of course He's perfect!" "Then you only think you have free will. If He knows everything, and He has a plan, and the plan is perfect, then He knew how it would turn out before He ever created the universe, and nothing in the universe can thwart His plan, else it wasn't perfect. Therefore, nothing you do, or I do, or we ask, will ever change His mind about anything, because He already picked the universe He wanted from the very beginning. So stop wasting His time. He has shit to do."

And that person's name was... Judas! And that's... the rest of the story!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:02 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


So how would the Mormons feel about another religion returning the favor? I can't imagine they'd see it in the same light. That's what's where their argument falls apart.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:05 PM on June 1, 2011


The "baptism" is only "official" if the "soul" decides to come back and claim it. There's really no harm or foul here. The Mormons aren't forcing the souls to do anything, they are just making it possible in case the souls would like to. Pretty simple and kinda romantic actually.

Except they visit your soul every few months and somehow casually bring it up again.
posted by longsleeves at 8:08 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Then you only think you have free will. If He knows everything, and He has a plan, and the plan is perfect, then He knew how it would turn out before He ever created the universe, and nothing in the universe can thwart His plan, else it wasn't perfect

Congrats, you invented Calvinism a few centuries late.
posted by empath at 8:08 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


This whole thing is kind of like posthumously making a life-long Washingtonian an Eagles fan.
posted by empath at 8:11 PM on June 1, 2011


I was just a teenager talkin' out my ass. It didn't do any more good than the praying.

Speaking of which, can somebody explain to me why so many people think that a Supreme Being would make rules like a game of Fizzbin? Do people really think a God wouldn't get that they were just working the system? Either we're supposed to be good, or not. I don't see how malicious compliance is really going to win Him over. How can people really worship a God who's gullible enough to fall for their shit? Like any club that would have me, Heaven with me in it would be... unholy.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:14 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want to see what happens when people really think dealing with God is like following the rules playing Monopoly, check out eruvin.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:20 PM on June 1, 2011


Yeah - I just heard about that recently (on the Daily Show, actually). It's fascinating, but it kind of freaked me out. For exactly the reason you surmised. Okay - gotta go.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:23 PM on June 1, 2011


Speaking of which, can somebody explain to me why so many people think that a Supreme Being would make rules like a game of Fizzbin?

It's simply that nobody has calculated the odds on getting a Royal Fizzbin. The odds are... astronomical.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:49 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does that somehow make it better???

Compare these two messages:

"Hey, your relatives are Mormons now that they're dead and we baptized them. That's just the way believe it is."

vs.

"Hey, if you/your relatives change your mind in the afterlife, we'll take care of/have taken care of the baptism thing for them, your/their call."

I think that's a pretty important shift in the narrative. It's one of choice rather than compulsion. And I do think that's better whether you believe in the efficacy or not. It pretty clearly differentiates things from the lines like "oh yeah, well I'm going to excommunicate you posthumously or baptize you into the church of satan and there's nothing you can do about it", which is apparently how a lot of people think about this despite the fact the Mormons don't.

Now, whether that makes things OK is a different question. Personally I think it's strange that people who believe this is all about as real as Harry Potter spells are offended by it. I honestly don't care of somebody says my grandparents would still have the opportunity to embrace L. Ron Hubbard or Mary Baker Eddy or Emanuel Swedenborg or Osama Bin Laden or Nyarlathotep in the afterlife, and if somewhere there's some offshoot of Judaism where the members like to do brit milahs on behalf of goyim like me just in case we want in later, hey, I think it's a nice gesture to hold the door open even if I'm not coming through.

But I can see that despite the fact it doesn't make any sense to me to be disturbed by this kind of thing, some people are. I'd like to understand where they're coming from, which is most of my reason for participating in this thread. But so far I'm not yet convinced that a good chunk of the reason isn't a misreading of the actual beliefs.
posted by weston at 9:16 PM on June 1, 2011


The World Famous: Do you also get bent out of shape when people of other faiths pray for others?
Not in the least. I know your comment wasn't directed at me, but it's worth pointing out that prayer and baptism are very different. I appreciate prayers from all faiths, but a baptism represents a different intent.
posted by willhopkins at 9:16 PM on June 1, 2011


"Hey, your relatives are Mormons now that they're dead and we baptized them. That's just the way believe it is."

vs.

"Hey, if you/your relatives change your mind in the afterlife, we'll take care of/have taken care of the baptism thing for them, your/their call."


The first sounds like a fundamentalist Mormon, the second sounds like a mainstream Mormon. Interesting though.
posted by Brian B. at 9:47 PM on June 1, 2011


I feel like a lot of what gives people the creeps about this is that it's called "baptism". In a lot of faiths, baptism is definitely supposed to be the result of a conscious choice you make to embrace a deity, and it marks you as a believer. It's the beginning of some sort of magical new life in the jolly arms of your god, right? Because you just demonstrated you believe in his big ideas?

I've been baptized before. I was a baby and don't remember it. I kind of wish I'd had a choice about it, but I don't really care either way, I guess, since I'm an atheist now. If someone tries to baptize me again without my consent, well, go for it, but it didn't take then and it probably won't take after I'm dead. My immortal soul, such as it is, appears to be pretty resistant to gods. The religious angle basically just doesn't concern me. I don't care if you give my dead soul the option to be a Mormon, because I'm quite well convinced there isn't any such thing. Feel free to give it any other option you'd like, too. I don't mind.

What I don't like is the idea of it being written down someplace for my descendants to find, that great-great-grandma troublesome was a member of a religion. I mean, I guess they would be able to tell given the baptism happened after I died that it was done without my consent, but I still just don't like the idea that there might be a database someplace, ever, that takes "troublesome == LDS"? and spits out "true". It feels like identity theft to me. I'd feel the same if someone told me they'd take my name once I'm gone and put it on a list of donors to a political cause I found repugnant, or, I don't know, create a Facebook account with my name, with a bunch of pictures of a twentysomething girl drunk at a party. I just don't want people seeing that kind of thing and getting the wrong impression about who I was, you know? We all want to leave a legacy that matches who we are.
posted by troublesome at 10:18 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd like to understand where they're coming from, which is most of my reason for participating in this thread. But so far I'm not yet convinced that a good chunk of the reason isn't a misreading of the actual beliefs.

I repeat myself: THEN STOP USING THE WORD 'BAPTISM'.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:29 PM on June 1, 2011


Troublesome, the church does not consider those who are baptized by proxy to be members of the religion. There is no list that says they are now Mormons.

benito.strauss, what word would you prefer we use to describe someone being immersed in water for the remission of sins to fulfill all righteousness in keeping with Christ's example? It is, by definition, baptism.

Empath, it's not so much like making a Washingtonian an Eagles fan as it is like buying them Eagles season tickets just in case they decide they want to use them.
posted by The World Famous at 10:38 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


207 comments in and I still can't come up with a good defense of this. I get where The World Famous is coming from. He wants to defend the doctrine versus the practice. Unfortunately for a lot of people, both inside and outside of the Mormon faith, practice and doctrine are the same, even when they aren't.

I think the doctrine's been twisted. It's true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Many aspects of modern Mormonism are clear evidence of that. This is one. The doctrine of proxy baptism was originally meant as a binding force for families. As far as I've read within the canon, it was never intended as a blunt instrument for "flooding the earth with Mormons," though that's definitely how it gets treated a lot these days.

Couple this with the fact that Mormon leadership and administration efforts are run like a corporation and you have a recipe for things being decided in committee, middle managers flashing on to new technologies, and those good intentions just get bigger, shinier and even better at paving roads. This is what happened in 1995, and in 2005.

I wish I could apologize for the church's behavior, I wish that could have meaning. Like The World Famous, I do believe in the doctrines of the Mormon faith. Call me crazy but I wouldn't be able to deny it, and I understand how stupid that makes me sound. And yet at the same time I'm totally frustrated at our monolithic culture that pulls stunts like this.

There may not be a way to have a proxy baptism doctrine that isn't offensive to many people (just as belief in chastity or heaven and hell is offensive), but I'm sure there's a way to practice that belief that isn't invasive and terrible. We're not there yet, I don't know if we ever will be. Personally I'm trying my best to be a part of the solution within the church, rather than a continuation of the problem.
posted by jnrussell at 10:41 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


There may not be a way to have a proxy baptism doctrine that isn't offensive to many people

Shoot, man, every religion has offensive doctrines. Just stop the practice. I count as Jewish in most people's books, and the Bible is filled with horrendous practices. Most Jews just look at them and "No way I'm doing that. That's horrible."
posted by benito.strauss at 10:48 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


what word would you prefer we use to describe someone being immersed in water for the remission of sins to fulfill all righteousness in keeping with Christ's example? It is, by definition, baptism.

That's an interesting question. Suppose you were to take me, immerse me in water for the remission of my sins, fulfilling all righteousness in keeping with Christ's example. Would I have been baptised?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:51 PM on June 1, 2011


THEN STOP USING THE WORD 'BAPTISM'.

Are we handing off ownership of the term to a standards body at this point? If someone wants to use it, will they need to make sure they meet a careful checklist of criteria? And how are we going to get the immersionists and the christeners on the same page?

I can see how the term can cause some confusion and contribute to some of the reactions (and troublesome, I find your articulation to be one of the best in the thread), but given the variations surrounding its manner and significance, I don't think it's the whole story.
posted by weston at 11:00 PM on June 1, 2011


You're right, weston, it isn't the whole story. But you said that people were mis-understanding the beliefs. I'm telling you why they are.

For myself, regardless of whether you mean forced baptism or proffered baptism, I still have the same reaction, as stated above.

Good night.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:12 PM on June 1, 2011


I think it's awesome. I mean if Mormonism is right, this means I can reap the benefits without actually having done anything Mormon in my life. I'm going to drink another cup of coffee in celebration!
posted by melissam at 5:08 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


weston : I think that's a pretty important shift in the narrative. It's one of choice rather than compulsion.

Agreed, if dealing with agnostics or religions that consider baptism a good thing. The topic at hand does not primarily involve compatible or non-believers:

"Quakers do not believe in baptism by water. For Quakers, accepting baptism imperils their immortal souls [...] Everyone in our Quaker records consciously and willfully refused baptism by water."

It involves a group of people who very much do (or did) believe, and more than that, they believe baptism somehow harms their souls.

That distinction makes this more than just picking nits over rude behavior. Or to put it another way, I find their behavior reprehensible because they believe in it, not because I do.


The World Famous : No, it does not follow. Moreover, what are you even talking about?

