Friday, April 16, 2004



A recent news item I've found interesting is the objection from some quarters to the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead (also called "vicarious baptism" or "proxy baptism"):

Researchers say that Mormons have continued to posthumously baptize Jewish Holocaust victims into their faith despite a promise to discontinue the practice.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long collected names from government documents and other records worldwide for posthumous baptisms. Church members stand in to be baptized in the names of the deceased non-Mormons, a ritual the church says is required for them to reach heaven.
In 1995, the Mormon church acceded to demands by Jewish leaders that the denomination stop posthumously baptizing Jews. But Helen Radkey, a Salt Lake City researcher, said on Friday that the process still hasn't ended.

This rite, apparently wholly unique to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a part of temple worship performed by observant Mormons.

Not everyone is getting worked up about this. Eugene Volokh and Erik Jaffe, both of The Volokh Conspiracy, don't see anything objectionable out it:

Volokh: If you're Mormon, then presumably you'd want your relatives baptized. If you're not Mormon, then presumably you would think that some Mormon in some temple somewhere going through some ritual while mentioning people's names would be spiritually pointless. It would have no effect on the people, on their afterlives (if you think they have afterlives), on God, or on anything else. So what's the problem?
The Mormons aren't forcing anything on any living person. They're not exhuming anyone's body. They aren't insulting anyone, except insofar as they're suggesting that their religion is the right one, and that people ought to want to convert to it -- and if that itself qualifies as an insult, then it seems to me that people are too easily insulted.

Jaffe: I actually find it somewhat endearing that Mormons are concerned enough about my erstwhile soul to try and protect it in a non-intrusive manner after my death. Other religious groups are not so considerate and instead seek to intimidate the @#%$ out of you or otherwise confront and demean you while you are alive in a supposed effort to save your soul. I have my doubts about the true motives of the hell-and-brimstone types, but the Mormons seem perfectly genuine to me. At worst it is no-harm, no-foul; at best they do me a great service.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is similarly unimpressed:

I could not care less if the Mormons baptize me after I'm dead. It won't affect me. I'll always be a Jew – in this life and the next. If this is part of Mormon practice and belief, and they do it in the privacy of their own ritual, and it doesn't affect me in the slightest, why should I care? People's beliefs are their own business. It's how they treat others that is everyone's business. What I care about is how much the Mormons support Israel today, not what they do with Jewish souls in what they regard as the afterlife.

There's a discussion on this subject at Zion's Lighthouse Message Board that has more links.

More: My comments in the ZLMB discussion are under the online handle "Smac."