Seriously? Okay, last try - If I can collect antique cheese slicers, can someone else, someday, potentially acquire my collection? If I steal your dog, can someone in turn steal it from me? "What's good for the goose is good for the gander?"
posted by pla at 5:36 AM on June 2, 2011


Shoot, man, every religion has offensive doctrines

Please describe for my edification the offensive doctrines of liberal unprogrammed Quakers and/or Unitarian Universalists.
posted by not that girl at 6:07 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]




The Mormon belief in chastity shouldn't affect me or other non-Mormons in a secular country (the fact that it does is a separate issue). Neither should the Mormon belief in heaven or hell.

Is there a way to practice the doctrine of proxy baptism in a way that does not affect non-Mormons?

posted by muddgirl at 6:46 AM on June 2, 2011


Please describe for my edification the offensive doctrines of liberal unprogrammed Quakers and/or Unitarian Universalists.

Unitarian Universalists - they seem to believe that these clunky graphics are still okay in 2011.

Liberal Unprogrammed Quakers - I surrender!
posted by benito.strauss at 6:49 AM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to be offended by this, but now I think it's fine. It's not as if I believe the ritual actually does anything; it just shows that Mormons think that Jews would change their minds if they knew the truth. As it happens the Jews are right and it's the Mormons who are misguided, but it's nice that Mormons keep it on such a friendly level and presume that non-Mormons would change their minds if they did know the truth. A lot of people wouldn't be so accepting.

And Mormons do a lot of genealogical work - yes, I know it's for doctrinal reasons, but they also share the fruits of their labour for free, which is another nice thing to do. As a consequence of this they're actually keeping the memory of these people alive, which is a lot more significant to me than some silly ceremony.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:52 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


speaking as an agnostic social historian, the LDS have done wonders for the preservation of records. They microfilm the originals - so we have records of not just baptisms, burials and marriages, but also wills, probate inventories, etc. There is no question that anyone who was Quaker (or Anglican or Catholic, etc) will be mistaken as having been LDS.

That said, I'm totally sympathetic with the people who don't want their ancestors baptized. I'm just saying that a distortion of the historical record is not one of the problems.
posted by jb at 6:58 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


The point I was trying to make earlier, but failed to make clearly, was that if Mormons actually practiced the stated doctrine of proxy baptisms (rather than the non-canonical computer aided version that we have now) these kinds of problems would mostly go away.

If we just stuck to the concept of "our dead" then we wouldn't be invading anyone else's lives. Consider the following:

1. Baptizing holocaust victims - horribly invasive
2. Baptizing a common ancestor when even one relative objects - disrespectful and invasive
3. Baptizing my dead wife because I've become converted to Mormonism, all her living relatives (children, siblings, aunts and uncles) don't object - not invasive, not disrespectful*

*Of course it can still be argued that maybe I'm messing with my wife's legacy but it's important to remember that she isn't added to the rolls of the church and won't be considered a member, and at this point, with her body moldering in the ground, her legacy is more important to me and her living family than it is to her.

Maybe I'm too close to this to properly judge. I feel that scenario 3 would be an acceptable way to practice the doctrine, whereas I totally agree that scenarios 1 and 2 (and the story of Zenobia and her descendants) are unacceptable ways to practice the doctrine.
posted by jnrussell at 7:44 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


This topic has created a lot of discussion in my own home. I'm an historian and genealogist and naturally am thankful for all that the LDS has done to preserve original records. However, my gratitude typically stops there and was stopped dead in its track a few years back when I discovered that my grandparents, faithful German Lutherans, had been baptized in the LDS church by some far flung relative who likely converted or did so for marriage. What that relative does as a choice in her own personal life to express her own personal faith about her life, and her life alone, is her own business. But when she starts making decisions about my deceased grandparents, that is to say *my immediate family* she crosses a big, big line in my book.

The LDS efforts to preserve records and make genealogical data available is not altruistic. Obviously, original records are what they are and can't be changed or altered but the genealogical charts (aka family trees) they make available through the IGI are typically riddled with errors and contain so much junk data as to be, frankly, useless and confusing to a novice. It therefore seems to me that the preservation of original records is an attempt to put a nice face on the devious practice of, what in my own definition, is posthumous conversion of massive amounts of people to Mormonism. My grandparents in no way, shape or form were Mormons nor believe any of their tenets and would likely be offended by such involuntary conversion (although they were nice people who would probably have just forgiven them anyway ... again, as is a true expression of their religious beliefs!)

What's the harm, they're dead! That's the thought of my spouse, who is Jewish, as neither of us believes in any afterlife, heaven, hell, or whatever fancy name one gives to an artificial construct of existence beyond active 'life' as we define it (e.g. the act of being conscious, breathing, thinking, etc.). I am quite livid in my arguing that there IS harm in attempting to recast the lives and faiths of people who have utterly no say in the matter. It's rewriting history, it's blatantly erasing the narratives of millions of life stories. I, personally, tread very carefully in retelling the histories of the people I uncover in my research, and never draw conclusions that aren't based on verifiable data. I also don't change the religious beliefs and expressions of those who have passed. I recall my disappointment years ago at finding an obscure obituary for the sister of one of my direct ancestors. I had rather hoped it would tell tales of her and her family's amazing life as Scottish immigrants to Canada, but all it contained were lugubrious references to being called home to Jesus and boilerplate expressions of Christian faith that contained zero personal information. Since that is the will of the people who immediately survived her, I do use this obituary in its documented form without alteration as an expression of her life and of who she was despite it's lack of any factual data other than her name and date she died.

Frankly, I believe this 'ancestor baptism' must stop, especially when it involves people from outside the Mormon faith, and specifically when it is a non-Christian religion involved. Celebrate the ancestry that you CAN VERIFY as Mormon, and pray for those folks. Celebrate the living who are Mormon. Leave my grandparents OUT of your faith, and stop being deceitful in making promises, like those to the Jewish community and Holocaust victims specifically, that were never intended to be kept. I don't condone general anti-Mormon behavior, but when there are Mormons who practice deception and attempt to insert themselves into the private religious lives of my immediate family, it is easy to see why there are those who get angry with the LDS church and say not-so-nice things about them. (I am leaving out the fact that I am queer, and as such, the majority of the LDS church actively lobbies against me and my queer compatriots - I have not-so-nice things to say when it involves that particular issue, which is separate from the ancestor baptism issue).

Then as an historian, there is little left to say when the accuracy of their interpretation of the original historical records they collect and preserve is completely suspect. Again, they do much more harm by not having any standards for accuracy and thorough documentation. At best, people just get the wrong ideas about their ancestry or historical figures, at worst we end up negating these lives and experiences if what we repeat about them is not true and distorts who they were and what beliefs they, themselves, professed in their lives.

All that being said, I see no evidence that any of these controversies have effect on LDS hierarchy and they will likely continue to pursue this misguided practice of baptizing dead people against their will and the wills of their living descendants. I truly wish there were an "undo" as I would take my grandparents out of their baptism scheme and reassert their Lutheran baptisms as they intended to be identified through their faith in Jesus Christ.
posted by kuppajava at 7:56 AM on June 2, 2011


jnrussell - your #3 does not seem to fulfill the doctrine that all souls must be given the opportunity of Mormon baptism.
Here and now then, we move to accomplish the work to which we are assigned. We are busily engaged in that kind of baptism. We gather the records of our kindred dead, indeed, the records of the entire human family; and in sacred temples in baptismal fonts designed as those were anciently, we perform these sacred ordinances.

“Strange,” one may say. It is passing strange. It is transcendent and supernal. The very nature of the work testifies that He is our Lord, that baptism is essential, that He taught the truth.

And so the question may be asked, “You mean you are out to provide baptism for all who have ever lived?”

And the answer is simply, “Yes.” For we have been commanded to do so.

“You mean for the entire human family? Why, that is impossible. If the preaching of the gospel to all who are living is a formidable challenge, then the vicarious work for all who have ever lived is impossible indeed.”

To that we say, “Perhaps, but we shall do it anyway.”
posted by muddgirl at 8:06 AM on June 2, 2011


I know this is hard for non-Mormons to understand for some reason, but it is pretty standard for Mormons to reasonably and respectfully disagree with the non-canonical interpretations and statements of church leaders. Given that the church leaders respectfully disagree with each other, it only makes sense that the members of the church would, too.
posted by The World Famous at 8:20 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


TWF, the point is that those currently in charge are the ones who think appropriating the ancestors of others is a good thing, to judge by the fact that it hasn't stopped.

You may be more ethical about this, many other Mormons too, but you have no power to stop this practice.
posted by emjaybee at 8:35 AM on June 2, 2011


I know this is hard for non-Mormons to understand for some reason

It's hard for me to understand when someone says "I believe church doctrine" and "You just don't understand church doctrine", but when I cite lds.org sources for church doctrine, I'm told "I don't believe that interpretation of church doctrine."

It makes it hard to have these kinds of conversations, because as a non-Mormon who is interested in world religions, I don't know what I'm supposed to base this discussion on. I can't cite church leaders from the past or present. I can't cite the revelations because they are open to varied interpretation. I can't discuss any particular LDS-sactioned action because there happen to be some Mormons who don't agree with that action, which I guess invalidates that action? I just don't know any more.
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2011


That's a really good point, muddgirl. It's hard for Mormons to have these kinds of conversations too, because we also have a really hard time separating canon from interpretation. The fact is that folks like TWF and myself are NOT the mainstream of the religion, and though we may feel our views are more closely aligned with the actual doctrine, it's more likely that the average member will agree with and accept as doctrine the stuff found on lds.org.

But that's not the way it's supposed to be. See this quote from Joseph Smith:

"I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. (History of the Church, 5:340, emphasis added)

There is no official interpretation outside the canon text. At least there isn't supposed to be. I'm aware that there is a preponderance of evidence proving me wrong on this point. All I wish to say is that I agree with you, our (that is the church at large) current practice of the doctrine is wrong.

So if you're interested in learning about world religions from the context of how the majority practices the them, well I have no defense because we are being dicks in stories like this. If you're interested learning about the worldview proposed by the religion's actual canon, I think we have some nuance to add to the discussion.
posted by jnrussell at 9:01 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please describe for my edification the offensive doctrines of liberal unprogrammed Quakers and/or Unitarian Universalists.

I've always had difficulty viewing UU as a religion per se, but rather more of a loose community of people who like to do church-like things on Sunday. My brief experience with the UU was....weird.
posted by Hoopo at 9:37 AM on June 2, 2011


Please describe for my edification the offensive doctrines of liberal unprogrammed Quakers and/or Unitarian Universalists.

I don't think that it's offensive, per se, but the absolute pacifism of many Quakers is something that some people disagree with.
posted by jb at 9:51 AM on June 2, 2011


Oh, and the refusal to swear oaths and use honorifics, etc, was very offensive to many people in the past, and got Quakers in trouble. And the baptism issue would be a big deal.
posted by jb at 9:53 AM on June 2, 2011


TWF, the point is that those currently in charge are the ones who think appropriating the ancestors of others is a good thing, to judge by the fact that it hasn't stopped.

Ah. That's not what muddgirl's comment said the point was. My mistake, I guess?

It's hard for me to understand when someone says "I believe church doctrine" and "You just don't understand church doctrine", but when I cite lds.org sources for church doctrine, I'm told "I don't believe that interpretation of church doctrine."

The statements in this thread about people not understanding church doctrine stem primarily from the continuing failure of people in this thread to grasp the fact that Mormons do not consider those baptized by proxy to have been actually baptized or to now be members of the Mormon church. I assume that you do understand that distinction, muddgirl, and I'm not telling you you don't understand church doctrine (though, frankly, I don't think anyone does and I think it's a life-long pursuit even for those who believe in it, so, yeah, you and I don't understand church doctrine). But I don't get how it's hard to understand when someone does not agree with your interpretation of a few lines taken from a website that contains millions of pages of interpretation of doctrine. Mormonism, though a relatively young religion, has a rich and complex history with volumes and volumes of differing interpretation, practice, and statements of doctrine. In that way, it is a lot like every other religion in the world, few if any of which can be understood simply by spending a few minutes browsing a website. I mean, I have every church publication of the last 50 years on a searchable app on my phone, and that doesn't even begin to cover what someone would need to grasp in order to understand Mormonism because it's only 50 or so years and it doesn't include any outside scholarship or publications from any source other than the church itself. And then you have complicating factors like Bruce R. McConkie saying "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation." Frankly, I'm glad he said that because I already thought he and they were wrong, but that principle of Mormonism is one that really, really complicates the task of understanding the doctrine, particularly when you factor in the fact that most Mormons disregard that principle.

It makes it hard to have these kinds of conversations, because as a non-Mormon who is interested in world religions, I don't know what I'm supposed to base this discussion on.

Like any discussion of world religions, you have to base the discussion on acceptance of the fact that the religion is not a monoculture, is complex, and cannot be understood, expressed, or explained simply by quoting or citing to supposed "authoritative" statements or texts.

I can't cite church leaders from the past or present.

You can cite them, sure. They're not authority set in stone, though, and don't expect your own interpretation of what they said or wrote to be an accurate representation of what Mormon doctrine actually is. And even if you do consider, for example, the statements of LDS apostles to be literally authoritative in every instance, BRM's statement, taken literally, means that you are not allowed to cite anything other than the most recent statement on any given topic.

I can't cite the revelations because they are open to varied interpretation.

That's sort of like everything else in the world, then, huh? You can cite anything you want, but to expect your own interpretation to be accepted as authoritative is unreasonable in any context.

I can't discuss any particular LDS-sactioned action because there happen to be some Mormons who don't agree with that action, which I guess invalidates that action?

No. You can discuss any LDS-sanctioned (whatever that means) action, but you should understand that Mormonism is not a monoculture or even a doctrinal monolith, even at the highest levels of church leadership, and you should understand that there will always be faithful, active Mormons who agree with you to varying degrees whenever you discuss Mormonism in any context.

Basically, when discussing Mormonism, I would strongly recommend giving Mormonism the courtesy of being considered an actual religion just like the other major world religions, complete with varying interpretation, a complex history of doctrinal interpretation and changing and even contradictory policies and practices. A search for the term "baptism" on the on-site search function on LDS.org currently yields 5,533 results. It makes no sense to discuss Mormonism with the assumption that an understanding of nearly 200 years of doctrinal development and interpretation can be reached by picking one of those 5,533 results, quoting it out of context, and going with whatever interpretation springs to mind.

kuppajava: I am quite livid in my arguing that there IS harm in attempting to recast the lives and faiths of people who have utterly no say in the matter. It's rewriting history, it's blatantly erasing the narratives of millions of life stories.

I wholeheartedly agree. If there are Mormons who are attempting to recast the lives and faiths of, really, anyone, rewriting history, erasing the narratives of millions of life stories, etc., I wholeheartedly agree that the practice should stop immediately. What I don't understand, however, is how it is that you think saying "this person, who was not Mormon, has the option in the afterlife if they want" constitutes "attempting to recast the lives and faiths of people who have utterly no say in the matter." If the LDS church were altering genealogical records to pretend that non-Mormons had actually been Mormons, I would want to know about it and I would strongly oppose such a practice.
posted by The World Famous at 9:55 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


StickyCarpet: "It's religion, people. You can't have it both ways, and say that their rituals are ineffective and meaningless, then get upset about the damage done by their rituals."

I disagree with you. I believe these rituals are meaningless in that there is no god to care about baptism. However, these rituals most definitely have meaning to the religious people who participate in them, and that is the meaning that I find damaging and offensive.
posted by workerant at 10:12 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


However, these rituals most definitely have meaning to the religious people who participate in them, and that is the meaning that I find damaging and offensive.

Just to make sure I understand what you're saying, what specific meaning do you find damaging and offensive? Lots of people in this thread have repeatedly expressed outrage at what they erroneously think is Mormon belief regarding these rituals, so I'm curious whether you are offended by the actual belief or the erroneous understanding of it.
posted by The World Famous at 10:14 AM on June 2, 2011


Just to make sure I understand what you're saying, what specific meaning do you find damaging and offensive? Lots of people in this thread have repeatedly expressed outrage at what they erroneously think is Mormon belief regarding these rituals, so I'm curious whether you are offended by the actual belief or the erroneous understanding of it.

You may say it's "erroneous", but as you also yourself say:

you should understand that Mormonism is not a monoculture or even a doctrinal monolith, even at the highest levels of church leadership, and you should understand that there will always be faithful, active Mormons who agree with you to varying degrees whenever you discuss Mormonism in any context.

So it sounds like you think the doctrine people are objecting to is "erroneous," but other members of LDS do not. Moreover, I've gathered from what you've said in here that you're personally kind of "outside the mainstream" of LDS, so even though you personally think the doctrine is "erroneous," most members of LDS don't. Hence, the continuing existance of something to object to.

Also -- hell, lots of people always say "but there will be faithful, active [fill in the blanks] who agree with you to varying degrees whenever you discuss [blank] in any context," but that doesn't stop most people from lumping them all together nevertheless. You may be fighting a losing battle.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on June 2, 2011


Just to make sure I understand what you're saying, what specific meaning do you find damaging and offensive? Lots of people in this thread have repeatedly expressed outrage at what they erroneously think is Mormon belief regarding these rituals, so I'm curious whether you are offended by the actual belief or the erroneous understanding of it.

As someone offended by it, I hope you don't mind if I answer: it's offensive to me because it's part of a whole pattern of behavior that disparages other people's beliefs as they've declared them to be in favor of doing stuff "in their best interest" just in case they see the light and convert after they die. That's sort of fundamentally patronizing and condescending, and the fact that this involves the dead, who can't consent or verbalize disagreement, makes it all the more offensive. Not to mention the fact that it offends the established religious and philosophical beliefs of the living relatives of those involved.

I fear that there's no way to really communicate to those who belong to groups who proselytize precisely why practices such as these are offensive. I know that members of these groups believe they're doing God's work, and, more, that they're doing a kindness to the people to whom they present the opportunity to be "saved." But to those of us on the other side, it's not a kindness. It very frequently feels like an assault--a patronizing, condescending, active attack.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi:

I asked: "what specific meaning do you find damaging and offensive?"

You answered: i"t's offensive to me because it's part of a whole pattern of behavior that disparages other people's beliefs as they've declared them to be in favor of doing stuff "in their best interest" just in case they see the light and convert after they die."

How is that an answer to my question? I understand why people find it offensive. But that's not what I asked.

EmpressCallipygos: Moreover, I've gathered from what you've said in here that you're personally kind of "outside the mainstream" of LDS, so even though you personally think the doctrine is "erroneous," most members of LDS don't.

I don't understand where you get the idea that the mainstream of LDS believes that individuals baptized by proxy become Mormons without their consent or that they are considered to be members of the Mormon church. Although I agree with you that I am personally kind of outside the mainstream of Mormon culture, my points in this thread about people misunderstanding or misrepresenting Mormon belief about baptism for the dead are based on the current mainstream beliefs set forth by the church's most current official statements.
posted by The World Famous at 10:53 AM on June 2, 2011


I find the implication that the dead will change their minds about their stated religious beliefs after death--and therefore need to have the option of becoming a Mormon presented to them--offensive, because it's patronizing and paternalistic and does not respect what their stated beliefs were in life.

. . . is that better?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:15 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're interested learning about the worldview proposed by the religion's actual canon

What is meant by "canon?" Is it the Standard Works? Because then I read something like this from TWF:

you have to base the discussion on acceptance of the fact that the religion is not a monoculture, is complex, and cannot be understood, expressed, or explained simply by quoting or citing to supposed "authoritative" statements or texts

So not even the canon is canonical?

Basically, when discussing Mormonism, I would strongly recommend giving Mormonism the courtesy of being considered an actual religion just like the other major world religions

If I ask a Catholic "What does the Catholic church say about transubstantiation?", they can tell me or point me to an authoritative source. If I ask a Presbyterian "What does the Presbyterian church say about baptism?", they can tell me or point me to an authoritative source. But according to what I read here, if I ask "What does the Mormon church say about baptism of the dead?" there is no answer or source. It's whatever any particular Mormon wants it to be at any particular day.

this person, who was not Mormon, has the option in the afterlife if they want

What this practice states is that "This person, who was not a Mormon and did not believe in the Mormon afterlife, has the option of the Mormon afterlife if they want." Didn't most people (in the US at least) have the option to do the whole Mormon thing while they were alive? And didn't they already choose to NOT take that option? So what has changed now that they're dead, besides the fact that they can no longer object to the physical rite?
posted by muddgirl at 11:19 AM on June 2, 2011


My apologies, not "Mormon church" - the Church of Latter Day Saints.
posted by muddgirl at 11:22 AM on June 2, 2011


Also, in case I haven't been wordy enough: I have no problem with a particular member of a church disagreeing with a church doctrine, or even with the majority of the church members silently disagreeing (as we see with the Catholic church and birth control). I'd just like to know exactly who and what they're disagreeing with.
posted by muddgirl at 11:34 AM on June 2, 2011


. . . is that better?

It is an actual answer to a question I asked someone other than you, so I guess it's better, sure.

For whatever it's worth, I subscribe to jnrussell's option #3 stated above. My understanding is that, strictly speaking, members of the church are not supposed to submit names other than those of their own direct ancestors. But as far as I know there's nothing in place to enforce that in any meaningful way. Mormons who are really into genealogy and who submit a significant number of names for ordinances are a pretty distinct subculture within the church, and I think it is extremely difficult for the church to have much control over how they do what they do. I think the church should try harder, though.

muddgirl:

So not even the canon is canonical?

Canon in Mormonism, like canon in every other religion, is subject to widely-varying interpretation. Mormonism happens to have more recent canon than most other major religions. But yeah, the "standard works" are pretty much it, and we (all Mormons) are not literalists even when it comes to the scriptures we wrote ourselves (see, e.g., the Word of Wisdom, the new and everlasting covenant, and the Articles of Faith).

If I ask a Catholic "What does the Catholic church say about transubstantiation?", they can tell me or point me to an authoritative source.

And if you ask another Catholic the same question, they can tell you something else and point you to another authoritative source. Ditto for your other examples. Religious belief is complicated.

But according to what I read here, if I ask "What does the Mormon church say about baptism of the dead?" there is no answer or source.

No. There is an answer and source. You can start with the links I provided above, or just start here. But that's just a starting point, and you need to understand that, as with every other major religion, the answer to "what does the church say about X?" is only completely answered by responding by citing massive volumes of commentary and interpretation. The church has said lots and lots of things about baptism for the dead, almost none of which is canon and most of which, according to Bruce R. McConkie, you should totally ignore.

Didn't most people (in the US at least) have the option to do the whole Mormon thing while they were alive? And didn't they already choose to NOT take that option?

No. As I understand it, the general belief is that the question of whether or not someone has had sufficient exposure and understanding to be held "accountable" by God is a question that only God can answer. Moreover, I'm not sure how you can fairly characterize everyone in the U.S. since 1820 who was not a Mormon has having "chosen" not to be Mormon. I'm not a Catholic, but I never made a choice not to be Catholic. I just wasn't born Catholic.

So what has changed now that they're dead, besides the fact that they can no longer object to the physical rite?

The idea is, I think, that if you assume that God is merciful, just, fair, etc. (a big assumption for many people, I realize), and if you assume that salvation is only possible through baptism by a certain authority (an even bigger assumption, I realize), then God must provide a way for everyone to make a fully-informed decision before handing out salvation.

My apologies, not "Mormon church" - the Church of Latter Day Saints.

"Mormon church" is fine. The actual name of the church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But people outside the church seem to leave the Jesus Christ out of it a lot.

I'd just like to know exactly who and what they're disagreeing with.

There's simply no way to know that for any particular person without totally immersing yourself in the ongoing flood of discourse, interpretation, articles, talks, etc. that is constantly going on in the Mormon church. There are a few (like, seriously, 3 or 4) core fundamental principles that form the theological foundation of Mormonism and everything else is totally up for grabs. Even the foundational stuff is open to personal interpretation. There's no way to know what any given Mormon believes without first understanding a hell of a lot about Mormonism and Mormon culture and then getting to know that individual really, really well.

Imagine your same statement if applied to other religions. Knowing exactly who and what any given member of any major religion agrees or disagrees with is really, really difficult. It gets easier when there are set creeds with names (Vatican II, for example). But even then it's all open for interpretation.
posted by The World Famous at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is an actual answer to a question I asked someone other than you, so I guess it's better, sure.

It's kind of uncool how you keep moving the goalposts. Just saying.

For whatever it's worth, I subscribe to jnrussell's option #3 stated above. My understanding is that, strictly speaking, members of the church are not supposed to submit names other than those of their own direct ancestors. But as far as I know there's nothing in place to enforce that in any meaningful way. Mormons who are really into genealogy and who submit a significant number of names for ordinances are a pretty distinct subculture within the church, and I think it is extremely difficult for the church to have much control over how they do what they do. I think the church should try harder, though.

I don't think it's any better if people are doing this for their direct ancestors only. Religious beliefs vary widely across families, and I think it's important to do the best you can to honor the dead's true identities in life (to be a good speaker for the dead, so to speak), since those that follow eventually form the legacy of the now-dead. For what it's worth, my born-again uncle was the only witness to my own father's supposed death bed conversion, something that I view with the same sort of skepticism and discomfort. That the groups most offended by this are Quakers and Jews, groups that generally don't proselytize, is unsurprising but makes it that much more frustrating.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:56 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's kind of uncool how you keep moving the goalposts. Just saying.

What are you talking about? I asked workerant a question about the meaning of workerant's statement. You answered the question but referred to your own meaning, rather than workerant's meaning. I didn't move any goalposts. I appreciate your comment, but you didn't answer my question - because it was a question that only workerant could answer.

I understand and respect your position on the issue, PhoBWanKenobi.
posted by The World Famous at 12:01 PM on June 2, 2011


Well, of course. But my first statement included caveats about how I knew I wasn't the person being addressed--but that I hoped to be able to answer it as someone fully aware of the distinction you're talking about but is still offended by the practice. And then, when I clarified after you said I hadn't answered the question at all, you included a dismissal because I wasn't the initial party you were addressing. That's very frustrating, and doesn't feel like a good faith attempt at understanding why many parties are offended by this, even when they're aware that proxy baptism does not constitute a conversion.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2011


And if you ask another Catholic the same question, they can tell you something else and point you to another authoritative source.

Not when it comes to dogma, no. They may say they don't believe what the Vatican teaches, and can point to other research which sums up what THEY believe, but when it comes to "What does the Vatican/dogma teach about things," they do have a main source to point to.

I don't understand where you get the idea that the mainstream of LDS believes that individuals baptized by proxy become Mormons without their consent or that they are considered to be members of the Mormon church. Although I agree with you that I am personally kind of outside the mainstream of Mormon culture, my points in this thread about people misunderstanding or misrepresenting Mormon belief about baptism for the dead are based on the current mainstream beliefs set forth by the church's most current official statements.

But then you go on to obfuscate the issue when people pull up things that the LDS does say, by saying "but just because the LDS says that, not everyone who IS Mormon believes that, so don't pay attention to it after all." (I am paraphrasing, but this is what it sounds like.)

So -- yes or no, should we consult with the LDS dogma about baptism by proxy, or should we not?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:07 PM on June 2, 2011


The World Famous, I appreciate the time you've put into this thread, and I've learned some interesting things about Mormonism, but your responses are starting to look more and more like casuistry (in the sense of "argumentation that is ... excessively subtle and intended to be misleading").

I'd prefer to not derail from the subject of the post to people's posting styles, but I just can't stop noticing the pattern.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:11 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's very frustrating, and doesn't feel like a good faith attempt at understanding why many parties are offended by this, even when they're aware that proxy baptism does not constitute a conversion.

Sorry to have not expressed myself adequately in that comment, then. I was not seeking to understand why many parties are offended by baptism for the dead. I already understand that. I understand and respect your position on the issue. I agree with much of what you have said (as I indicated above).

But then you go on to obfuscate the issue when people pull up things that the LDS does say, by saying "but just because the LDS says that, not everyone who IS Mormon believes that, so don't pay attention to it after all." (I am paraphrasing, but this is what it sounds like.)

Ah, I think I see the confusion. The quote that I was commenting on when I said that (or words to that effect) was a quote from a talk by a church authority who many mainstream members of the church and other apostles disagree with openly on a regular basis, particularly in terms of interpretation or correct meaning of the things he says.

So -- yes or no, should we consult with the LDS dogma about baptism by proxy, or should we not?

You should consult, yes, but don't assume that every statement is authoritative or interpreted exactly as you might at first assume.

your responses are starting to look more and more like casuistry

I'm sorry it looks that way to you. It's not my intent.

Also, sorry I didn't respond to your question above about the definition of the word "baptism." You asked: Suppose you were to take me, immerse me in water for the remission of my sins, fulfilling all righteousness in keeping with Christ's example. Would I have been baptised?

Under the generally-accepted definitions of the term "baptism" in the English language, yes, what you describe would fit the definition of the term. Here are some resources in case you're still curious about what the word "baptism" means. Given the definition of the term and the history of its use in Christianity, I simply do not see the logic in your assertion that what Mormons call "baptism" is not actually baptism and should be referred to using a different word. I understand why people object to the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead and I sympathize with many of those objections. But arguing that the word "baptism" does not apply just makes no sense, particularly when you argue, as you did, by shouting it in all caps. If I've missed some nuance of your argument, please let me know. It just seems to me that you don't know what the word "baptism" means.
posted by The World Famous at 12:23 PM on June 2, 2011


You should consult, yes, but don't assume that every statement is authoritative or interpreted exactly as you might at first assume.

I would appreciate a "yes" or "no" answer, please. Not a "yes, but...." answer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2011


Yes.
posted by The World Famous at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2011


Also -- hell, lots of people always say "but there will be faithful, active [fill in the blanks] who agree with you to varying degrees whenever you discuss [blank] in any context," but that doesn't stop most people from lumping them all together nevertheless. You may be fighting a losing battle.

I find it kind of hilarious that you're making the exact opposite of the argument you were making in the atheism vs religion threads. Is it only okay to generalize when your religion isn't included?
posted by empath at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2011


I'm not sure what you're getting at, empath. The quote of mine you're pointing to is addressed to World Famous' attempt to tell people not to generalize - what I was getting at was, "I've also tried to get people not to generalize, but some people are going to do it anyway, so it's a losing battle."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:54 PM on June 2, 2011


And for the record, World Famous: I do understand that not every individual Mormon will interpret what the LDS says in 100% exactly the same way. But it is still helpful to know where to find what the official LDS statement is, and that's what people were asking for.

Most people here (with a few exceptions) do get that individual members of a given religion don't march in 100% lockstep with that official doctrine. And I'm gradually learning to identify the individuals in here who don't get that, and I'm finding it's easier to just give them a wide berth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:57 PM on June 2, 2011


I do understand that not every individual Mormon will interpret what the LDS says in 100% exactly the same way.

I'm confused when you say "what the LDS says." What do you mean? There are millions of pages of things that various people of various positions in the LDS church have said, in addition to commentary, interpretation, and a fairly limited though theoretically-open canon, and there continue to be more and more things said by various people. When you refer to "consult with the LDS dogma" and "what the LDS says," what are you referring to?

Most people here (with a few exceptions) do get that individual members of a given religion don't march in 100% lockstep with that official doctrine.

What most people here (with a few exceptions) and many Mormons do not seem to get is that there is no unified official doctrine.
posted by The World Famous at 1:06 PM on June 2, 2011


It's very possible I don't have a good understanding of what various Christians take 'baptism' to mean.

I think it has two components: 1) the physical act, and 2) the meaning. The two links you cited include the meaning, saying "symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church." and "is for the majority the rite of admission", respectively.

Here's why this matters to me. The distinction has been made that these Mormon Baptisms don't compel the baptized dead to be in the Mormon Church, they merely open up the opportunity. I would think that without the desire to be admitted to the church, the ceremony was not a baptism. Your response says that you think it is. (But I neglected to say that in my question I was assuming the ceremony was taking place with out any desire on my part to join the church. It's a critical point, and I wouldn't surprised if your answer didn't include that factor. I'm verging on casuistry myself now!)

So I see two options:

Either
1) The mere physical act constitutes baptism. If that's the case, then some of the dead are most certainly being baptized against their will.

or
2) It's not a baptism without the desire for admission to the Church. Since we don't know the will of the dead, the word 'baptism' is mis-applied here. It's an "Offer of Baptism". It's as big a difference as that between Proposing and Getting Married
posted by benito.strauss at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2011


I see your point, benito.strauss. Given the breadth of the definition of the term "baptism," I'm not sure there's a good way around the issue. You're right that it is an "offer of baptism." Your option number 2 is correct.
posted by The World Famous at 1:11 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if they accidentally baptize a vampire? Would it kill him or her automatically, or would the vampire have to accept the offer (which, of course, he or she would never do)?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:13 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's a trick question, IRFH. The vampire is already dead.
posted by The World Famous at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2011


So is Zenobia.
posted by muddgirl at 1:49 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


What most people here (with a few exceptions) and many Mormons do not seem to get is that there is no unified official doctrine.

That perhaps may be because we were not aware that there is no unified official doctrine.

But me understand you -- are you saying that there is absoultely no single creed, however basic, that can be described as "Mormon"? If so, then what is it that differentiates a Mormon from a Methodist, say, or a Jehovah's Witness? Or Anglican? You're saying that there is no set position -- regardless of how people may interpret that position -- which is indicative of "what Mormons believe"? None?

If that's the case -- what makes a Mormon a Mormon?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2011


But me understand you -- are you saying that there is absoultely no single creed, however basic, that can be described as "Mormon"?

No, that's not what I'm saying. There are central foundational principles. But there are no creeds in Mormonism and even the official statements issued by the church are not canon. Even the General Handbook of Instructions, which is the official manual of church policy and reference guide for church leaders, is not a canonized, doctrinal document, but simply a policy guide.

I think the best example I can give as an illustration would be the temple recommend interview, in which members of the church are asked very simple questions about their faith every two years in order to gain access to the temple (it's sort of a two-year season pass). Those questions are pretty vague and open to extremely broad and varied interpretation, but they are also stated as binary yes/no questions with no inquiry at all as to how the person being asked the questions interprets their meaning. Bishops are specifically instructed not to ask additional questions or alter the questions (which, again, are extraordinarily vague and open to interpretation).

You're saying that there is no set position -- regardless of how people may interpret that position -- which is indicative of "what Mormons believe"? None?

No, that's not what I'm saying.

what makes a Mormon a Mormon?

Voluntarily choosing to be both baptized and confirmed a member of the Mormon church. Everyone who does that is a Mormon. Nobody who does not do that is a Mormon.
posted by The World Famous at 2:12 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the theological structure you describe is very similar to the US evangelical movement, which has no presidents and little hierarchy at all.

If there is no creed and statements made by the President hold no more weight than the statements of The World Famous and jnrussell, then what is the purpose of having a President, the Council of 12, and so on down to the local organizations?
posted by muddgirl at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2011


If there is no creed and statements made by the President hold no more weight than the statements of The World Famous and jnrussell

Woah. You added that second part yourself.
posted by The World Famous at 2:22 PM on June 2, 2011


>>what makes a Mormon a Mormon?

Voluntarily choosing to be both baptized and confirmed a member of the Mormon church. Everyone who does that is a Mormon.


"...and that thing you do with your hands, very bad."
posted by the_artificer at 2:24 PM on June 2, 2011


If that's the case -- what makes a Mormon a Mormon?


Lately it's dick moves like Zenobia's story (and Prop 8) that seem to set us apart.

There is no official doctrine, or in other words there are no official creeds such as those that the Catechism contains for the Catholic Church. There is canonized scripture, which indeed contains doctrinal principles, but there is no official interpretation of the scriptures or the principles (this is actually the whole point of Mormonism, see below).

This does not stop many people (including church leadership) from interjecting their interpretations of the canon. Many people take this as official doctrine, but it's not because there's no provision for such within the Mormon faith. Again to quote Joseph Smith:

"Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please."

But it would be disingenuous to say that there isn't a set of beliefs one could describe as "what the Mormons believe." Obviously there is, and the mainstream espouse a lot of what you'll see on the front page of LDS.org. But spend some time perusing through these blogs and you'll find that virtually nobody agrees on much of anything doctrinal.

If we really want to get into doctrinal argument, baptism (as defined in the Mormon canon, especially the Book of Mormon) is not baptism into the Mormon church. The fact the Mormon church uses it as a requirement for membership in the church is correlation, not causation. The Mormon church is an earthly, man-made structure and has no place in the heavens. God is not a Mormon.

The purpose of the modern Mormon church is only supposed to be as a support of those people who wish to be counted as Mormons. It's supposed to be a support structure only, not a monolithic dogma-dispensing machine. One of the church leaders back in the 1980s tried to express this and was quickly silenced by other leadership. See this link in Wikipedia for more info on that.
posted by jnrussell at 2:26 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Woah. You added that second part yourself.

I'm sorry, I interpreted the several statements you have made in this thread, some of them in relation to the essays written by members of the Council of 12 apostles posted on the LDS website not being "Mormon doctrine".

If the opinions of the Council of 12 Apostles DO hold more weight than the opinions of others, what is the difference between these statements and doctrine? Do they not form a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions? It seems like we are starting to split hairs.
posted by muddgirl at 2:27 PM on June 2, 2011


But spend some time perusing through these blogs and you'll find that virtually nobody agrees on much of anything doctrinal.

But again, this is true for the Catholic church. The presence of dissent does not erase the fact that there is an "official position."
posted by muddgirl at 2:29 PM on June 2, 2011


If the opinions of the Council of 12 Apostles DO hold more weight than the opinions of others, what is the difference between these statements and doctrine?

Nothing in mormonism is set in stone, because they believe in continuous revelation. Every mormon, individually, can get direct guidance from god, at any time. Revelation isn't something that happened in the past, and that needs to be interpreted. It's something ongoing.
posted by empath at 2:31 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Continually changing doctrine is still doctrine, no? Pluto is no longer a planet, but astronomy still exists.
posted by muddgirl at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2011


" "the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord." Members are taught to rely on the Holy Ghost to judge, and if a revelation is in harmony with the revealed word of God, it should be accepted." -- Brigham Young

My understanding, and I may be wrong, is that Mormons are only expected to accept church doctrine if their hearts agree with it. If it feels wrong to them, they don't need to agree with it.
posted by empath at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Continually changing doctrine is still doctrine, no?

It is, but it's not doctrine in the sense that Catholic doctrine is. You're allowed to disagree. There's nothing that privileges the church's interpretation over the individual.

(Although in practice, this might not be the case).
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2011


If it feels wrong to them, they don't need to agree with it.

But their resources still pay for it, no?
posted by muddgirl at 2:36 PM on June 2, 2011


But again, this is true for the Catholic church. The presence of dissent does not erase the fact that there is an "official position."

Correct. But the difference is that in the Mormon church, there is both dissent and the absence of an "official position" that bears the weight of doctrine or canon.

If the opinions of the Council of 12 Apostles DO hold more weight than the opinions of others, what is the difference between these statements and doctrine?

They are doctrine. But, due to their sheer volume and the continuing, ongoing nature of those opinions, as well as the fact that those opinions do not necessarily agree with one another and are open to personal interpretation as one of the tenets of the religion, they cannot be fairly characterized as a unified, single doctrine or an "official doctrine." Furthermore, everything is subject to subsequent revision upon receipt of greater understanding. There's nothing wrong in Mormonism with believing, for example, that everything Bruce R. McConkie ever said was wrong.

Continually changing doctrine is still doctrine, no? Pluto is no longer a planet, but astronomy still exists.

Yes, but it cannot be fairly characterized as a unified official doctrine. Pluto is no longer a planet, but that doesn't mean science is "wrong" or that I can learn the "official doctrines" of science about Pluto merely by quoting something someone in the 1980s said about Pluto and pretending that's the end of the story.

And, on preview, what jnrussell said, since I don't think it's productive for me to just write that all out in my own way.
posted by The World Famous at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2011


But their resources still pay for it, no?

Probably, but so what? Lots of money that people donate for what they perceive to be good causes ends up getting spent on stuff they don't support.
posted by empath at 2:40 PM on June 2, 2011


The point of arguing over whether there is a mormon 'doctrine' was to decide if all mormons or even most mormons can disagree with whatever it is and still be considered a good mormon, yes? That was how you got on this tangent?

I think we've firmly established that mormons in good standing have a lot of leeway to determine which tenets of mormonism they can agree or disagree with and still be considered 'good' mormons.
posted by empath at 2:42 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


But their resources still pay for it, no?

Yep. So we work to change it to be consistent with our own belief.
posted by The World Famous at 2:44 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mormonism is really interesting to me, because I know several converts who I think are smart enough to 'know better' (ie, they know the whole mythology is complete nonsense) who nonetheless are devout mormons because they need the extended family and community and structure it provides. And yes, they tithe, but they see it as paying them back far more than they could possibly donate to the church. At least one of my friends thinks they saved his life, and considering the path he was going down, I don't doubt it.
posted by empath at 2:47 PM on June 2, 2011


(which isn't to say that I don't think Mormonism is 'good' overall or that they needed mormonism in particular..., lots of organizations can give people direction and community, but Mormons were the ones that knocked on his door on the right day.)
posted by empath at 2:52 PM on June 2, 2011


Boring.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:55 PM on June 2, 2011


Probably, but so what? Lots of money that people donate for what they perceive to be good causes ends up getting spent on stuff they don't support.

I just thought of a good example: I am an American, and I pay taxes to the US Government. They use those taxes to fund a war that I do not support (or "believe in"). Can I truthfully claim that the US Government currently does not have a doctrine of war?

After all, I didn't have to swear my allegience to the US Government or its actions to become an American.
posted by muddgirl at 2:57 PM on June 2, 2011


Now you're just playing with the definition of the word "doctrine," though. Moreover, I don't have to swear allegiance to all of the actions of the Mormon church in order to be a Mormon.

And anyway, my taxes don't pay for wars. They pay part of the salary of a Legislative Correspondent working for a member of Congress I don't like.
posted by The World Famous at 3:01 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel like what I'm typing isn't being read and considered (since the responses seem to be almost non-sequitors. For example, I understand that Mormons do not have to swear allegience - hat's why I included such a statement in my analogy).
posted by muddgirl at 3:07 PM on June 2, 2011


Ah, it seems I did misunderstand the purpose of your analogy. My apologies.
posted by The World Famous at 3:10 PM on June 2, 2011


The World Famous - i usually say this to you in an email, but this time i'm going to say it right out in the open. while i am a former mormon with lots of baggage and anger - i am gladdened to see a mormon such as yourself really hunkering down in a hostile community and explaining yourself and your interpretations over and over again. i wish for more church members like you and less like the kinds who hurt me. thank you for sticking with this community.
posted by nadawi at 3:29 PM on June 2, 2011


esprit de l'escalier: " Zarq, I have a lot of respect for you, but I flatly disagree with your outrage on this point.

Thank you, that's very kind of you. No worries, I figured that I'd raise some hackles or spark a lot of disagreement. :)

It's not such a stretch to believe that there's one truth: One mathematical truth no matter the mathematician, one set of physical laws no matter the scientist, one spiritual truth no matter the human being. And if you believe this, then you can, honestly and fairly, come to conclusions about other people's reality because it is connected with your reality. If I can prove the intermediate value theorem, then it is also true for you; if I can observe Newton's laws of motion, then they're true for you as well;

I agree with this. Mostly. But I hasten to add that there is no such thing as absolute truth in science.

We all know that the process of scientific discovery is ongoing, integrating hypotheses, theories and laws. Those laws are mutable -- they represent a generalization based on replicable results within a consistent framework. They serve only to describe what we know to be true at a particular moment in time. A new discovery might alter our understanding of any scientific law, creating exceptions or invalidating it entirely.

As a result, we can run into difficulty when comparing scientific truths to religious ones because religious truth comes in two flavors: absolute and adaptable. "Adaptable" meaning that the beliefs of some religions will be changed when new discoveries are made. In this way, adaptable religious truths are similar to scientific truths.

So... Jews used to refuse to donate organs. Now we are encouraged to because organ donation saves lives. This is a great example of an adaptable religious truth: one that changed because medical science developed to the point where organ donation was possible.

But absolute religious truths -- dogmas -- don't really have an equivalent in science. And we run into problems when we try to make comparisons or apply them universally.

Perhaps I'm not understanding you well, but I feel like you're conflating the two here, as well as trying to find common ground between the scientific process, empathy, emotion and spiritual experiences where none really exists.

if I have made the spiritual experience to discover the value of forgiveness, then it is real for you as well.

How could that sort of spiritual experience be anything other than individual and subjective? To understand it properly, wouldn't I need to undergo the same discovery? It doesn't strike me as an understanding that is objectively transferable, if you know what I mean?

We do this with medicine when we demand that people be vaccinated, and with politeness when we expect social graces. We do this with our children and with our political opponents.

It's possible to understand herd immunity without experiencing it directly. I'm not really convinced the same is true of empathy.

There is a perpetual balance between the natural humility with which we must approach other people, and the conviction induced by our own experience. Of course it seems arrogant for other people to decide against our conclusions. Of course, it's easy to fall into the trap of taking umbrage. But, tell me, where is the threat from the practice in question to our own personal liberties?"

I tried to explain this a bit upthread. The practice is threatening in part because historically, Christians have repeatedly attempted to usurp our religion and Jewish identities for their own purposes. For example: the so-called "Jews for Jesus" or Messianics usurp our religious beliefs in the name of the Christian Messiah, while claiming that they are the "real" Jews.

Let's use Jews who were killed during the Holocaust as an example. They were killed simply because they were Jewish according to German definitions. (Just as Gypsies were murdered for their identity. And gay men were killed for theirs. Etc.) Mormon baptism by proxy is yet another attempt by Christians to remove that part of their story, by usurping their Jewish identity. It's disrespectful. And yet another injustice committed against us by Christians.
posted by zarq at 3:30 PM on June 2, 2011


There are central foundational principles. But there are no creeds in Mormonism and even the official statements issued by the church are not canon. Even the General Handbook of Instructions, which is the official manual of church policy and reference guide for church leaders, is not a canonized, doctrinal document, but simply a policy guide.

Then I have another question.

When I asked "is the LDS a good source for information about Proxy Baptism," and asked for a yes or no, you said "yes." What you say above is really the case, then can you explain why your answer to my "yes or no" question wasn't "no"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:53 PM on June 2, 2011


Why would a policy/reference guide issued by the church not be a good source for information about the church's policies?
posted by Hoopo at 4:09 PM on June 2, 2011


When I asked "is the LDS a good source for information about Proxy Baptism," and asked for a yes or no, you said "yes."

You're misquoting yourself. You didn't ask "is the LDS a good source for information about Proxy Baptism." You asked "So -- yes or no, should we consult with the LDS dogma about baptism by proxy, or should we not?" I answered "yes" and explained my answer. Then you insisted that you wanted the yes without the explanation, so I gave it to you. I later elaborated by asking you for clarification regarding what you mean by "consult with the LDS dogma." You either never answered that question or I missed your response. I'll ask again: What did your question mean when it referred to "consult[ing] with the LDS dogma?"

My answer to your question was "yes" because you insisted that you wanted an unqualified answer without explanation and I had, just before you asked for that unqualified yes or no, been accused of casuistry, so I wanted to give you a quick, simple answer.

If you want to know what various authorities and commentators in the LDS church have said about baptism by proxy, then you should read what various authorities and commentators have said about it.

Why would a policy/reference guide issued by the church not be a good source for information about the church's policies?

It would be a fantastic source for information about the church's policies.
posted by The World Famous at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I'm getting at, world famous, is that first you complained that people were posting criticisms of the LDS which you said were based on inaccurate information. I then saw that someone responded to you, saying that you frequently made this complaint, but often did not offer any alternate sources of information.

So, then, I asked what would those sources of information be. However, you first directed me to a web site -- but then have been saying "but that's not right either."

Okay -- up here you say that "But it would be nice, every once in a while, to see a thread where people's opinions about Mormonism are informed by reading what the current LDS Church believes about things, rather than half-baked insults based on poorly-cited websites, an HBO series, or a book by Jon Krakauer." However, you then go on to say here that "there is no unified official doctrine."

Your first statement implies that there is official doctrine -- or, at least, official enough that you wished people consulted it to ascertain "what the current LDS church believes about things." But in your second statement, this seems to imply that..no such official doctrine.

All I'm trying to ascertain is, what is the source you would deem acceptable for people to consult to educate themselves about "what the current LDS church believes about things"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 PM on June 2, 2011


The only resources worth citing when discussing doctrines of Mormon faith are the standard works (i.e. the canonized scriptures): The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. There are exactly three specific mentions in the canon about "baptism for the dead."

Doctrine and Covenants 124
Doctrine and Covenants 128: 17 -18
1 Corinthians 15:29

Church policy references (such as those found on lds.org) are great resources about church policies, but church policies are not doctrines, they are interpretations of doctrine. This may seem a subtle difference, especially when compared with other groups such as the Catholics, but it's a really important distinction because Mormonism was founded on the concept of personal revelation from God. That concept alone negates the idea of a centralized, official doctrine.

So again, if this is a discussion about how horrible some church policies are, then I think we're all in agreement on that front. But some of us are also saying "Hey, the church (in general) does this, we don't agree with it, and in fact we believe it's not a correct view of what the canon has to say on the matter. Also we're sorry about our church being dicks to people."

We're saying that the policy doesn't represent the gospel (to use a different term), even though a vast majority of people conflate the two. We don't like that, we're trying to stop that kind of thinking, which is why we engage in these kinds of conversations.

Because for better or worse we are Mormons and we want to be a positive influence, so we try to disabuse member and non-member alike of such notions. Mormonism was always supposed to be a big tent, now it's become an expensive temple with closed doors. We lament that fact, we're trying to change it.
posted by jnrussell at 4:38 PM on June 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you, jnrussell -- perhaps I confused the matter by garbling a word choice. I've pretty much phrased my question best in my comment to world famous above.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:40 PM on June 2, 2011


So, then, I asked what would those sources of information be. However, you first directed me to a web site -- but then have been saying "but that's not right either."

You're putting quotation marks on something I never said. I have told you repeatedly that the basic explanation on the church's website (to which I linked) is a good starting point but that even the church's website consists of millions (OK, I didn't count the pages - maybe it's less than two million) of pages of commentary, interpretation, instruction, etc. and that the information to which I linked is not canon. We've had a pretty detailed ongoing conversation about the nature of "official doctrine," canon, etc. in Mormonism now, so I don't think it's intellectually honest for you to distill everything that's been said down to the misquote "but that's not right either."

And, to save myself the trouble of responding to the rest of your comment and because jnrussell has now said it better than I would anyway, please see jnrussell's comment here.
posted by The World Famous at 4:42 PM on June 2, 2011


I have to confess at this point I'm not sure what any of us are contending. The following statements are true, more or less:

Statement 1
There is a general belief and practice concerning proxy baptisms. Most of the stuff you'll find on lds.org is representative of that. A lot of members will accept this as "official doctrine."

Statement 2
Some Mormons, including myself and The World Famous, contend that Statement 1, while being an accurate description of current affairs, is still wrong. We politely dissent both inside and outside the church when engaged on this topic. We claim there is no official doctrine, and we'd be backed up by Joseph Smith himself in that regard. We think this is an important distinction to express because we naturally want to defend our faith.

Statement 3
Statement 2 doesn't really seem to matter because the practice in question still occurs and still harms people. Statement 2 is an attempt by some "less than mainstream" Mormons to foster understanding. This attempt is rightfully met with skepticism and rebuttal because of the preponderance of evidence supporting Statement 1 and the fact that currently Statement 2 has no affect on Statement 1 or on the practice in question.

And that folks, is why it's so damned hard (at least for me) to be a Mormon.
posted by jnrussell at 4:57 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fair enough.

So, basically, what you're trying to say is "We're saying that the policy doesn't represent the gospel (to use a different term), even though a vast majority of people conflate the two. We don't like that, we're trying to stop that kind of thinking, which is why we engage in these kinds of conversations," and "if this is a discussion about how horrible some church policies are, then I think we're all in agreement on that front. But some of us are also saying "Hey, the church (in general) does this, we don't agree with it, and in fact we believe it's not a correct view of what the canon has to say on the matter."

Then -- I'm actually somewhat baffled why you didn't make your ambivilence more clear in your initial complaint that people hadn't been informing themselves about what the current LDS church believes about things. I was taking your complaint (and here I am paraphrasing) that "why don't people find out what the LDS church really believes" as an implied agreement with those beliefs on your part.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:58 PM on June 2, 2011


Or, to clarify more specifically -- I was sensing that you felt very strongly about the fact that people didn't find out what the LDS church really believes, and the strength of that feeling is what lead me to believe that you agreed with those beliefs. Which is why the implication that you personally did not made me confused why you seemed to feel so strongly about that point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:04 PM on June 2, 2011


Then -- I'm actually somewhat baffled why you didn't make your ambivilence more clear in your initial complaint that people hadn't been informing themselves about what the current LDS church believes about things.

A. It's not ambivalence.

B. When people complain that they think the Mormon church is including its dead relatives on the rolls of the church as if they were Mormon while alive or as if they are Mormon now that they're dead, those people are mistaken about both what jnrussell and I believe doctrinally and about what the "mainstream" belief and, indeed, the canon has to say about the issue. I don't think I have to spell out my entire worldview before I can tell those people that their understanding of Mormon theology is flat-out wrong.

C. The one thing that I sort of halfway disagree with in jnrussell's comment above is the notion that people like jnrussell and me are significantly outside the "mainstream" of Mormonism. All or nearly all of the educated adult Mormons that I know well or associate with look at these issues very similarly to what jnrussell and I have expressed here and I freely and openly talk about this stuff all the time in church settings. My views on LDS theology and practices are pretty well known among the people in the church who know me, and that has never had any negative effect of any kind on my church membership or service in leadership callings in the church.

Or, to clarify more specifically -- I was sensing that you felt very strongly about the fact that people didn't find out what the LDS church really believes, and the strength of that feeling is what lead me to believe that you agreed with those beliefs.

I agree and do feel strongly about the fact that people complaining above in this thread about the Mormon church allegedly counting proxy baptisms as active current members of the church or considering those people to have actually been baptized do not know what the LDS church really believes and that they should at the very least learn the basics of that issue before being outraged about it. They're free to be outraged all they want once they do have at least a superficial understanding of the issue and I fully support and understand that informed outrage. Make sense?
posted by The World Famous at 5:10 PM on June 2, 2011


I agree and do feel strongly about the fact that people complaining above in this thread about the Mormon church allegedly counting proxy baptisms as active current members of the church or considering those people to have actually been baptized do not know what the LDS church really believes and that they should at the very least learn the basics of that issue before being outraged about it. They're free to be outraged all they want once they do have at least a superficial understanding of the issue and I fully support and understand that informed outrage. Make sense?

Yes -- but from JNRussel's comment, I gathered that there were people within the church who did believe that proxy baptisms should be counted as active current members of the church. So why not simply say "the people who do believe they should be counted as members are kind of messed in the head about this, here's what the LDS church really believes"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:15 PM on June 2, 2011


Yes -- but from JNRussel's comment, I gathered that there were people within the church who did believe that proxy baptisms should be counted as active current members of the church.

I have never met anyone who thinks that they should be counted on the rolls of current, living members of the church or who believes that genealogical records should be altered in any way. I have met a few people who overenthusiastically and incorrectly act like everyone who has baptism for the dead done will definitely accept it. I would characterize those people as both a) totally wrong about the doctrine; and b) significantly outside the mainstream of Mormon thought.

So why not simply say "the people who do believe they should be counted as members are kind of messed in the head about this, here's what the LDS church really believes"?

That's what we've been saying.
posted by The World Famous at 5:20 PM on June 2, 2011


....I'm not making myself clear, and I suspect I'm not going to be able to. I'll just say it's been nice talking to you and bow out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:34 PM on June 2, 2011


To be fair, The World Famous lives in California and I live in Utah. I think our definitions of "mainstream Mormon" might be a little different.

I'm constantly shocked at the kinds of "messed in the head" statements I hear from my fellow members every Sunday at church. This has been the case in every single Utah congregation I've been in. It is much less the case in other regions of the world.
posted by jnrussell at 5:45 PM on June 2, 2011


And I should clarify anecdotally that even the messed in the head Mormons in my ward don't believe that proxy baptism = church membership, though they probably wouldn't see much wrong with the Zenobia story (there's your messed in the head part).
posted by jnrussell at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2011


And for those who are confused by the language that's been bandied about in discussing "the LDS church", and "what the church believes" perhaps this blog post will shed a little more light on the confusion.

In short, if I say "the church believes this" I'm really saying "I believe this", and I am "the church" so this makes a lot of sense. Again this goes back to the concept of no official doctrine which is both true and also rarely acknowledged in regular discussions between members, perhaps because it's taken for granted or perhaps because it isn't fully understood.
posted by jnrussell at 6:00 PM on June 2, 2011


And for those who are confused by the language that's been bandied about in discussing "the LDS church", and "what the church believes" perhaps this blog post will shed a little more light on the confusion.

FWIW, I think that blog post starts off strong but then goes pretty far off the rails. Nevertheless, it's a matter of personal interpretation and belief.
posted by The World Famous at 6:10 PM on June 2, 2011


I don't agree with everything he says either but it's a good illsutration of the concept of "the church" and what that actually means in the context of Mormonism.
posted by jnrussell at 6:28 PM on June 2, 2011


This thread is reminding me of people trying to get out of the Catholic Church. Which seems to go about as well as getting out of the Mormons, except I have to give the Mormons a point for actually doing it. Or so has been said in this thread.

Now I'm wondering if the Catholics do this retroactive baptism thing as well. Anyone?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:50 PM on June 2, 2011


zarq
It's not such a stretch to believe that there's one truth: One mathematical truth…one set of physical laws… one spiritual truth…

I agree with this. Mostly. But I hasten to add that there is no such thing as absolute truth in science… As a result, we can run into difficulty when comparing scientific truths to religious ones because religious truth comes in two flavors: absolute and adaptable…


By definition, the essential quality of truth is that it is indisputable, and so nothing can come along to change it. You're right to point out that our theories about the universe continually evolve. But, the image I was trying to draw was one of pursuit of an unknowable, objective, shared Truth.

The idea of the "human experience" is that along with our humanity comes the capacity for many experiences — from amorous to spiritual — that seem unique, but that with experience, we recognize as shared to some degree. Do you really believe that your experience is completely "individual and subjective" and has nothing to do with anyone else's experience?

How could that sort of spiritual experience be anything other than individual and subjective? To understand it properly, wouldn't I need to undergo the same discovery? It doesn't strike me as an understanding that is objectively transferable, if you know what I mean?

Yes, you would have to have the same experience to recognize the value of forgiveness, but regardless of whether that happens, the value of forgiveness still part of that undiscovered, shared Truth. It's sitting waiting for you to make the experience — waiting for you to reveal it. Just like wave-particle duality of light was always true, and it just took the double-slit experiment to make it known.

You make a really good point about the way that scientific knowledge is accumulated and disseminated is much more convincing that the way spiritual ideas are accumulated and transmitted. (The brilliance of religious texts is their ability to transmit human experience.) The thing which they share, in my opinion, is that math and science and spirituality are all pursuits of universal (or "catholic"), rather than individual, knowledge.

And it's because they are pursuits of universal truths that people sometimes find themselves armed with convictions about other people's reality. Is this not what we're doing when we wait for a child to "figure it out", or vote against others whom we describe as wrong-headed?

I tried to explain this a bit upthread. The practice is threatening in part because historically, Christians have repeatedly attempted to usurp our religion and Jewish identities for their own purposes. For example: the so-called "Jews for Jesus" or Messianics usurp our religious beliefs in the name of the Christian Messiah, while claiming that they are the "real" Jews.

Let's use Jews who were killed during the Holocaust as an example. They were killed simply because they were Jewish according to German definitions. (Just as Gypsies were murdered for their identity. And gay men were killed for theirs. Etc.) Mormon baptism by proxy is yet another attempt by Christians to remove that part of their story, by usurping their Jewish identity. It's disrespectful. And yet another injustice committed against us by Christians.


I need to think about this some more. I'm not convinced that these baptisms are a conquest of identity. I think they have more to do with the identities of the baptizers.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:02 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's disrespectful. And yet another injustice committed against us by Christians.

I agree that it's disrespectful. It's rude. It's offensive. But personally, I think 'injustice' might be stretching it a bit. Let's leave that for what gets done to the living.
posted by empath at 8:21 PM on June 2, 2011


Now I'm wondering if the Catholics do this retroactive baptism thing as well. Anyone?

Nope, if you didn't get baptised, you're fucked for eternity.
posted by empath at 8:22 PM on June 2, 2011


The thing which they share, in my opinion, is that math and science and spirituality are all pursuits of universal (or "catholic"), rather than individual, knowledge.

You know, if you're looking for a contrast to individual knowledge, there is simple "shared experience". I don't see why you have to go all the way to universal.

Incidentally, in math the concept of "universal truth" has seriously weakened over the last 100-150 years. As an instance, I've got a book on my shelf from the Cambridge University Press that spends a lot of the time assuming 1 + 1 = 0 [elliptic curves over Z2, for the curious]. Someone smarter than me can explain relative frames of reference in Physics. As for spirituality, I find I learn more when I open myself to other people's descriptions of their experiences than when I try to fit what they say into a universal theory.

I'm not convinced that these baptisms are a conquest of identity. I think they have more to do with the identities of the baptizers.

If this is true I don't think it makes it less objectionable .
posted by benito.strauss at 9:33 PM on June 2, 2011


You know, if you're looking for a contrast to individual knowledge, there is simple "shared experience". I don't see why you have to go all the way to universal.

Incidentally, in math the concept of "universal truth" has seriously weakened over the last 100-150 years. As an instance, I've got a book on my shelf from the Cambridge University Press that spends a lot of the time assuming 1 + 1 = 0 [elliptic curves over Z2, for the curious]… As for spirituality, I find I learn more when I open myself to other people's descriptions of their experiences than when I try to fit what they say into a universal theory.


Isn't the ring Z2 just another algebraic structure in the consistent whole of mathematics? Philosophically, I don't think it puts universal truth into question, but rather expands it — just like listening to people expands our knowledge of human experience.

So, of course we listen. Listening is the beginning. But, how can you resist integrating everything you learn into a consistent whole? Isn't that the driving urge behind the "theory of everything"?

If this is true I don't think it makes it less objectionable .

Yeah, I saw your comment. It's one of the most convincing arguments here, but I'm still not sure what to make of it.

First, not every mention of every person is accompanied by an acknowledgement of their life experience. People often use mass murder events to lend moral force to their arguments. Aren't those people then mere objects for the argument?

I'm also not sure what gives us the right to determine how dead people are remembered. Is it that those people were closer to us, and so their memory is somehow in our trust? Even when we're alive, our social identity is a negotiation between the individual and society. We don't have any rights about how that negotiation works out. You act how you want, and then the world decides how to perceive you. Do we win this right in death?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:14 AM on June 3, 2011


But, how can you resist integrating everything you learn into a consistent whole?

I love this question. On a personal level, I explicitly gave up on having a consistent identity a while ago. But that's because I was rather overdoing it on the need for consistency.

What I'm advocating is searching out and noting local consistency, shared experience, when it's there, without the need for universals. Why am I so against universals? It's just that so much human-on-human suffering is tied to imposing universals. I seems we humans have a strong inner need for universals. Maybe it was a useful characteristic when we lived in smaller groups (and our universes were that much smaller), but it'd be good to learn how to not give in to the craving, just like our craving for sugar.

Isn't the ring Z2 just another algebraic structure in the consistent whole of mathematics?

Is there a consistent whole to mathematics? Probably yes -- if what you're doing can't be based on Zermelo-Frankel set theory it wouldn't be called mathematics. Wait, I'm wrong. I think some model theorists and other logicians do stuff that doesn't fit into ZF set theory. And don't get me started on what Statisticians do. Math values universals, but needn't fetishize them. (This reminds me of the Simpons line "There's a mathematician, a different kind of mathematician, and a statistician". I wish I could link to it.)

Isn't that the driving urge behind the "theory of everything"?

I think it matters how you achieve universality. The physical theorists do it by generalizing. The Mormons who started this thread did it by flattening: turn everybody into a Mormon.

And I really think we need to handle people and particles, society and science, differently. Your statement "And it's because they are pursuits of universal truths that people sometimes find themselves armed with convictions about other people's reality. " contains a nice hard nugget of truth that I'm still wrestling with.

People often use mass murder events to lend moral force to their arguments. Aren't those people then mere objects for the argument?

I don't think treating people as objects is necessarily wrong. And like you said, social identity is negotiated. But dead or alive, it's best to be respectful of the other person's wishes and experiences. I think most of Hitler's 12 million industrially dead would be glad to have their ashes thrown in the face of someone with similar intentions. But it's pretty clear that Zenobia did not, and does not, want to be baptized.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:49 AM on June 3, 2011


I said: It's not your place to tell someone who was born a Jew, who identified themselves as a Jew, who faithfully prayed and worshipped and lived their life as a Jew -- which let me tell you something has historically was not usually a picnic, especially in Europe thanks to "well-meaning" Christians who tortured and hunted and attacked and burned and killed us out of concern for the salvation of our souls -- that you know better than they that the choices they made in their lives were wrong and hopefully, someday they will too.

The World Famous: "I agree. And it's not your place to tell me that you know better than me, right?"

Of course not. But I do reserve the right to go on the defensive (or offensive) when anyone's acts infringe on me or others like me.

TWF, I like you. I really do. I do respect you, too. We often come down on similar sides in threads about atheism, agnosticism and religion for a few reasons, including that most of the time we seem to offer a moderate, theistic viewpoint to an often-hostile audience. As we well know, at times, MeFi can be difficult to navigate for someone who is openly theistic. I deeply appreciate the fact that you've taken a lot of heat over the years and remained polite, helpful and reasonable. I haven't always been as successful at that and know full well how hard that can be.

Keeping that in mind, I walked away from this thread on Wednesday. Because I figured that If I stayed, out of anger all I'd wind up doing was escalating a one-sided argument.

The World Famous: "In short, zarq, I agree with everything you're saying and I don't think you're actually reading my comments in good faith."

Proxy baptism makes me quite angry for many reasons, and the dialogue between Jews and Mormons about it has been frustrating. Have tried to explain why. I'm not convinced by this explanation you linked to upthread. But.... I'm also now re-reading the thread. This comment in particular struck a chord. Swap the religion and examples, and I could have written something like it about Judaism over the years. That wouldn't be fair. This comment as well was interesting to me because it's pretty much impossible to speak for all (religious) Jews everywhere on matters of faith, doctrine or ritual. Every time I comment about religious Judaism here on MeFi, I have to throw in modifiers and disclaimers such as "generally," or "the majority of" because there's such a disparity in belief between sects and individuals. It's a pain, because there isn't really an overarching "Jewish Perspective" on most topics. I mentioned this in MeTa back in March.

I'd would prefer it if my anger wouldn't preventing me from challenged a preconception about a tradition that isn't my own and whose nuances I might not fully comprehend.

The World Famous: " I understand the sentiment but I respectfully disagree that it is disrespectful. I don't think the church does a very good job of explaining to people what the point of the rite is, though."

The explanation you linked to above seemed pretty straightforward. Mormonthink quotes it directly, without giving any other explanation. So, according to the LDS, proxy baptism gives a soul the opportunity to choose for themselves. Having been given the choice, if they don't then choose Jesus and Christian salvation their soul is banished to hell.

Is that correct?

Look, I acknowledge that I have my own emotional baggage here and understand that you're not speaking for all Mormons everywhere. I get that proxy baptism is not conversion. That's not where my objection lies. I'm not seeing how proxy baptism isn't the usurpation of identity. Could you please explain?
posted by zarq at 8:04 AM on June 3, 2011


I'd would prefer it if my anger wouldn't preventing me from challenged a preconception about a tradition that isn't my own and whose nuances I might not fully comprehend.

*snort* I'd also prefer it if I could stick to one tense rather than sixteen of them.

This should probably read:

"I would prefer my anger not prevent me from challenging my own preconceptions about a tradition that isn't my own and whose nuances I might not fully comprehend."
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on June 3, 2011


Having been given the choice, if they don't then choose Jesus and Christian salvation their soul is banished to hell.


Short answer is yes, of course. But as with much of Mormon theology, there's some nuance to the concept of "the hereafter" that needs to be considered. Doctrine and Covenants section 130 expounds a little on what things are like after we die:

"...that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy..."

There's no official interpretation of this statement (natch), but many Mormons including myself suppose this means something like "the afterlife isn't much different than this life" or in other words, when you die you don't immediately know all truth and therefore will be ready to accept Jesus as your savior. In the Mormon concept of afterlife, the trial of faith doesn't end when you become a disembodied soul.

Couple this with strong Mormon beliefs about eternal intellectual progression and the importance of free will and I don't really think it's so cut and dry as "hey you're dead, we baptized you, if you reject our baptism you're going to hell". And even then, the determining factor for who goes to hell won't be judged on the question of baptism.

This wiki description is a fairly good summation of what most Mormons believe when talking about hell. In short the hell we're probably talking about is more akin to Catholic purgatory, and the real Hell with a capital H is reserved for Cain, the Devil and the Devil's angels. 99.999999999% of all humans who ever lived or will ever live can't even begin to qualify for this Hell.

Obviously there's a lot going on here but the overriding factor that tends to govern my personal thoughts on things like this is the idea that God loves all His children equally and therefore is going to cut us all a lot of slack. Would a loving God banish someone to hell because of the strength of their convictions based on a lifetime of faith in another religion? I really don't think so.

I'm not seeing how proxy baptism isn't the usurpation of identity.

We don't see it that way because we don't consider people who've had their "temple work done" as Mormons. We don't put them on record. We do record that we've performed religious ceremonies on their behalf. I can see how that distinction holds very little weight outside of the Mormon community. I think it's the fact that any record-keeping happens that bothers many, and I can understand that. A record is a permanent thing, even if it doesn't say "this dead person is a Mormon now" and instead it says "we performed a Mormon ritual on this dead person" I can understand why you see that as a usurpation of identity.

If we kept no record of the act, nobody would ever know, and even if they found out we did it, since it wasn't recorded anywhere people wouldn't generally care. They might think it's offensive or weird, but they ultimately wouldn't care. It's the record that poses the biggest offense (well that and people disrespecting living relatives' wishes or trolling gravesites, which is really messed up). Is that fair to say?

I can especially see how this would be upsetting for holocaust victims' families, since names on records hold a special kind of horror.
posted by jnrussell at 11:36 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for your thoughtful comment, zarq. Jnrussell has responded to several of your questions and rather than repeating what he said, I would just concur with him for the most part.

I have, in the meantime, found a much better and far more complete explanation from the Church of baptism for the dead and the issues surrounding it than I linked to previously, and I think it addresses (though it certainly does not completely resolve) virtually every issue discussed in this thread with regard to baptism for the dead. Here's a link to that article, which is very detailed. As with everything in the Mormon church, I don't agree with it 100%, but it's a far more detailed and much better resource than anything I linked to previously, and I wish I had linked to it earlier.

Among the points brought up and explained in that article are the sections under the heading "Response to Key Accusations," which supplement the general doctrinal explanation. I hope that reading that article helps people here to understand the issue better.

With that said, I do want to directly respond to your question:

I get that proxy baptism is not conversion. That's not where my objection lies. I'm not seeing how proxy baptism isn't the usurpation of identity. Could you please explain?

I guess I'm not sure exactly what you're asking - what do you mean by "usurpation of identity?." I can understand and I agree with you regarding the reasons why some people are or may be offended by Mormon baptism for the dead. But I'm not sure I can answer your question because I'm not certain what you're asking.

The characterizations in this thread (by people other than you) of Mormon baptisms for the dead as "retroactive" or as revising history or revising views of people's identity or wishes are, simply, false. LDS baptisms for the dead are not posthumous baptisms and doctrinally are not considered to be converting the dead, making them Mormons, or even subjecting the dead to baptism. As the article I just linked explains, "the Church has never listed Jews (or anyone) for whom temple baptisms have been performed as Church members or Mormons." Moreover, the Church's official policy and instruction to members of the Church is that Mormons should submit only the names of their own relatives. But some people - sometimes meaning well and sometimes not - disregard that policy.

In light of those facts and the other information contained in the article that I linked in this comment, does baptism for the dead constitute "usurpation of identity?" I don't know, because I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that. I hope that makes sense.

To address jnrussell's statement that "[a] record is a permanent thing, even if it doesn't say 'this dead person is a Mormon now' and instead it says 'we performed a Mormon ritual on this dead person'," I note that, according to the article I linked, "in addition to other resources, [the Church] has spent half a million dollars removing Jewish names from its database." I think it's clear that, even if there are Church members who are not sensitive to the issue, the Church as an organization is sensitive to it and has made efforts to address the concerns raised, at least to the extent that it sees as consistent with the Church's core doctrines. Is that enough to satisfy my own personal interpretation and opinion of things? I don't think so. But I also think that, given the Church's "official" position on the issue and the official direction from Church leadership not to submit names other than those of one's own relatives, it's clear that Lou, the sister of the author of the article linked in the post, is at best ignorant of the Church's sensitivity and policies on the issue and at worst is simply ignoring it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2011


Let me just add, zarq, that I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and respect of your comment above. I'm sorry I accused you of not reading my comments in good faith. I will endeavor to show you and others the respect that you've shown here. Thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 5:42 PM on June 3, 2011


In case anyone is still following this thread and is curious about the question of "what makes a Mormon a Mormon," here is an interesting viewpoint on a Mormon community blog that I follow, which sort of puts into perspective the way that a lot of Mormons I know feel about the fact that there are myriad interpretations of Mormon theology that are all totally acceptable within modern "mainstream" Mormonism.
posted by The World Famous at 6:58 PM on June 8, 2011


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